Our Newest Listing Is a Case Study on How to Achieve Net Zero Energy at Home

6187 Terry Way in Arvada’s Sunrise Ridge Subdivision – Just listed at $450,000

By JIM SMITH, Realtor

Regular readers of this column know my commitment to sustainability. Our office is Net Zero Energy, with our 20-kilowatt solar PV system providing all the energy to heat, cool and power our office plus charge our four electric cars, while also providing free charging to the public. My home is also solar powered, satisfying all our electrical needs, although we still have natural gas service.

Readers may also recall me saying that the most affordable way to invest in sustainable features is to buy a home which already has them, since the investment in sustainability pays for itself over time but rarely returns what you paid for it in the resale value of your home.

The home I just listed at 6187 Terry Way in Arvada’s Sunrise Ridge subdivision is a good example of that. The seller, like me, is fanatical about sustainability and has invested over $80,000 in solar power, insulation, daylighting, and other improvements, but the listing price of $450,000, while higher than for a comparable home with a higher monthly energy bill, recovers for the seller only a fraction of her investment.

Meanwhile, whether or not you are interested in purchasing a terrific 2-bed-room patio home, let me use it as an example of the ways you can invest in sustainable features for your own home.

I’ve written in the past about Steve Steven’s 1970s brick ranch which he took beyond Net Zero. I did a narrated video tour of it when it was on the annual tour of solar homes, and it took over 40 minutes to describe all its sustainable features!

This home, however, is a 2002 frame-built tract home that was constructed with above-average but below-optimum energy and insulation features, leaving plenty of room for improvement.  And improve it the seller did!  (You’ll understand why, knowing that she is Steve Stevens’ significant other!)

What follows is a run-down of the improvements which brought this home’s electrical bill down to the cost of its connection to Xcel Energy’s grid. In fact, the home is beyond Net Zero Energy to Net Carbon Positive, meaning that its excess electrical generation more than compensates for the natural gas being used for cooking and heating. On top of that, the seller charges her electric car in the home’s 2-car garage.

Here are the sustainability highlights:

First, of course, a 4.4-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system was installed on the roof. Having done that, the next tasks involved reducing electrical demand so that 4.4kW of solar PV would be sufficient.

Of course, all incandescent, fluorescent and CFL light bulbs were replaced with LED bulbs and fixtures. That alone reduced the electrical load substantially.

Next, five 14- and 22-inch diameter Velux sun tunnels were installed, bringing natural light into all the rooms, nearly eliminating the need for artificial lighting except at night.

Next, all the appliances, including the central A/C unit, were replaced with high efficiency Energy Star-rated models. In the case of the kitchen appliances, they are all stainless steel.

At this point, the electrical efficiency was pretty much maxed out, so attention was given to reducing the natural gas load for heating the home.

Additional cellulose insulation was blown into the attic, bringing it up to an R-100 rating — more than twice what you’ll find in the typical production home. We have a picture of this home after a snow storm, showing the snow melted off the roofs of neighboring homes but not off this home’s roof — clear evidence of good attic insulation.

The rim joist (accessible because the basement is unfinished) was insulated to R-50. This area of the house, I’ve found, is the most neglected area of any house when it comes to insulation. It’s where the joists for the main floor sit on the home’s foundation. Most home builders stuff some fiberglass insulation between the joists, but they don’t enclose that fiberglass in plastic. Cold winter air easily infiltrates through loose fiberglass insulation. It’s the plastic sheeting which stops that air.  And closed-cell foam sprayed between the joists further inhibits air infiltration.

Next, the windows and patio door were replaced with Energy Star-rated Champion products. Improving the windows further was the installation of insulating Hunter Douglas blinds.

Those are the improvements which made the home more energy efficient, bringing it past New Zero Energy. Other improvements worth noting which add value to this home are the large deck with seating on the sunny south side of the house, the beautiful oak Murphy bed with wall storage in the guest bedroom which allows the bedroom to be used as an office, and the 240-Volt wiring in the garage to provide EV charging.

