Realtor Magazine: Builders Need to Respond to the Home Electrification Trend  

It isn’t in the print edition of Realtor Magazine, but a June 8 article on its website is titled, “The Future Is Now: Home Electrification.”

Regular readers of this column know that home electrification has been “now” for many years here at Golden Real Estate. At the Net Zero Store in our former building at 17695 S. Golden Road, Helio Home Inc. is busier than ever responding to people who want to replace their gas forced air furnaces with heat pump units and their gas water heaters with heat pump water heaters. (You can reach the Helio Home sales team at 720-460-1260.)

The primary focus of the Realtor Magazine article is on the need for home builders to include a larger electrical service as fossil fuels are phased out. Number one, it said, was to accommodate an electric car, since the major car manufacturers are committed to going all-electric or mostly so by 2030.

The article promotes the idea of installing solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to generate electricity for your home and car. With such a system, the author of the article correctly points out that the electrical grid can function as your home battery (thanks to net metering), but seems not to understand how it really works. He states that the utility will buy your excess solar generation but you might have to buy electricity for your car on a cloudy day. In fact, net metering allows you to send surplus electricity to the grid when you don’t need it, but you get it back at full value when needed. Everyone with a solar PV system should take advantage of the “roll-over” option allowing you to be credited for that surplus production long-term rather than get a check each January for the previous year’s over-production.

When the utility pays you for your surplus production, it does so at its cost of generating electricity — a couple cents per kilowatt-hour. But if you use your surplus electricity, you save the full retail rate (over 10¢ per kilowatt-hour) versus purchasing those kilowatt-hours from the utility.

Not understanding that process, the author promotes the idea of a home battery system, but, as I wrote before, that only needs to be considered if you have medical equipment which must run during a blackout.

The author promotes the installation of a 240V car charging station, suggesting that this could require a larger electrical panel in older homes. I disagree. The Level 2 charging station only draws the same electricity as your electric clothes dryer. If your panel can’t accommodate a dedicated circuit for the car, you could use the same one as the clothes dryer and not use both appliances at the same time. (I recognize that this is not what the code dictates, but it’s still safe if you have a 40-amp breaker on that circuit, because if you do run the dryer and the car charger at the same time, it would trip the breaker.)

Also, every EV comes with a 120V cord to plug your car into a standard household outlet. Although that only gets you 4 miles of range per hour, that’s still over 50 miles of range overnight, which may suffice, especially if you have other charging options during the day. Downtown Golden, for example, has ten free Level 2 charging stations in its garages and elsewhere.

Of course, there’s more to home electrification than car charging. The article points out that there are now electric outdoor tools—lawn mowers, leaf blowers, snow blowers, chain saws and more—that you can buy online or at Lowes. Ego Power is the biggest brand in this field, and their various tools all use the same interchangeable batteries.

Not mentioned in the article are the biggest consumers of fossil fuels—your gas furnace and water heater. As I said, you can speak to Helio Home about converting gas units to electric heat pump units.

For cooking, I have written in the past about induction electric ranges, and I’m really fond of our electric grill shown here. Lift it off its stand and you can use the grill on your countertop. You can’t do that with a gas grill! And it plugs into a standard 120V patio outlet. We bought ours at Home Depot for $100. Food grilled on it tastes just as good as when cooked on a gas grill.

Can the electrical grid handle the increased use of electricity over fossil fuels, given, for example, that by 2030 over 50% of car sales in America will be all-electric? You may have read warnings that widespread adoption of EVs will overwhelm our electrical transmission systems, but I disagree. Solar panels are being installed just as quickly and perhaps more so, and that electricity is consumed within your neighborhood if not by yourself, reducing the needed distribution from the utility. And, as I said, even with Level 2 charging, an EV only draws the same amount of electricity as a clothes dryer.

Home builders can and should adapt to this trend, and are in fact required to do so in some jurisdictions. Every new home should be solar-ready if not solar-powered, by building chases into the home which could accommodate the electrical lines serving roof-mounted solar panels. Also, garages should be wired with a 240V outlet on their front walls in addition to the usual 120V outlets on three walls.

I was encouraged to see that a new 300-unit apartment complex about to break ground in Lakewood between Colfax and 15th Place and between Owens and Pierson Streets is, according to the plans I saw, going to have over 40 EV parking spaces in its garage.

One of the more interesting flaws in the Realtor Magazine article was the suggestion that home garages should be insulated or even heated to avoid shortening the life of an electric vehicle’s battery. This is a misinterpretation of the fact that EVs lose range in the winter. It’s not that the battery loses power in cold weather, but rather that heating the car’s cabin uses battery power which thereby reduces the car’s range, as does the heating of the battery itself to its optimum operating temperature.

