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 Metro Denver Green Homes Tour is looking for homes to feature on its next tour, October 2nd, 2021. If your home has features that would make it a good addition to this fall’s green home tour — super insulation, solar, HVAC, etc. — contact Sheila Townsend at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jim Smith at Jim@GoldenRealEstate.com.
Take a video tour of a different home from 2020’s Metro Denver Green Homes Tour every month at www.GreenHomeoftheMonth.com.
The Geos Community located southwest of Indiana Street and 72nd Avenue in Arvada is a shining example of what’s possible in net zero energy home construction.
All Geos homes are solar powered and have no natural gas service. Heating and cooling is provided by ground source or air source heat pumps. Water heaters utilize heat pumps, not gas, and all the homes and townhouses are built according to passive solar design standards.
Two Geos homes were on last fall’s Metro Denver Green Homes Tour, and you can view narrated video tours of them by clicking on that link.
Now a developer has bought the remaining land within the Geos Community but is intending to install natural gas service in all the homes they will build. Naturally, the current residents are quite upset about this turn of events and are hoping to convince the City of Arvada not to allow this diminution of the original intent of Geos to be a strictly net zero energy community.
Visit www.DiscoverGeos.com to appreciate this community’s net zero energy mission.
Rainer W Gerbatsch, a Geos resident, in an email to Linda Hoover, Senior Planner for the City of Arvada, expressed concern about the new developer’s plan to deviate from the community’s principles by installing natural gas in future homes. Here is Ms. Hoover’s emailed response:
Thank you for your strong interest in your community. I was forwarded your concerns regarding the new upcoming development in the GEOS Neighborhood and I will do my best to address your comments. The GEOS Development was approved 12 years ago. I took over as the staff planner for this project in 2014 when the previous planner left the City. When GEOS was approved, it was intended to be a sustainable community and Norbert Klebl tried for many many years to obtain the funding to make that happen. To date, the only homes constructed out there are on Block 10 which has a mix of the staggered “checkerboard” single family detached homes and townhome units. This totals approximately 38 units out of the 282 planned. While the existing homes have a number of sustainable features, SunStudios (Architect) and Laudick Engineering are telling us that marketing of this concept has been very difficult in part due to the economics of having a development without gas service and other unique features of this development, such as having custom designed mechanical heating systems, etcetera. Most of the larger home builders want developments that have gas service. As you may know, this development went through a bankruptcy last summer. The new owners are currently in the process of working with a new builder – Dream Finders Homes. As Dream Finders comes on board, they are planning on keeping many of Norbert’s original concepts, but wanting to make some adaptations to make it economically feasible. The lot layout which has the staggered checkerboard placement of single family detached homes in the middle of the block and townhome units on the ends of the block will remain as originally intended. As a result these homes will continue to have the same architecture and passive solar design. In addition, solar panels will be placed on the rooftops and appliances will be energy efficient. These new homes will follow the Building Code to construct energy efficient homes. The building codes adopted by the City already allow various paths/choices to construct very efficient (minimum energy code) all the way to net-zero buildings – the traditional codes were followed to build the first 38 units. It is my understanding that DreamFinders would prefer to have the project served by gas, but are still looking into the economics of this issue.
This development was and still is zoned PUD (Planned Unit Development) which has its own unique design requirements rather than following the standards in the City’s Land Development Code (LDC). The GEOS Design Book states that “architecture should strive for Energy Self-Sufficiency and the avoidance of Fossil Fuels.” It also identifies net zero homes as one of the intended goals (not requirements) and further clarifies that that “goal can be achieved by combining good solar orientation and good insulation with geothermal or solar thermal heat, and photovoltaics.” However, it is silent on the issue of gas service.
