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.

My Favorite Home Improvements When Purchasing a New-to-Me Home  

This column is adapted from my July 18, 2019, column on this topic.

Energy efficiency is very important to Rita and me, so the first thing we did when we purchased our current home was to pay for an energy audit to identify opportunities for making the home more air-tight. One result of that test was to blow additional cellulose insulation into walls and ceilings and to caulk around windows. We considered installing an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to bring fresh air into the home using a heat exchanger that warms outside air in the winter and cools outside air in the summer. Instead we installed a fan in our powder room that runs 24/7 at a very low volume, but higher when occupied.

I love bringing sunlight into a home, with sun tunnels. Rita and I had Mark Lundquist of Design Skylights install a Velux sun tunnel in our garage and another one in our laundry room. (He installed four more at Golden Real Estate.)

Speaking of sunlight, we replaced every light bulb in our home with LEDs which are “daylight” color.

Installing solar photovoltaic panels is a no-brainer now that the cost has dropped so much. Your roof doesn’t have to face due south. Southeast and southwest are good enough. Since everyone will be driving an electric car eventually, install as much solar PV as Xcel Energy allows to cover that future load.

Don’t you hate climbing a curb to enter your driveway? Developers install mountable curbs the entire length of residential streets, because they can’t know where each driveway will be. One of the first things we did at our home was to remove the mountable curb in front of our driveway.  It cost about $2,000 for our 3-car-wide driveway, but we love it every time we enter from the street!

When your gas forced air furnace needs replacing, consider replacing it with a heat-pump or hybrid furnace. And when your gas water heater needs replacing, I recommend buying a heat-pump water heater. We bought a 50-gallon Rheem unit for $1,200, but it came with a $400 rebate. Once you’ve replaced both, you will have eliminated the most common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. 

Other improvements I’d recommend: Replacing any bathroom carpeting with ceramic or porcelain tile; replacing regular double-pane windows with Low-E windows on south-facing windows; replacing fluorescent fixtures (as we did in our garage) with flush-mount LED panels sold at Lowes for about $100.  Love ’em!

Here’s More About Our Planned ‘Net Zero Store’  

By the time you read this article, Golden Real Estate’s move from 17695 S. Golden Road to 1214 Washington Avenue will be well underway.

Last week I announced that we will be transforming our old office space (which Rita and I own personally) into the home of a new venture Ty Scrable and I are calling The Net Zero Store.  It will be a one-stop shop for “all things sustainable,” selling and/or brokering products and services designed to reduce your home’s carbon footprint.

Among the products we will be selling or promoting are the following:

Solar Photovoltaic and Solar Thermal Systems

Sun Tunnels

Heat Pump HVAC Systems

Heat Pump Water Heaters

High-Efficiency Windows

Various Kinds of Home Insulation

HRVs and CERVs for Home Ventilation and Air Quality

Induction Cooktops

Condensing Clothes Dryers

Sustainable Countertop Choices

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

 Among the services we will offer directly or through vendors are the following:

In-Home Consultations With a Sustainability Coach

Energy Audits

Blower Door Testing

Testing and Mitigation for Mold, Radon, Asbestos

Advice Regarding Electric Vehicles

ADUs and Tiny Homes

Webinars and In-Person Events on All Aspects of Sustainability

Reading/Video Lists for Further Study

Styrofoam Recycling

Unlike other stores, everyone you encounter at The Net Zero Store will be knowledgeable in all these areas. Ty and I are in the process of creating partnerships with vendors of these products and services. If you have a product or service you think should be featured in our store, please call Ty at 720-281-6783.

We are also recruiting volunteers to serve as sustainability coaches.

What Are the Steps You Can Take Toward Making Your Home Net Zero Energy?  

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like the idea of saving money, which will happen when you convert your home to “net zero energy.” So, what are the steps you can take to get there?

Net zero energy” means that your home generates more energy than it consumes. With “net metering,” your electric meter runs backwards when your solar panels generate more electricity than you’re using (on a sunny day), then runs forward at night, resulting in zero (or less) net consumption of electric power.

Solar power gets more affordable every year. When I purchased my first 10-kW solar photovoltaic system 15 years ago, the cost was over $60,000, but Xcel Energy gave a rebate of $4.50 per watt, so I got a check for $45,000 from the utility, reducing my net cost to $15,000. Nowadays that same system would cost as little as $15,000 with no Xcel rebate but a 26% federal tax credit.

While you can generate your own electricity, you cannot generate your own natural gas, so terminating natural gas service is key to achieving net zero energy. This involves some major system changes if you are currently heating your home and your water using natural gas, cooking with gas (including with a gas grill) and have a gas fireplace.