Since this is a “paired home,” the  party wall already had double-wall construction with insulation which reduced the transmission of noise between the units, but my seller added a third wall which consumed 5 inches on the her side of the party wall, into which cellulose insulation was blown, creating an even better sound barrier.

I hope this article has inspired you to improve the energy efficiency of your own home, even if it hasn’t inspired you to call your agent or me at 303-525-1851 to arrange a private showing!

You can view a video tour of this  listing at http://www.ArvadaPatioHome.info narrated by me. It’s just like an actual showing!

NOTE: Showings begin on Monday, March 23rd.

The 14th Colorado Environmental Film Festival Is Feb. 20-23

With our area’s historic reputation for environmental responsibility, it’s not surprising that Golden is the birthplace and home of the nation’s leading film festival focused on environmental issues. And it won’t surprise you that Golden Real Estate has been a sponsor of CEFF for most of the festival’s life.

I love how this festival is structured, combining local, national and international films — including by children — in both short and feature-length formats. The festival’s opening reception and award ceremony (with film screening) on Thursday, February 20th, is free to attend, as is the reception and Eco Expo on Saturday, Feb. 22nd, where you can enjoy free food and beverages as you visit 20 or so exhibitors of environmentally friendly products from home hydroponic towers to solar panels, to companies which can make your home more energy efficient. We’re sharing Golden Real Estate’s booth with Good Business Colorado, whose membership includes over 210 like-minded businesses committed to sustainability.

You can peruse the 60 films being screened at www.CEFF.net. The films are bundled into four screening sessions on Friday and Saturday — 10 a.m. (10:30 on Saturday), 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. — plus the 7:30 p.m. free session on Thursday and two afternoon sessions on Sunday that will feature the films which won awards. The website lists and describes the films included in each session. You can purchase tickets on the website. Prices range from $9 for a single session ($4 for children under 12) up to $20 or $25 for a day pass and $65 for an all-access pass.

There are two theaters for each session, and each session includes 2 to 5 films, depending on length. The Friday morning session (CEFF 4 Kids) is limited to students, including those who are home-schooled, by advance reservation.

The films explore the undeniable and inescapable interconnection of Earth’s ecology, societies and economies. Audiences will be entertained and will leave inspired, surprised, motivated and transformed through events that will involve audience members and filmmakers in thought-provoking dialogues and forums about the films.

Still photography is a big part of each year’s festival, too, with environmentally themed photographs adorning the walls of the American Mountaineering Center, where the festival takes place. On Friday at 5 p.m. there is a photography reception, with a keynote address at 6:30 by photographer Cheryl Opperman on “The art of communication through photographs.”

The Eco Expo opens at noon on Friday and Saturday only.  Look for us at our booth!

Passive House Technology Underlies Going ‘Net Zero Energy’

“Passive House” is a concept born in Germany as “PassivHaus” but growing in popularity here in America. Although its primary focus is on reducing the heating and cooling needs of a home through proper north/south orientation, the placement of windows, and roof overhangs, it also includes design elements that make a home better for its inhabitants. It has many other positive impacts as well, including healthier and quieter spaces, greater durability, and greater comfort for inhabitants.”

Prior to the oil embargo of 1973, home builders did not concern themselves much with making homes energy efficient, but that all changed as we quickly realized how dependent we were on foreign countries for fossil fuels to heat our homes and fuel our cars. Homes built before then were poorly insulated, drafty and less healthy.  (For example, lead-based paint wasn’t banned until 1978.)

The passive house concept took off in America as a result of that wake-up call. The “Lo-Cal” house created in 1976 consumed 60% less energy than the standard house at the time, and the concept continues to mature.

If you participated in any of the “green home” tours that Golden Real Estate co-sponsors each fall, you’ve learned about various passive home strategies in addition to “active” strategies such as solar power, heat pumps, geothermal heating, and energy recovery ventilators.