Zillow Has Published a Primer on Home Solar — Here Are My Reflections on It  

On April 27, Zillow published an article, “6 Questions to Ask as You Consider Home Solar.” I thought it was pretty comprehensive, but it was written for a national audience, and some of the questions are readily answered for us here in Colorado.

The article begins by asserting that, according to Zillow’s research, homes which highlight eco-friendly features like solar sell up to 10 days quicker and for 1.4% more than homes that don’t. That statistic, however, fails to distinguish between homes which have fully-owned solar installations, and homes that have leased systems or “power purchase agreements.” Those alternative arrangements basically create a situation in which the homeowner purchases electricity from two companies instead of one — still a good deal, since the solar power typically costs less than the power purchased from the utility.

Zillow’s question #1 is whether your home is suitable for solar. We all know, of course, that a south-facing roof without shading is best, but there are other considerations, such as the condition of your roof. If your roof needs replacing before you put solar panels on it, you may want to include Roper Roofing & Solar in Golden among the solar companies you interview. It’s the only solar company I know which is also a roofing company.

One question posed by Zillow is whether your HOA (if you have one) will allow solar. Fortunately, Colorado passed a law over a decade ago (C.R.S. 38-30-168) which requires HOAs to allow solar and other sustainable improvements. HOAs can regulate appearance but not prohibit solar. For example, it could require that solar panels be flush with your roof rather than angled out from it.

The article points out that if your home is not suitable for solar, you should look into community solar, for which it provides a link. Community solar is also a good alternative for renters and condo owners.

The second question is how to find a reputable installer. Personally, I prefer to hire a small (and local) family-owned company over a national business with a local sales team. I recommend Golden Solar, which has installed five systems for me over the past two decades, and Buglet Solar Electric. The owners of those two companies, Don Parker and Whitney Painter, can answer question #3, which is what incentives and rebates are available on the federal, state, local and utility level. The current federal incentive is a 26% tax credit, which drops to 22% next year and expires the following year unless Congress extends it.

Question #4 is whether there’s net metering, which allows you to “bank” your daytime production for nighttime use and carry forward your surplus solar production to future months and years. In Colorado, the answer is a resounding yes.

Question #5 is about battery storage. Net metering, in my opinion, makes home battery backup/storage unnecessary unless you are worried about power outages. (If you have life-sustaining equipment that requires uninterrupted electricity, battery storage might be appropriate.)

Where battery storage is essential, of course, is in off-grid applications, such as in a mountain cabin without accessible electricity from a utility.  I have listed such homes with impressive battery systems.

The last question which Zillow poses is whether a solar installation is worth it, admitting that this is a very personal decision.

A solar installation nowadays costs between $10,000 and $20,000 for the typical home, and you can ask the companies you interview what the return on investment will be. I have never worried about ROI, because installing solar, to me, is simply the right thing to do, satisfied as I am that it does pay for itself, whether in five years or ten.

One piece of advice not in the Zillow article is to factor in the increased electricity you will need when you buy an electric vehicle — which you will at some point, since most manufacturers plan to phase out gas-powered vehicles. Xcel Energy lets you to carry forward surplus generation from year to year, and allows you to install solar panels equivalent to double your last 12 months’ usage. (Do NOT elect to receive a yearly check from Xcel Energy for your excess solar production, because they pay you a small fraction of that electricity’s retail value — carry it forward for future use at its full retail value.)

Electric Vehicle Roundup Scheduled for April 2nd in Golden  

    Every April and October, Golden Real Estate hosts an electric vehicle roundup as part of Drive Electric Earth Day and National Drive Electric Week. Although we’ve moved our real estate office to downtown Golden, we still own our former location at 17695 S. Golden Road, and we’ll host the EV roundup in that parking lot, just like last April and October.

    We’re seeking EV owners who would like to display their EVs from 3 to 6 pm on Saturday, April 2nd. We’d particularly like to see some of the new models, such as Rivian’s pickup truck, Ford’s Mustang Mach E, and Volvo’s XC40 Recharge. You can register your vehicle online at www.DriveElectricWeek.info

    If you are not an EV owner and would like to talk to existing EV owners (like me) about their experience, you can register at the same site as an attendee, or simply show up on April 2nd.