As a result, we would allow the development to be built without gas service (just as was done for the first phase of GEOS) provided alternatives were ensured. However, no restrictions were included in the Design Book or on the project approvals that prohibited gas service. Passive systems, energy efficient buildings, heat recovery ventilation are guidelines not requirements.Sent 5/13/2021
Here is Rainer’s response to Ms. Hoover’s email:
I am familiar with the background of GEOS and the more recent events. Contrary to your statement that net-zero homes are difficult to sell, recent sales activity of homes in GEOS show just the opposite – there is high interest in these homes resulting in higher than expected returns for the seller and very short listing periods. It would appear that cited developer/builder statements are either uninformed or demonstrate an unwillingness to engage in construction practices that are a win-win situation for the builder, the buyer, and perhaps most importantly, the environment we all rely on. Also, I contacted and asked the architect whether he supported the cited developer/builder statements, and he responded that he did not.
Studies of completed net-zero buildings in Colorado (including GEOS) conducted by SWEEP also show that the initial cost of net-zero, all-electric homes at this time is on par with so-called traditional (polluting) construction. Net-zero construction represents a clear choice once future buyers understand that (1) these homes represent (already at this time) substantial yearly savings in energy use/expenditures (fossil fuel based energy costs will only increase as the cost of natural gas escalates based on the need to curtail and ultimately eliminate gas as a potent driver of climate change), and (2) eliminate health risks related to exposure to gas appliances and fossil-fuel burning heating devices that generate a variety of air pollutants which have been linked to cancer, decreased lung function, heart disease and a host more diseases. While these risks have been recognized for some time, they are finally receiving mainstream media attention. However, resolution is not possible without the engagement of all levels of government with developers/builders on more responsible construction practices. In summary, net-zero construction is currently superior to traditional construction because of reduction in emissions, elimination of health issues traced to fossil fuel based energy use in homes, and escalating future costs of fossil fuels, particularly natural gas.
GEOS’ prominence as a leader in de-carbonized and sustainable community living is recognized locally (we have been visited by members of sustainability committees of several Colorado towns), and nationwide (CNN’s chief environmental correspondent Bill Weir visited GEOS; CNN will be airing a nationwide broadcast on GEOS, highlighting its features as the model for home construction to achieve decarbonization and healthier interior air quality for residents). In that vein, responsible governments on all levels are preparing and committing to road maps with the goal to rapidly reduce emissions in home construction through elimination of fossil fuels, increased efficiency in appliance/lighting and heating/cooling, as well as the production of on-site renewable energy. In order to have an effective road map, commitments are required which mean nothing less than elimination of fossil fuel use in all new buildings. Consider that the IEA has just issued a special report; this statement stands out: Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director and one of the world’s foremost energy economists, told the Guardian: “If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.”
It is 2021, and permitting a developer/builder team the inclusion of natural gas infrastructure for about 250 new homes, based on questionable developer/builder concerns of perceived marketability or economics, thereby locking in emissions for the life of the buildings, subjecting owners to health risks related to gas pollutants and escalating energy costs (not considering future mandated retrofits based on the trajectory of climate induced changes), is not responsible, sets the wrong signal and constitutes a serious setback in rising to the challenges of the climate crisis.
The City of Arvada has the opportunity and responsibility to address the climate crisis, facilitate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and protect the health of residents from natural gas pollutants. Both can be realized, simply and effectively, through rapid adoption of policies and building codes that support state and nationwide goals in emission reductions. We urge you to demonstrate your commitment to a sustainable future not only through elimination of the fossil fuel infrastructure for the next phase(s) of GEOS, but through a city-wide commitment to net-zero construction, fossil-fuel free construction.Sent 5/20/2021
Each month we feature a different home from the 2020 Metro Denver Green Homes Tour. This Genesee Mountain home on Chief Hosa Road is owned by Barry Rosenberg and Lee Fisher. It is all-electric—no propane. The architect was Peter Ewers, who specializes in Net Zero Energy homes, and this is one of them. The solar panels (grid-tied) provide all the electricity to heat the home, cook, provide hot water and everything else, including charging their Nissan Leaf. The home has straw bale walls with stucco on the north and east sides of the house. The foundation was poured using Durisol brand ICFs (insulated concrete forms). The well water is purified using UV light. You’ll learn a lot from this home! See my video at www.GreenHomeoftheMonth.com.
