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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Bring Your EV to Our Event Next Saturday!

We already have 14 EVs registered for the National Drive Electric Week event in Golden Real Estate’s parking lot at 17695 S. Golden Road, Golden, on Sept. 14th, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. We have all 3 Tesla models plus models from BMW, Jaguar, Chevrolet, Nissan and Hyundai. If you have another brand, please register it at www.DriveElectricWeek.info and come show it off. If you want to be an attendee, you can reguster at the same site.

All-Electric Homes Are Practical Now, and Can Help Mitigate Climate Change

The typical American home is powered electrically but heated by natural gas, propane or other fossil fuels. You and I can generate our own electricity with solar panels, but there’s no way for us to generate natural gas or other fossil fuel energy, so the transition to a “net zero energy” lifestyle necessitates turning away from fossil fuels and going all-electric.

Fortunately, technology has advanced — just in the last decade — to the point where going all-electric is totally practical, affordable, and a way you and I can mitigate climate change

At Golden Real Estate, our office was heated with natural gas until November 2017, when we installed a heat pump “mini-split” system and had our natural gas meter removed. With 20 kilowatts of solar photovoltaic panels, we were able to eliminate our natural gas bill but not increase our electric bill. We continue to pay just $11 per month to be connected to the electric grid (which functions as our “battery” thanks to net metering), but we are generating all the electricity needed to power, heat and cool our office building. We even have enough electricity from the solar panels to power our four electric cars without buying any net electricity from Xcel Energy. We hope other businesses will follow our lead.

Making the switch to all-electric at home is still in our future, because — like you, I suspect — we prefer gas cooking, gas grilling, and having a gas fireplace.

If, however, we can get beyond those preferences, it is possible now to heat our home and domestic hot water using heat pump appliances, and to cook our food with electric or induction cooktops and ovens.  Electric grilling is also available, although not as attractive from a taste standpoint to most of us.

All-electric homes was the subject of a talk by architect Peter Ewers at last week’s meeting of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society’s Jeffco chapter.  You can view an archived video of Peter’s talk at www.cres-energy.org/video.

Once we have removed gas service from our homes (and gas cars from our garages), we will have also eliminated the risks of explosion and carbon monoxide poisoning, too.  Wouldn’t that be great?

LED Lighting Has Some Health & Vision Side Effects Worth Considering

In my July 18th column, online at www.JimSmithColumns.com, I wrote about my favorite home improvements, including the adoption of LED lighting, which I prefer to CFL lighting and is far more energy efficient than incandescent lighting. In particular, I wrote glowingly, so to speak, about “daylight” LEDs — the whitest light available, so well-named for how it matches the color of bright sunlight.

In our office, I replaced all our “soft white” LEDs with “daylight” LEDs to match the color of sunlight coming through our four Velux sun tunnels.

A reader of that column alerted me to some recent research which showed “daylight” LEDs to be harmful to vision, exacerbating macular degeneration, and disruptive of our circadian rhythm (important for good sleep) specifically because it simulates full natural sunlight.

I urge you to Google “daylight LEDs and health,” as I did, and you’ll find that one of the top links is for a June 2016 American Medical Association policy statement (adopted unanimously at their annual meeting) warning about health and safety problems associated with white LED lighting, so common now in the lighting of American streets.

It was right after learning of this research that I bought a new HP laptop computer and noticed that it offers a “nightlight” setting which automatically changes the screen lighting from white to yellow LED light at sunset.  It made me wonder why I was so late to learn about this issue!

The reader who alerted me to this topic suffers from early stage macular degeneration. He said he has replaced all the LED lights in his home with incandescent bulbs. I’m satisfied that changing back to the lower “color temperature” LEDs will be enough. I have noticed that some LED fixtures (like the ones I installed in our conference room) have a switch allowing you to choose between “soft white,” “warm white” and “daylight” temperature settings.

Free eBook on Solar Power with ‘The Property Brothers’

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER is the name of the free eBook, which you can download below.

The simple, undeniable fact is this: The sun can provide more energy in an hour than all of humanity uses in a year. We’re talking about an inexhaustible supply of clean, safe, reliable power that people and countries across the planet can access to power their lives and economies.

