Metro Denver Green Homes Tour Is This Saturday, Oct. 2nd

It is my honor to be part of the team which creates a new tour of solar and sustainable homes on the first Saturday of October year after year. This is our 26th year!

Last year, the tour was entirely on video, featuring the “Best of the Past 25 Years.”  You can still view last year’s videos at the URL http://www.2020GreenHomesTour.info. Register for this year’s tour, which is both virtual and in-person, at http://www.NewEnergyColorado.com.

Regular readers of this column are probably aware of Golden Real Estate’s commitment to sustainability. Our Net Zero Energy office, in fact, was one of the “homes” on last year’s virtual tour, as was my personal home.

Originally called the Golden Solar Tour, we decided several years ago that being solar wasn’t enough. To be included in the tour, homes had to be “green” in many other ways, and the technology we have put on display in recent years has been impressive. I myself learn something new every year, and creating the video tour of each home on the tour has been a great privilege and learning experience!

One of the homes this year is a 1979 two-story home owned by Martin & Bettina Voelker. This year they got rid of their gas forced air furnace and installed a geothermal system to heat and cool their home. This involved drilling three 300-foot deep wells in their backyard to take advantage of the constant 55-degree earth temperature. A heat pump raises the fluid circulated through those deep pipes to heat the home in the winter. This is more efficient than raising sub-zero outdoor temperatures with the more common  air-source heat pumps like we have at Golden Real Estate’s office. In the summer, it cools the 55-degree fluid further to cool the home.

Ron Suliteanu’s home in Golden Gate Canyon also has a ground-source heat pump which provides heat through both a radiant floor system and three wall-mounted units which resemble mini-splits but which provide their heat through fluid heated by the ground-source heat pump, something I didn’t know existed.

Passive solar design is also growing in popularity, and several homes on this year’s tour incorporate passive solar design in their sustainability mix. The tour includes 4 new construction homes, two of which are Passive House certified (top-of-the-line building code) and two of which are near Passive House standards.

Laurent Meillon’s home in Lakewood taught me a lot about solar thermal systems, which Laurent sells and installs. If you’re not familiar with solar thermal, it involves circulating water (or glycol) through black panels which are roughly the same size as solar photovoltaic panels. The sun heats the liquid in the panels which is circulated through a 1,000-gallon tank inside the house. That fluid gets as hot as 150 degrees. Coils within that tank circulate water for domestic hot water use (showering and cooking, etc.) and for circulation during colder months through the baseboard hot water heating system. Solar thermal panels were popularized during the Carter administration, well before solar photovoltaic systems became popular for generating electricity. Many homes still have those Carter-era solar thermal systems, but many of them are out of service for one reason or another. Laurent’s company can inspect the solar thermal systems in those houses and get them working again — and explain them to the home owners, who may have inherited the system from a previous home owner but have no idea how they work.

One home on the tour was chosen for its urban farming aspects, including composting, a greenhouse and a chicken coop.  The owner thanked me with a dozen eggs, which were delicious!

From 3 to 5 pm (same as for our EV Roundup below), you can visit a nearby “growing dome” at 509 9th Street, a short walk from the American Mountaineering Center at 710 10th Street, where you sign in for the in-person tour and return at 5-7 p.m. for a green expo and reception.

Our Commitment: Keeping Styrofoam Out of Landfills

One element of Golden Real Estate’s commitment to sustainability is our acceptance of polystyrene in the Styrofoam Corral behind our office on South Golden Road. Perhaps you have wondered what we do with all that Styrofoam.

At least twice every month we fill our truck with what everyone (including us) calls Styrofoam, but that’s a brand name. The generic term is expanded polystyrene foam, or EPS. We take each truckload to Centennial Containers southeast of Peoria Street and I-70. There the material, which is 95% air, is “densified,” compressed into those foot-square bars shown at right, which are then stacked on pallets each weighing over 1,000 pounds. One of our truck loads might make just one of those bars of compressed material! Eventually a semi trailer filled with those pallets is taken to an American company which recycles those bars into new polystyrene or other plastic-based products.

We used to take our loads to Alpine Waste’s recycling facility located northwest of the I-70/I-25 interchange, but they ship their densified polystyrene to China. When China cut down on accepting plastic waste from the United States, we switched to Centennial Containers and have found them easier to work with, too.

Our polystyrene recycling is only one part of Golden Real Estate’s commitment to sustainability which won us our second Sustainability Award from the City of Golden in 2020. Since receiving our first award in 2010, we transitioned our building to Net Zero Energy in 2017 by removing our natural gas meter and installing a heat pump mini-split system to heat and cool our office electrically. Our 20-kW solar photovoltaic system provides all the electricity for powering our office as well as charging our five Tesla vehicles and providing free EV charging to the general public in our parking lot.