When “active” systems are introduced to a home with passive house design, they work more easily to create the ultimate goal of a “net zero energy” home — one which generates all the energy needed to heat, cool and power the home and, perhaps, charge the owner’s electric vehicles.  Without passive house design features, you can still achieve net zero energy, but it may require substantially more solar panels to compensate for such factors as inferior orientation, fenestration (windows) and insulation.

You can learn all about passive home technology, including trainings and public events, online at www.phius.org. Also, search “Passive House SW” at www.meetup.org for local events.

An excellent example of new construction which combines passive house design with smart active systems in the Geos Community in Arvada, which you can learn about online at www.DiscoverGeos.com. The homes in Geos are all oriented to maximize solar gain in the winter, but also designed for sun shading in the summer. Some have a geothermal heating, while others have air source heat pumps and conditioning energy recovery ventilators (CERVs). The CERVs installed in the Geos homes not only provide heat when needed but also track the level of CO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air and adjust their function to reduce those levels, thereby improving indoor air quality.

None of the Geos homes uses natural gas, just solar-generated electricity.

Is Your Gas Furnace or Gas Water Heater About to Fail? Consider a Heat Pump

A reader called me last week because her gas furnace had quit working and, knowing my expertise regarding sustainability, she wanted my advice on replacing it.

I told her that this was an opportunity to do something other than buy a new gas furnace.  I told her about my Carrier “Hybrid Heat” furnace which uses an air-source heat pump for heating as well as cooling and only burns gas when the outdoor temperature dips well below freezing. With her solar panels, it’s possible she won’t even pay for the electricity consumed by the heat pump, and her gas consumption will plummet.

That hybrid system would use her home’s existing ductwork, but, since she has a one-story home, I suggested she consider a ductless mini-split heat pump system like the one we have at our office. I gave her the name of the vendor who installed both my home and office systems who could advise her which system was best for her.

I also suggested that she look into replacing her gas water heater with a heat-pump model when it fails.  My gas water heater is over 15 years old, so I’m thinking of replacing it before it fails. Home Depot sells a Rheem 50-gallon heat pump water heater (model #XE50T10HD50U1) for $1,299. Best off all, Xcel Energy gives its customers a $500 rebate for purchasing it.  I have enough solar panels to handle the extra electrical demand and eliminate much of my current gas usage, which is mostly for water heating, since I have that Carrier hybrid furnace. Our only other gas usage is for cooking and grilling.

Your Car Battery Could One Day Be Your Home Backup Power

Perhaps you, like me, have considered investing in a home battery system — not to go “off grid” so much as to survive blackouts. Simply having solar does not give you such protection, because when the grid goes down, your solar panels do not generate electricity. That’s required by power companies, because they don’t want you pumping electricity into downed power lines as their technicians work to repair them.

Personally, I’m holding out for a future in which the energy stored in my EV batteries can be tapped to power my home during a blackout.  There’s a term for this called vehicle-to-grid, but a more accurate term would be vehicle-to-home, since it would be done in isolation from the grid.

Because I have two EVs with combined battery capacity of 170 kilowatt-hours, I have a lot of stored power available to me at any time, even if those cars are not fully charged.  For example, 100 kilowatt-hours can provide 5,000 watts of household electricity for 20 hours.

There are commercially available inverters for creating a 120-volt outlet in any car, either gas or electric, but inevitably some automaker — probably Tesla — will create an interface that allows for the electricity stored in one’s EV battery to be tapped for household use during a blackout.

Several electric trucks are going to hit the market in 2020 and beyond, and each will have 120 and possibly 240-volt outlets for field power, which is a good start. You could run an extension cord to power critical home appliances. 

My Advice on Buying Solar Panels and Electric Cars

By JIM SMITH

In the wake of last Saturday’s green homes tour and electric vehicle showcase, I’d like to share the advice I give to people who ask me about investing in solar power and buying an electric car.

As much as I wish it weren’t so, you will not recoup what you spend on solar panels, insulation and other green home improvements for your home when you sell it. As with any improvement, you will receive a percentage of what you spend, but it will not be anywhere near 100%. Only make those investments because you’ll enjoy the comfort and savings for at least a few years — and because it’s the right thing to do.