Even still, fossil fuel utilities continue to make billions of dollars from dirty energy monopolies – while the rest of us pay the consequences.

But we can flip the script by taking bold action.

That’s why Climate Reality has teamed up with HGTV’s Property Brothers co-host and solar energy advocate Jonathan Scott for Knowledge is Power, a new e-book about the incredible benefits of solar energy and the deceptive tactics fossil fuel utilities are using to protect their bottom lines at the expense of every person on the planet.

The benefits of solar don’t end with lower power bills. Cutting carbon pollution? Check. Empowering communities? Check. Providing energy independence? Check. Creating good jobs? Check and check.

Learn more about this incredible resource – and how together we can take control of our energy future – by getting your free download of Knowledge is Power today

Conserving Water Is Likely to Become More Important in Coming Years

My understanding as a layman is that al-though one of the impacts of warmer oceans due to climate change is increased precipitation over land, it won’t be as predictable and consistent, so we need to include water conservation in any discussion of sustainability. Or think of it as water management, since we’ll need to be concerned about flooding just as much as about prolonged droughts.

At the local level, we need to be smart about conserving water. It’s a practice we need to implement in times of abundance, because we can’t be sure when the pendulum will swing the other way and we’ll endure periods of water shortage.

For homeowners, the biggest consumption of water is typically the irrigation of our lawns and landscaping. Even though Rita and I replaced our Kentucky Bluegrass lawn with Bella Bluegrass, which requires less mowing and watering, we still need to use our sprinklers, although not as much. We would have done better to install buffalo grass, which is not as verdant, but requires zero irrigation and mowing.  (I can provide the address of a home I know in Golden that installed buffalo grass a couple decades ago.)

There are sprinkler systems which adjust the amount of watering that is done based on rainfall and ground moisture, but I haven’t investigated those devices, since I usually am home and adjust our watering according to the weather. For example, this spring I didn’t turn on our sprinkler system until June 1st because of our unusually wet May.

There are other residential strategies for saving water. I have learned to take showers in which I only run the water to get wet and to rinse off, without running the water while washing.

We also installed 1.2-gallon-per-flush toilets, which perform as well as the 1.6-gpf models.  We have a sensor faucet on our kitchen sink which operates like those sensors you’re probably used to seeing in public restrooms. The faucet (by Moen) also allows us to turn the water on and off manually when needed.

We also installed a recirculation line on our water heater, which saves a lot of water by producing hot water more quickly in the kitchen and bathrooms. Think of all the water you run waiting for it to get hot. Not only are you wasting that water, but you paid to heat that water, only to have it cool off sitting in the pipes between your water heater and your sink. You’ll also save energy (i.e., money) by installing such a recirc line. Ask your plumber for an estimate.

High efficiency washing machines are efficient in their use of water, not just energy. Front loaders use less water than the older top loaders, but the new top-loading high efficiency machines, such as our LG unit (the kind with a glass top and no agitator), automatically sense how much water is needed and do an amazing job. We’re glad our front-loading high efficiency washing machine died and had to be replaced!

At the governmental level, I’m surprised that CDOT and other jurisdictions don’t install buffalo grass in the medians and on the shoulders of our highways. Doing so would not only conserve water but save a lot of money on mowing, which can also endanger workers on high-speed highways.

Recently I saw a report on the blue jean industry, which uses an immense amount of water not just to grow the cotton (1,800 gallons per pair of jeans) but even more water to dye them blue!

I expect to learn even more about water conservation and management at this Thursday’s (tonight’s) session on this topic at Golden Real Estate’s office., 17695 S. Golden Road, Golden.  It starts at 5 p.m. and is scheduled to last only 1 hour.  We still have seats available. Email me (see below) or just show up.  The presenter is Ben Wade from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

If you can’t attend this Thursday’s session, a video of it will be archived by Saturday at www.SustainabilitySeries.info, where you can already find archived videos of the previous five sessions on other sustainability topics.

Please consider coming if you, too, have water conservation or management ideas to share, such as I have done in this column. I’m certainly looking forward to learning things I don’t already know.