Films Sought for 2022 Colorado Environmental Film Festival

Golden Real Estate is a long-time corporate sponsor of the leading film festival. If you or someone you know wants to submit their film for this juried event, here’s some information for them:

The deadline for submissions is Oct. 22, but the submission fee goes up on Sept. 1st. Get submission information at ceff.net/submit.

Green Home of the Month Is on Lookout Mountain

This Lookout Mountain home owned by Ron & Gretchen Larson has no natural gas service. Instead it has radiant floor heating using water heated by the sun and stored in a 10,000-gallon tank. The original section of the home won first place in the very first solar decathalon in 2002. In addition to extensive solar thermal panels and evacuated tubes, the home has 7 kW of solar photovoltaic panels to provide all the electrical needs of the home. It also has passive solar features and two wood-burning stoves.  Take a narrated video tour with Ron Larson at www.GreenHomeoftheMonth.com.

View the full playlist of last year’s Metro Denver Green Homes Tour at  NewEnergyColorado.com/2020-tour-homes.

Xcel Energy Is Penalizing Small Businesses Which Offer Workplace Charging

Golden Real Estate is justly proud — if I say so myself — of having a Net Zero Energy office, meaning that our solar photovoltaic panels produce all the electricity needed to heat, cool and power our office as well as to the charge the five Teslas owned by our agents and me and offering free EV charging to the general public. (We have four EV charging stations at our office — two for our own use and two for the public.)

Meanwhile, Xcel Energy boasts that it is moving in the direction of 100% renewable energy and facilitating the adoption of electric vehicles. A big part of that is promoting “workplace charging.”

Xcel is right to promote workplace charging over, say, charging stations at retail stores, because cars are parked for up to 8 hours at one’s workplace — long enough to fully charge almost any EV using a standard Level 2 (240V) charging station.

So why is Xcel Energy penalizing small companies like Golden Real Estate which have already installed workplace charging stations for EVs?

As stated above, we generate all the electricity needed at our office on South Golden Road. Until this March, our monthly Xcel bill was under $11 every month — the cost of being connected to Xcel’s electric grid.

But now our Xcel bill is over $300 per month, even though we are still generating all the electricity we use. How can that be?  It’s because one day in March we drew over 30,000 watts of energy during a single 15-minute period, converting us automatically from standard “commercial” service to “demand” service. That means that in addition to the charges for electricity consumption, we are now charged for the highest amount of electricity that we draw during each month.

So our electric bill at Golden Real Estate is now over $300 per month regardless of the amount of actual electricity we consume during any particular month. To put it in numbers, we are charged about $15 per kilowatt for peak demand, and our monthly maximum draw of power is usually about 20 kilowatts.  Thus, we are charged $300 each month even though our net consumption of electricity is zero!

The only way we could draw over 25 kW of electricity at a given time is because we are charging cars at all four charging stations, something Xcel says they want to encourage.

When I communicated my dilemma to Xcel Energy, the response was to tell me that they’re introducing a new EV charging tariff later this summer. Unfortunately, the tariff requires that Xcel install the charging stations and offers nothing to those of us who were early adopters and already have charging stations in place.

Under Xcel’s proposed EV tariff, my penalty would drop to a little over $100 per month. But that’s still a $100 penalty.

The logical solution would be for Xcel to modify its commercial tariff to make the demand threshold 50 or 75 kW instead of 25 kW for forcing small businesses like us into their demand tariffs.

Now some good news.

I made these same arguments during public comments at a May 13th virtual hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) adjudicating an Xcel Energy rate case. This Monday, that ALJ published his ruling and cited my own testimony in ordering Xcel to increase its demand threshold to 50 kW.

I had made the same argument a couple years ago during public comments at a regular PUC meeting, but I got no satisfaction at that time, so I wasn’t expecting to be more successful this time, but I was.

Ironically, I had already written this column with no clue that the ruling was about to be handed down. Indeed, this column was uploaded to three Jeffco weekly newspapers Monday morning without this news.

The ALJ’s ruling has a few more steps before it is finalized.  Parties to the case can make final pleas and seek Commission reconsideration, akin to last ditch arguments, but I’m hopeful that my Xcel bill will return to $10.26/month soon.