There are electric alternatives to all of these uses of natural gas, and you’ll appreciate that eliminating natural gas also eliminates the possibility of a gas explosion and of carbon monoxide poisoning (unless you have a gas powered car).

Heating your home with electricity used to mean installing baseboard resistance heating units in each room, but that is so 20th century. Nowadays electric space heating is done far more efficiently (and evenly) using heat pumps.

Gas forced air furnaces and water heaters are considered to have a 15-year life expectancy, so when yours fail, think of that as an opportunity to adopt heat pump technology for both functions. And a heat pump eliminates the need for a separate A/C unit, since it heats and cools.

Gas furnaces and water heaters generate heat by burning gas. A heat pump moves heat, similar to what A/C does. (How heat pumps work) It cools your home by moving the heat out of your house. If you put your hand over the external compressor unit while it’s cooling your home, you will feel the heat that was moved from inside your home. In heating mode, the process is reversed, and the heat pump moves heat from outdoors into your house. It may surprise you to know that when it’s freezing outside there is actually heat that can be moved from outside to the interior of your house, but it’s true. (Heat pumps work in extremely cold climates) Our office has been heated solely by heat pump since November 2017, and ever since there has never been a day when the system failed to keep our office at 70°F or warmer.

A simple one-unit 12,000-BTU, 29.3-SEER ductless mini-split system from Fujitsu can be found online for $1,961. That’s a small unit, suitable for one room or a garage (a great application!). For our office, we bought a Mitsubishi system in which a single compressor drives three separate wall units, each with its own thermostat.

A heat pump water heater (which I installed at our home) has the compressor built into the unit, above the tank. You can feel cool air emitting from it when it is heating water. I suggest putting it in a wine cellar where it’ll keep the room cool without buying a separate A/C unit.

For cooking, you’ll be amazed and delighted by the induction cooktops that are now widely available. I saw them used on a cruise ship for both cooking and warming surfaces, and the chefs loved them. (Modern cruise ships have eliminated natural gas because of the fire hazard.)

An all-electric home will, of course, demand more electricity, but Xcel Energy now allows you to install enough solar panels to generate double your electrical usage over the prior 12 months. That is more than enough to cover your new electric space heating, water heating and cooking needs, with capacity left over to charge an EV, too.

An important first step in pursuing net zero energy for your home is to reduce your need for energy, and the easiest and cheapest way to do that is to improve your home’s insulation. I had Dennis Brachfield of About Saving Heat blow cellulose insulation into the exterior walls (not just the attic) of a 1940s bungalow I owned, and I was astonished at how much more comfortable the house became. Even if your exterior walls have batt insulation in them, there is still space in the walls to blow in cellulose. (How to insulate an old house)

I learned something interesting from that experience. We all know that walls can radiate heat, such as a brick wall in bright sunlight. Well, walls can also radiate coldness, or suck heat. The air temperature in my bungalow before and after blowing in insulation was the same, but I felt warmer and burned less gas.

You can go beyond improving the insulation of your exterior walls and attic. There are numerous places that allow cold into your home, especially around your windows. Whether or not you install triple-pane Alpen windows, as we did at our office, caulking around the window frames and elsewhere can reduce the energy needed to heat your home.

A blower door test done by a contractor will identify the air leaks in your home. Insulating your attic with blown-in cellulose and your crawlspace with plastic sheeting will also reduce your home’s energy needs whether from gas heating or your new heat pump. (Insulating crawl spaces)

Of course, many homes, especially in older neighborhoods, can’t benefit from solar power because of shading from trees or insufficient south-facing roof area, but you can purchase community solar. (This is also a good solution for condos which have no roof at all.)

The way community solar works is that you invest in solar panels that are part of a solar farm in some distant pasture. The electricity generated by your panels in that remote location is credited to the electric meter for your home or condo. One advantage of community solar is that when you move, you only need to change which meter gets credited with your solar production.

Other ways of reducing energy use include replacing CFL or incandescent light bulbs with affordable LED bulbs and “daylighting” your home or office. (Batteries + Bulbs sell 8-packs of 60W LED replacement bulbs for $6.49, tax included, after $15 instant rebate.) We have “sun tunnels” in our home and office to bring daylight into interior spaces. In fact, on a sunny day we don’t need to turn on any lights in our office. It’s great— and saves energy. We had Design Skylights of Evergreen install Velux sun tunnels at both home and office.