Regarding electric cars, I recommend buying a used EV. The used car industry has yet to properly value used EVs. Currently electric cars are devalued the same way gas cars are devalued, which doesn’t make sense. Consider a 4-year-old gas-powered car with 100,000 miles on it. You can probably get it for half its original price, because so many components, such as transmission, timing belt or fuel pump, are worn and might fail. But none of those components exist in EVs. There are under 50 moving parts in a Tesla. The same age EV is simply as good as new.

A used Tesla built before mid-2017 is an especially good deal, because lifetime free supercharging transfers to the buyer (unless purchased from Tesla). I’ve seen many Tesla Model S cars for sale online under $40,000, less than half their original price. Here’s one I found just now on autotrader.com….

At Saturday’s ‘Green Homes’ Tour, You’ll Learn What’s Possible for Your Home

The Metro Denver Green Homes Tour is an annual event that happens on the first Saturday in October, which is this coming Saturday. For $10 per person, you get to go on a self-guided tour of 14 Jefferson County homes with a variety of green features.

I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about solar power and sustainability, but every year I learn things I didn’t already know by touring the homes on this tour.

Golden Real Estate is proud to be a platinum sponsor of this event each year. Also, I serve on the steering committee and help in a variety of ways, such as organizing the Electric Vehicle Showcase, which takes place during the post-tour reception, 4 to 6 pm in the CoorsTek parking lot at 10th & Jackson Street in downtown Golden. It coincides with the reception and Green Expo in the American Mountaineering Center (AMC) across the street.

You can register for the tour online at www.MetroDenverGreenHomesTour.org, but you’ll need to pick up your tour book and map, which you can do anytime on Friday at Golden Real Estate’s office, 17695 S. Golden Road, or on Saturday after 9am at the AMC, 710 10th Street.  If you don’t register online, you can do so at the AMC on Saturday morning.

Then you’re on your own, mapping out your own tour based on locations but also on what you read about each house in the tour book.

I couldn’t shoot video tours of every home, but I did choose two that the committee felt represented particularly interesting examples of sustainability. You can see those two videos on the website mentioned above. By watching those two videos you will learn things you didn’t already know, as I did by shooting them.

To quote from page 3 of the tour book, “In our ongoing effort to showcase a wide variety of solutions and lifestyles, you will see solar, of course, and also mini splits, ground source heat pumps and passive solar treatments. You can visit an Arvada sustainable new town home community [Geos] and enjoy many other sustainable lifestyle features such as co-housing, electric vehicles and water wise gardens. You will be viewing the tried-and-true in addition to the latest in innovative technologies, plus learning many steps used to eliminate red tape while going green.”

If you pick up your tour book at Golden Real Estate, let us show you how we transitioned to “net zero energy” using many of the features you’ll see on the tour, including heat pump/mini-split heating & cooling, solar panels, super insulation, and tankless electric water heating. Our monthly energy bill is $10.26 since having our gas meter removed two years ago. If you come in an electric car, you can plug in to our free ChargePoint charging stations — powered by the sun — while we show you around! Click here to read the Jan. 4, 2018, column I wrote describing Golden Real Estate’s transition to Net Zero Energy.

This Saturday’s tour is one of 79 such tours of 894 private homes happening this weekend as part of the National Solar Tour sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES). And that doesn’t include, for example, last Saturday’s Boulder Green Home Tour, which had 10 homes on it. This is the 25th National Solar Tour, and we have participated for 23 of those years.

Don’t forget the Green Expo during the reception, 4 to 6 pm following the tour. Many companies which implement green solutions will have booths, and there will be an Electric Vehicle Showcase in the parking lot across the street. If you have an EV, bring it for display! If you’re interested in going electric, there will be test drives available. Also, Pedego Golden is bringing electric bicycles which you can test ride.  I have an electric bike, and I love it!

Also at the event will be the CSU Extension 4-H Mobile STEM Lab. The primary focus of the mobile lab is energy production and conservation, energy conversions and mechanical advantage for youth and adults.  Should be interesting!

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