Back in 2010, Golden Real Estate was awarded the “Sustainability Award for Business” from the City of Golden for the brokerage’s solar-powered office. Eleven years later, we have been awarded this recognition a second time because of how much further we have taken our passion for sustainability.
Back in 2010 we had a 5kW solar array on our roof — enough to power our office, but little else. We had a couple other features — sun tunnels to daylight our office reducing the need for artificial lighting, extra insulation to reduce the amount of natural gas needed to heat the office, and we accepted polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) for recycling.
Now, we have 2 ground-mounted solar arrays adding another 15kW of solar power, providing enough electricity to heat and cool our office with heat pumps and to power our five agent-owned Teslas as well as offering free EV charging to the general public. We had our gas meter removed in 2017 and now our Xcel Energy bill is $10 to $11 per month, which is the cost of being connected to the electric grid. We are now a “net zero energy” facility — and we’re taking two truckloads of Styrofoam to a reprocessing center in Denver every month.
Thanks to “net metering,” the electric grid functions like a battery, receiving our excess energy during sunny days and giving it back to us when we need it. We like to consider our office an example that other businesses can aspire to, and we are grateful for this week’s recognition by Golden. Click on the following 2-minute YouTube video tour of our net zero office:
Each month a different home from the Metro Denver Green Homes Tour is featured at www. GreenHomeOfTheMonth.com. This month’s selection is the Larsons’ home on Lookout Mountain. It has no natural gas service. Instead it has radiant floor heating using water heated by the sun and stored in a 10,000-gallon tank. The original section of the home won first place in the original “Solar Decathalon” in 2002. In addition to extensive solar thermal panels and evacuated tubes, the home has 7 kW of solar photovoltaic panels to satisfy the electrical needs of the home. It also has passive solar features and two wood-burning stoves.
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!
Steve Nixon is a project manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He had this home built to his specifications in 2012. It has many passive solar features, solar photovoltaics, and a heat recovery ventilator, which are all explained at GreenHomeOfTheMonth.com. Outside, it has a buffalo grass lawn requiring no water or mowing, and drip irrigation for its garden.
If you have been contemplating the installation of solar on your home, it’s time to get off the fence, since the 22% federal tax credit expires Dec. 31st. Your system has to be operational by the end of the year, so don’t wait too long. I purchased my first 10-kWH solar system in 2004 and paid over $60,000 for it, receiving a $40,000+ rebate check from Xcel Energy. Those rebates are long gone, but the same system costs a little over $10,000 now. Time to buy!
Here’s an article from Realtor magazine with advice to give homeowners considering a solar photovoltaic investment. You’re also welcome to call me, Jim Smith, at 303-525-1851, or email me at Jim@GoldenRealEstate.com.
With Golden Real Estate’s commitment to sustainability, it’s only natural that we have co-sponsored the Colorado Environmental Film Festival for at least a decade, and we’re happy to co-sponsor it again this year.
The silver lining of the Covid-19 pandemic is that events like this are going virtual, making it possible for many more people (including me!) to see any or all of the films at home and on our own timetable. In past years, I was lucky to see even a few of the films, especially since I also needed to man our company’s table in the festival’s Eco-Expo.
The festival runs from Feb. 12th to Feb. 21st at www.CEFF.net. The three-part mission of the festival, as stated on its home page, is:
Inspire: With a growing public awareness for the environment, CEFF aims to increase this groundswell through inspirational and educational films which help motivate people to make a difference in their community.
Educate: CEFF’s films and programs help people build the knowledge and skills they need to make environmentally responsible choices.
Motivate: CEFF wants audiences to be a part of the solution to today’s environmental issues and motivates audiences to make a difference in their local environment.