   We intentionally schedule our EV roundups during the SuperCruise event which happens on the first Saturday of each month from April through October. That event attracts hundreds of gas-powered classic and other cars and thousands of spectators. Our parking lot is on that popular stretch of South Golden Road and exposes those owners and spectators to the future of transportation — electric vehicles. See you there!

Must Read: ‘From Homes to Cars, It’s Now Time to Electrify Everything’  

Every now and then I read an article that I am compelled to share, because it simply “nails it.”

Such was the article by Saul Griffith, published Oct. 19, 2021, on the Yale School of the Environment website, http://www.e360.yale.edu, and re-posted Nov 30, 2021, on GreenBuildingAdvisor.com.

Here’s a link to the full article: https://e360.yale.edu/features/from-homes-to-cars-its-now-time-to-electrify-everything.

The thesis of that article is summarized as follows: “The key to shifting away from fossil fuels is for consumers to begin replacing their home appliances, heating systems, and cars with electric versions powered by clean electricity. The challenges are daunting, but the politics will change when the economic benefits are widely felt.”

The diagram above right shows what can be electrified in a home. Rita and I are most of the way there. This fall I purchased an electric snow blower to complement our electric lawn mower, weed eater, leaf blower and automobiles. Earlier this year I purchased a heat pump water heater to complement our heat pump hybrid furnace. (Hybrid, because it still burns natural gas when the outdoor temperature dips below 30° F.)

All these electric devices are powered by the sun, thanks to our 10-kW solar PV system installed when we bought our home in 2012.  Because we still cook with gas and occasionally burn gas in our furnace and fireplace, our Xcel bill is still around $35-40 per month, but we’re doing our part to “electrify everything.”

You can do that, too.

The central thesis of Saul Griffith’s article is that we have little control over the supply side of energy, although there are encouraging signs of it becoming less dependent on fossil fuels.  But we have total control over the demand side of energy:

“We don’t have a lot of choice on the supply side, but we have all of the choice on the demand side. For the most part, we decide what we drive, how we heat our water, what heats our homes, what cooks our food, what dries our laundry, and even what cuts our grass. This constitutes our ‘personal infrastructure,’ and it is swapping out that infrastructure that will be a key driver of the global transition from fossil fuels to green energy.”

According to Griffith, who co-founded the non-profit Rewiring America, there are 280 million cars and trucks in America, 70 million fossil-fueled furnaces, 60 million fossil-fueled water heaters, 20 million gas dryers, and 50 million gas stoves, ovens and cooktops. Until now, the conversation has been about making each of those fossil-fueled appliances more efficient, earning “Energy Star” ratings.

But the real goal should be to replace them with electric appliances burning the increasingly green electricity which is being generated by our electric utilities.

A common refrain from people regarding electric cars is that they are not really zero emissions because of how the electricity is generated. I myself was originally reluctant to buy an EV because I didn’t want to “switch from burning gas to burning coal.”

However, that argument overlooks the relative efficiency of electric motors.  In a fossil-fueled car, only 20% of the energy in the fuel is propelling the car. The rest is waste energy, primarily creating heat which then requires more fuel to cool it. In an EV, 90% of the energy from the battery propels the car. There’s almost no waste energy.

An suitable analogy to the gas-powered car is an incandescent light bulb, in which light is a byproduct of heating the filament. It’s no surprise that the LED light bulb uses about 20% of the electricity of an incandescent light bulb for the same amount of light, because light is the primary product of the LED, not a by-product of waste energy.

Because of its relative efficiency, even if an EV is charged from electricity created entirely by coal, its carbon footprint is far below that of a fossil-fuelel vehicle. The same applies to today’s highly efficient heat pumps for both space heating (and cooling) and for water heating.

Griffith’s point is that more efficient fossil-fueled appliances won’t get us where we need to be to save the planet from catastrophic climate change. We need to get to zero emissions, which is only possible by going all-electric in our homes and vehicles as our electric utilities make their inevitable transition — whether incentivized by government or simply by the economies of renewable energy — to clean energy.

You, like me, will love the effects of this transition to all-electric living. Imagine a future where carbon dioxide is not a household poison; where motorcycles don’t disturb the peace and quiet of our streets and canyons; where semis slow down quietly because they are putting energy back into their batteries instead of using loud and polluting engine braking; where our neighbors aren’t disturbed by loud lawn mowers, snow blowers and leaf blowers; and where children no longer suffer health problems from their own school buses or playgrounds next to highways.

You, like me, will appreciate the ease of use and near-zero maintenance of electric devices. My snow blower, lawn mower, and leaf blower start by pushing a button or pulling a lever and never need a tune-up, refueling or oil change.