Would you like one of us to visit your home for a private consultation about the sustainability possibilities in your home? Email me at Jim@GoldenRealEstate.com.

Arvada City Council Buys Into a Developer’s False Narrative That New Homes Must Have Natural Gas  

It’s sad to see elected officials not taking the time to learn about new technology, especially technology that contributes to abating the effects of climate change.

Such is the story unfolding in the city of Arvada, where the city council — historically super friendly to developers — has bought into a false narrative by a developer/builder team that all-electric homes are not affordable or desired by today’s home buyers.

This is happening despite the fact that Arvada is itself home to a well known model of affordable all-electric homes in the Geos Community located west of Indiana Street and south of 72nd Avenue.

Geos Neighborhood

The Geos Community was partially built out several years ago without any natural gas lines. Home heating is by geothermal and air source heat pumps. Cooking is on induction cooktops. Heat pump water heaters provide the domestic hot water. Solar panels on each home provide all the electricity needed for these and other needs, making all 26 current homes “net zero energy.”

Before the Geos Community could be fully built out, its original developer was forced into selling due to a divorce settlement. Otherwise the remaining 250 homes — a mix of townhomes and single family homes — would have been built to the same net zero standard.  The new developer had promised to do so, as described in a Nov. 17, 2020, post on MileHighCRE.com, but it reneged on that promise and is in the process of installing natural gas lines to the new homes, greatly annoying and angering the owners of the original 26 homes.

The fossil fuel industry duped all of us by promoting methane as a “natural and safe” gas for use in homes. This gas is highly heat-trapping (80-100 times more so than carbon dioxide), prone to explosion and causes many health issues (see Electric4Health.org). During the last decade Colorado added an average of 20,500 residential  gas customers each year. BigPivots.com reports that our state now has 1.8 million residential gas customers. That trend needs to be reversed. There’s no need to keep building home reliant on natural gas.

Geos homeowners appealed to Arvada’s city council to deny the developer a permit for the gas lines, but the city declined to do so. The neighbors, however, are not giving up and have 267 signatures (including my own) on a petition to reverse that decision. The City of Arvada has advised the current Geos residents that this issue is closed.

Arvada should be proud that it is the home of the country’s first “geosolar” community which has, among other honors, been featured several times in the Metro Denver Green Homes Tour. I myself have produced narrated video tours of three Geos homes for that tour, which you can view here, here, and here.

As part of its COP 26 coverage this week in Glasgow, CNN will air a segment on Geos as a home building model to be emulated, essential for addressing climate change.

Event Tonight (Oct. 21) Is About Heat Pumps, “The Overlooked Climate Solution”

Michael Thomas is founder and head of research at Carbon Switch, a climate research company on a mission to decarbonize America’s homes. He will be speaking this evening at Jefferson Unitarian Church, 14350 W. 32nd Ave., Golden. All are welcome (masks required). The event begins at 7 p.m. but is being recorded if you can’t make it.

From Carbon Switch website

Michael Thomas argues that heat pumps are “the boring climate solution we need to pay more attention to” because they offer massive savings for heating and cooling and substantially reduce carbon emissions. (They were key to Golden Real Estate making its office net zero energy.) Thomas will also talk about why cold-climate states like Maine have some of the best opportunities for heat pump adoption while climates like Colorado will be harder to electrify with heat pumps.

His research has been featured on NPR, CNBC, WSJ, and dozens of other national publications. He has also written for The Atlantic, FastCompany, and Quartz. www.carbonswitch.co

The event will be recorded and be available on the CRES Youtube channel.

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!

Here’s a Postscript to My Earlier Post About All-Electric Homes

Some readers were surprised to read my column promoting the all-electric home as a cost-effective contribution to the mitigation of climate change.

If you’re thinking of 20th Century home construction, promoting the all-electric home would make little sense. Electric baseboard heating has its place, but no longer as a whole house solution. One advantage of it is that each room can have its own thermostat, so you’re only heating rooms when you use them. For the heat it produces, however, it is many times more expensive than using a mini-split heat pump solution. Recently I showed a home where a heat pump mini-split was used to heat a detached and insulated garage which doubled as a workshop. That’s a great application for that kind of heating — also because the mini-split can cool the garage in the summer, not just heat it in the winter.

There has been a revolution in the development of electric appliances, too. The induction cooktop, for example, is a highly efficient replacement for earlier electric ranges or cooktops which used resistance-based cooking elements.

Another change from the 20th Century: you can now generate your own electricity with highly affordable roof-top solar photovoltaic installations.