Green Home of the Month

Jen Grauer in her kitchen

Each month we feature a different home from the 2020 Metro Denver Green Homes Tour. With 11 kW of solar panels, super-insulation, induction cooktops and ground-source heat pumps powering eight hydronic mini-splits throughout this 4-level, multi-generational home, the owners have a monthly Xcel Energy bill of $5 to $10 per month — even after charging their electric car. I learned a lot from this home! You’ll really like the sustainable design elements of the kitchen. Watch my narrated video tour at www.GreenHomeoftheMonth.com. Or click on this thumbnail:

We and Our Truck Go the Extra Mile for Our Clients!

    Our clients have put a lot of miles on this box truck, saving them thousands of dollars on moving costs. They also get free moving boxes, packing paper and bubble wrap.  They only pay for the gas used.  The truck is also used twice a week by BGoldN to pick up food from Food Bank of the Rockies and by other non-profits, including Family Promise of Greater Denver and the Golden Chamber of Commerce.

We also use it ourselves every couple weeks to take truckloads of polystyrene (aka “Styrofoam,” a brand name) to a reprocessing center in Aurora, keeping over 200 cubic yards of the material out of landfills every year. People from all over Jefferson County (and beyond) bring their block white polystyrene to the Styrofoam Corral behind our office.

Let’s Make Our Summer a Little Bit Quieter

Walking our dog, Chloe, is a favorite daily routine for me. Recently, I passed a neighbor mowing his lawn with a battery electric lawn mower, and I thanked him for doing so. “I love it,” he replied, and it got me thinking how nice it would be if more neighbors ditched their noisy gasoline lawn mowers, edgers, trimmers and blowers now that electric versions of each (both battery & corded) are widely available and affordable.

The next time your gas-powered device needs a tune-up, use that money to purchase of an electric version and you’ll enjoy not only a quieter neighborhood but no future tune-ups, no struggles to start the device, and lower cost overall.

I have read that a lawn mower emits more pollution than an automobile. A quick Google search on the topic produced the following:

“The EPA estimates that hour- for-hour, gasoline powered lawn mowers produce 11 times as much pollution as a new car. According to the EPA, each gas-powered lawn mower produces as much air pollution as 43 new automobiles driven 12,000 miles per year – lawn care produces 13 billion pounds of toxic pollutants per year.”

My stepson has a small lawn and is happy to use an old-style rotary push mower. I have a 10-year-old corded electric mower that has never needed repair and a battery powered weed eater which only needs me to replace the string now and then — my biggest annoyance!

June’s ‘Green Home of the Month’ Is For Sale!

6776 Wood Rock Road — Just Listed at $795,000

Each month we feature another one of the homes on last fall’s Metro Denver Green Homes Tour. The home we chose to feature this month is the Van de Rijdt home at 6776 Wood Rock Road, 11 miles up Golden Gate Canyon, which Jim Smith just listed for sale. Rather than shoot a new video tour narrated by Jim, we suggest you view the video tour Jim created for the green homes tour, in which the homeowner, Martijn van de Rijdt, explains the many sustainable features of his Net Zero Energy home. You can find that video tour on this home’s listing site, www.JeffcoSolarHomes.com. The video describes, for example, the radiant floor heating via an air source heat pump (picture below) which is powered, like the rest of the house, by a ground-mounted solar photovoltaic array on the hillside behind the house. There are so many sustainable features that the video took 16 minutes. If you have longed to live in a passive solar designed net zero energy home, and if you like the idea of living on 10 acres off a gated back road in the foothills, this might be the home for you. Jim will hold it open this Saturday, June 5th, 11am to 2pm.  Or call your agent or Jim at 303-525-1851 for a private showing.

The air source heat pump above creates hot water for the 5-zone radiant floor heating system below.
80-Gallon heat pump water heater at left.
Seller took this picture of two moose in their meadow, plus another picture of the bull moose.
Wildflowers abound on the 10-acre lot, 2 of which are wooded.
A patio with outdoor kitchen is on the east and north (shaded) side of the house.
Main floor features polished concrete floors and kitchen with quartz countertops.
Enjoy this valley and mountain view from the patio on the east front of the house.
The seller’s woodworking shop has the same great view!
Master bedroom and 2 guest bedrooms all have great views, too!

Do You Own a Green Home?

The Metro Denver Green Homes Tour is looking for homes to feature on its next tour, October 2nd, 2021. If your home has features that would make it a good addition to this fall’s green home tour — super insulation, solar, HVAC, etc. — contact Sheila Townsend at sheilactownsend@gmail.com or Jim Smith at Jim@GoldenRealEstate.com.

Take a video tour of a different home from 2020’s Metro Denver Green Homes Tour every month at www.GreenHomeoftheMonth.com.