Griffith is not arguing that everyone should immediately swap out their fossil-fueled cars or appliances but rather avoid replacing them with newer ones. Cars, for example, can last for 20 years, and gas furnaces for 15 years. When they need replacing, make the smart choice and replace them with their electric counterparts. You’ll be glad you did five or ten years later when their resale value has evaporated due to public recognition that they became obsolete before you purchased them.

When Will Your Car Need These Expensive Repairs?

Rita and Jim Smith and their Teslas

Other than for a flat tire, you’ll almost never see an electric car on the side of the road awaiting a service vehicle or tow truck. That’s because an EV will never need any of the following expensive repairs — the parts simply don’t exist on an EV:

Transmission

Timing belt

Fuel pump

Muffler or stolen catalytic converter

Water pump

Fan belt

Power steering pump

Power brakes pump

Radiator leak/anti-freeze

Engine work of any kind

Spark plugs/points

There’s no “check engine” light because there’s no engine, so you won’t pay to “pull codes” and reset it. And no emissions testing. The electric motors in EVs, like those in other devices, are dependable, only failing if they are worked too hard, and the computers in Teslas (and presumably other EVs) don’t let that happen.

EVs have Battery Management Systems (BMS) which are critical to maintaining battery health and performance. In Teslas, there is a sealed coolant system which maintains the battery at its optimum performance temperature (70° F) year-round, including cooling it when it is being supercharged or when it sends a high level of power to the electric motor(s).

Lithium batteries, unlike lead acid batteries, do not fail abruptly, but rather degrade over time. The reason lead acid batteries fail abruptly, I’m told, is that they consume the lead when they are charged and discharged. Lithium ion batteries don’t consume the lithium. The rate of degradation has been estimated at 1% per year, so a battery with 300 miles of range might degrade to 270 miles of range in 10 years. That matches my experience.

As people wait for the purchase price of EVs to equal that of a gas-powered car — which has largely happened — they shouldn’t overlook the lower cost of fuel (3 to 4 cents per mile vs.10 cents and higher) and the dramatically lower cost of maintenance and repair. And fleet buyers won’t have to buy 12 EVs in order to always have 10 on the road because of how rarely EVs will be in the shop.

If You Missed Last Saturday’s EV Roundup and Green Homes Tour…

You can view a short video report about last Saturday’s Electric Vehicle Roundup at Golden Real Estate on my YouTube channel. The shortcut for accessing my YouTube channel is www.JimSmithVideos.com.

And you can still tour the homes on the 26th annual Metro Denver Green Homes Tour by clicking on “Playlists” on the same YouTube channel.

Winter Is When Electric Vehicles Really Shine

You may think this claim is counterintuitive, but consider the following:

Electric cars never need to warm up. Get in, put it in drive and go! (In Teslas, there’s not even a “Start” button.) Moreover, your cabin will be warm in less than 1/2 mile, because it doesn’t depend on an engine warming up.

You’ll never break down.  There is hardly anything to fail. Remember, it’s just a battery and a motor (or two).  You’ll never stall and you’ll never need a boost. There are only 50 moving parts in an electric car. What can fail? I like to tell people that the only time you’ll see an EV on the side of the road is if there’s an accident or a flat tire or the driver needs to duck behind a bush.

With their low center of gravity and 50/50 front-to-back weight distribution, electric cars handle better and more safely on wet or snow-covered roads. The battery in most EVs is mounted underneath the cabin. My AWD Teslas perform better in snow than my AWD 2009 Lexus RX 400h did. Here’s a 11-minute YouTube video of all three Tesla models being test-driven on Tesla’s Alaska test-track:

Imagine the worst winter scenario, where you get stranded in the snow and need to survive overnight or longer in your car. An EV is perfect for that situation, because you won’t have to stop and start your gas engine to keep warm and worry about carbon monoxide poisoning. The EV will lose less than 5 miles of range per hour to keep you warm. And it won’t matter if your car is upside down. If you charged your car beforehand, you’ll have long-term warmth.

One of my favorite EV features is the ability to leave the climate system on when I go into a store or meeting on a frigid (or super hot) day. When I return to the car, it will be at 70 degrees.  If I’m going to be in a long meeting, I can turn on the heat or A/C using my smartphone app as I’m leaving the meeting room and know that the car will be comfortable by the time I get in it.

As I wrote last month, the best deal in electric cars is a used one. According to Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com), my good-as-new 2015 Tesla Model S 70D has a private resale value of $33,402. That is crazy.  I paid $93,000 for it new.

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….