All-Electric Homes (and Buildings) Are Central to Mitigating Climate Change

As much as we Americans love our gas fireplaces, gas ranges and gas grills, we need to recognize that the move to an all-electric home, with the electricity being generated using minimal fossil fuels, is central to the goal of mitigating the effects of climate change.

And it can be a good future, especially if you’re able to generate all the electricity that your home and cars use.

That’s the future Rita and I have created for ourselves. We have 10 kW of solar panels on our Golden home, enough to heat and cool our home and charge our two electric cars. Our forced air furnace only burns gas when the outside temp dips below freezing. Otherwise, a heat pump provides all the heat we need. And recently we replaced our gas water heater with a hybrid water heater that heats all the water we need using its built-in heat pump. It has a standard electric heater coil in case we need faster recovery.  (We never have needed faster recovery.)

Yes, we still have a gas cooktop and gas fireplace, and our BBQ grill is plumbed with gas. I can picture us moving to an induction electric cooktop, electric fireplace and electric grill, but for now we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we have drastically reduced our carbon footprint and our monthly energy bills with the use of heat pumps for heating, cooling and water heating, as well as by driving EVs.

A December article on axios.com reported that some progressive jurisdictions are now banning gas hookups in new residential and commercial construction. According the article, 40 California municipalities, starting with Berkeley in 2019, have banned the installation of natural gas service in new construction.

The most common argument against this anti-natural gas trend relates to the cost of electric heating vs. gas heating, but the people who make that argument are probably thinking of conventional resistance heating, such as baseboard electric heating.

Resistance heating is similar to your kitchen toaster, sending electricity to a coil causing it to generate heat.  There is a more efficient way to heat, however, which is to use a heat pump. A heat pump moves heat instead of generating heat, and the cost is as little at one quarter that of resistance heating for the same BTU (heat) output. Here’s a article comparing the two kinds of electric heating.

Moreover, a heat pump can provide both heating and cooling, merely by reversing the direction in which it moves heat, replacing both the gas furnace and electric air conditioning unit which most of us have in our homes.

Another argument against increased electrification is that electricity is itself created by the burning of coal and natural gas. The current fuel mix of Xcel Energy in Colorado is 36% natural gas, 32.5% coal, and the rest renewable energy (mostly wind). The company’s goal is 55% renewable by 2026 and 100% “carbon-free” by 2050, so it makes sense to start now replacing gas appliances with high efficiency electric ones such as heat pumps.

Keep in mind, too, that we can generate our own electricity at home and on our office buildings, taking advantage of “net metering,” paying only to be connected to the electric grid. With net metering, Xcel’s grid functions like a battery, taking excess electricity from our solar installations during the day and delivering it back to us when the sun goes away — or when our solar panels are covered with snow!

When It’s Time to Replace Your Gas Forced-Air Furnace, Consider the Alternatives

As I write this, I have just completed shooting videos of the 15 homes on this year’s Metro Denver Green Homes Tour.

The tour, currently in its 25th year, takes place on the first Saturday in October. Normally, you would register for $10 and get a book describing the homes, along with a map. Armed with that, you create a self-guided tour of the homes which interest you. You’d have to complete your tour by 4pm that day, followed by a reception and expo.

Because of the pandemic, this year’s tour will be totally virtual, which is actually better because you’ll get a link to view detailed videos of every home on the tour and not miss any of them due to time constraints. We won’t release the URL for the tour until October, but when we do you’ll be able to take your time to view all 15 — and the virtual tour is free! I’ll publish that URL in my October 1st column.

Meanwhile, let me share one particular lesson that you will learn from viewing the 15 videos: that gas forced air furnaces, no matter how efficient, are obsolete.

One thing you learn really quickly in the sustainability arena is that America is far behind other countries when it comes to energy-efficient technology. That’s because our fossil fuel costs have always been lower than in Europe and Asia, specifically Germany and Japan, where you’ll find the most innovation and product development. Just look at this chart from statista.com of electricity costs in different countries:

Germany 33 cents/kWH, Japan 22 cents/kWH, United States 13 cents/kWH

With our cheap energy, higher standard of living and higher incomes, Americans have long been able to waste money and energy with abandon. The result has been to leave it to other countries to create more energy efficient and less costly products.

Since home heating and transportation are the most energy-intensive aspects of modern life, that’s where we have seen the greatest innovation abroad. We in America continue to play catch-up and hang on to old technology. Our continued use of gas furnaces is an example of hanging on to old technology.

For a long time, I thought that higher efficiency gas forced air furnaces was the direction we should go to reduce our carbon footprint. However, after viewing the videos of highly efficient net zero energy and even energy positive/carbon negative  homes, I think you’ll agree that it is time to abandon altogether that method of heating our homes.