This year’s festival has 75 films in 22 collections. You can buy an all-access pass on their website for $70 (less than $1 per film), a 5-collection pass for $35, or a 1-collection pass for $10.
As I said above, you can view any film at any time during the ten days of the festival, but once you unlock a collection, you need to view its films within 72 hours.
As in past years, the festival’s films include both shorts and full-length films. I’m getting an all-access pass and look forward to seeing as many as possible!
Although most of the films are “on demand,” selected films will be live streamed so that you can watch with the filmmaker and an audience and chat about it during the film and exchange comments, like on Zoom, afterwards. These live streams will be archived and can be viewed on demand later.
There will also be live online “lunch and learns” (one of which is a “Vegan Fusion Cooking Demonstration”) and the Eco-Expo will go virtual too, with live visits to the booths of exhibitors during five “happy hours.”
There will be an “Opening Night Watch Party” featuring a short documentary on electronic waste and a feature film, “The Story of Plastic.” At this event, awards will also be presented for the winning films in each of several categories. Again, if you miss this event, you can stream it later.
The “Closing Night Watch Party” from 7 to 10:30 pm on Feb. 20th is an exception. It can only be viewed live and will not be streamed on demand later. It includes two films, The Catalyst and Beyond Zero, that you cannot pause or rewind. These are summarized on the website. I’m looking forward to these in particular, since the first one is a 6-minute film about going net zero in a home, and the second is a much longer film about a billion-dollar global energy company that committed itself to going beyond net zero by 2020. You can watch a trailer for it on the website.
The festival also has a photography component, and one of the live events (viewable later) is a keynote speech on Feb. 13th by famed photographer Russ Burden, who will show his Serengeti photos.
Of the 22 film collections, several contain films on a variety of different subjects, but there are collections on individual subjects, including: Climate Change; Colorado Issues; International Issues; Oil and Gas; Public Lands and Parks; Rivers; Solar Power; Water Issues; and Wildlife. One collection features various short films. (Each of those links takes you to a page with a list of all the films contained in that collection.)
For the Eco-Expo exhibitors like Golden Real Estate, this year’s virtual format is a big win, because each “exhibitor” has a link you can click on to learn about that company or organization. In our case, you click on Golden Real Estate to view a short video tour of the sustainable features which have made our office a true “net zero energy” facility. You wouldn’t get that opportunity standing at our booth in the physical exhibit hall.
Other exhibitors you’ll enjoy learning about include GoFarm, Metro Denver Green Homes Tour, Citizens Climate Lobby, Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary, Waste Management Recycling, Population Connection, and Tower Garden by Juice Plus. (These links become active on Friday, Feb. 12th.) I’m looking forward to seeing their videos, because in past years I was too busy manning our own booth to visit theirs!
The festival has always featured films by our youth (18 & under). This year there’s a live stream at 10 a.m. on Saturday the 13th called “Filmmaking 101 for Young Filmmakers” (also viewable later). Here’s a paragraph from the website: “Any young aspiring filmmaker… can join experts from Talk to the Camera for a fun, interactive workshop and introduction to the CEFF Youth Filmmaker Festival Challenge. Submit your storyboard to CEFF by Sunday, February 21…. Winner(s) will receive mentoring from a professional filmmaker in 2021 to help you complete and submit your youth environmental film for CEFF’s 2022 Festival!”
There are some creative solutions to the lack of in-person events, including “Dinner and a Movie” on Feb. 13th & 19th in conjunction with Tributary Food Hall. You order a 3-course meal-to-go from the online menu for $40 including a ticket to one of the 22 film collections, and pick up your food between 3 and 7 pm to enjoy at home. If you already have the movie ticket, the charge is $35.
Visit the Virtual Festival Home for all the details and to buy tickets — http://ceff.eventive.org — and enjoy all the 15th annual Colorado Environmental Film Festival has to offer from the comfort and safety or your own home! That web page has a useful calendar showing all the events that are live streamed.