Carrier Hybrid Heat Pump

When Rita and I purchased our current home in 2012 and installed the maximum solar photovoltaic system allowed by Xcel Energy (10 kW), we looked into how we might heat our home using the free energy we were creating from the sun. That’s when we learned about and purchased the Carrier Hybrid Heat® system, which uses an air source heat pump paired with a gas furnace to heat our home in the winter and cool it in the summer. It looks just like a gas forced air furnace, but the gas flame only comes on when the outside air is below the temperature at which the heat pump can generate heat from outside air.

Although Carrier still sells its hybrid system, heat pump technology has advanced far enough that gas back-up is no longer needed in our region. However, since our hybrid furnace uses natural gas so seldom, we won’t replace it anytime soon.

When your gas forced air furnace needs replacing, don’t make the mistake of replacing it with a newer and better gas forced air furnace. Instead, look into the many alternative ways of heating your home, which you’ll learn about when those 15 video tours are released in October. (If you can’t wait, Google “heat pumps” and investigate the options.)

Heat pump systems (Wikipedia link) can use your existing ductwork (as in our home), or they can be ductless (like at Golden Real Estate’s office). My January 4, 2018, column (link) described the transition to the ductless system at our office.

Solar thermal (Wikipedia link), using both flat panels and evacuated tubes, is another technology, typically augmented by electric and heat pump units, which can provide heating as well as domestic hot water. A few of the homes on this year’s tour have solar thermal systems.

Geothermal heating (link to vendor), present in other homes on the tour, takes advantage of the earth’s temperature below the surface. In our latitude that subsurface temperature is about 55°F  year-round. It is extracted by running a liquid-filled loop 300 feet or so into the earth and using a heat pump to heat that 55-degree liquid for radiant floor or forced air heating, or using it at 55 degrees for cooling in the summer. That takes less energy than our air source heat pumps, which take much colder air from outside and extract heat from it in the winter, and can then cool your house (like A/C) in the summer.

The thing to remember about heat pumps is that they don’t create heat (such as from burning fossil fuels), they move heat. The difference between a traditional A/C system and a heat pump system is that a heat pump moves heat in two directions, not just one.

Blower door test during a home energy audit. Credit: Holtkamp Heating & A/C, Inc.

There is so much more to learn about efficient heating and cooling of your home. But first, to provide the highest return on investment (and lowest heating cost), you will want to improve your home’s insulation. A blower-door test (energy.gov link), conducted by an energy efficiency professional, identifies where the leaks are in your home, so they can be sealed. A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) (Wikipedia link) can then help you bring in fresh air without losing your home’s heat.  (A heat exchanger within the HRV transfers the temperature of the outgoing air to the incoming air.)

Thermal mass (Wikipedia link) can play a big role in reducing the energy needed to heat a home. You’ll see thermal mass applications in many of this year’s videos. Concrete, brick, water and even dirt can function as a thermal mass to accumulate heat from the sun and then release it slowly after dark. (There is an example of a “climate battery” (vendor link) using dirt on this year’s tour.) With the proper roof overhang on south-facing windows, your thermal mass is shaded from the sun during summer months but exposed to the sun in the winter, when the sun is lower in the sky.

The best way to heat and cool your home may be different than the best way to heat and cool someone else’s home, and it’s hard to do justice to this subject in a single article.

Here are a couple vendors I’ve used who would, I’m sure, be happy to give you some free advice about the best heating system for your home.

  1. Bill Lucas-Brown, owner, GB3 Energy – www.GB3energy.com, 970-846-4766 or bill@gb3energy.com. He sells and installs heat pump systems, but also does energy audits, including blower-door tests and will super-insulate your home as he did for my current home and for the Golden Real Estate office.
  2. Dennis Brachfield, owner, About Saving Heat – 303-378-2348 or info@aboutsavingheat.com. Dennis does blower-door tests and will super-insulate your home, based on what the test reveals. He does not sell or install heat pumps or mini-splits, but he can refer you to someone and probably give you good advice about their applicability to your home. I have known Dennis for 30 years, and he has tested and insulation several homes for me.
  3. Note: HomeAdvisors would be a reasonable choice for such a project. I have not used them, but I am impressed at their quality control regarding the vendors they work with. Did you know this national company is actually based in Golden? Originally called ServiceMagic. (888) 921-3034
  4. For geothermal heating, see the link in the paragraph about geothermal heating for a vendor who sounds great to me, but whom I haven’t used.