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.

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.

Metro Denver Green Homes Tour Is This Saturday, Oct. 2nd

It is my honor to be part of the team which creates a new tour of solar and sustainable homes on the first Saturday of October year after year. This is our 26th year!

Last year, the tour was entirely on video, featuring the “Best of the Past 25 Years.”  You can still view last year’s videos at the URL http://www.2020GreenHomesTour.info. Register for this year’s tour, which is both virtual and in-person, at http://www.NewEnergyColorado.com.

Regular readers of this column are probably aware of Golden Real Estate’s commitment to sustainability. Our Net Zero Energy office, in fact, was one of the “homes” on last year’s virtual tour, as was my personal home.

Originally called the Golden Solar Tour, we decided several years ago that being solar wasn’t enough. To be included in the tour, homes had to be “green” in many other ways, and the technology we have put on display in recent years has been impressive. I myself learn something new every year, and creating the video tour of each home on the tour has been a great privilege and learning experience!

One of the homes this year is a 1979 two-story home owned by Martin & Bettina Voelker. This year they got rid of their gas forced air furnace and installed a geothermal system to heat and cool their home. This involved drilling three 300-foot deep wells in their backyard to take advantage of the constant 55-degree earth temperature. A heat pump raises the fluid circulated through those deep pipes to heat the home in the winter. This is more efficient than raising sub-zero outdoor temperatures with the more common  air-source heat pumps like we have at Golden Real Estate’s office. In the summer, it cools the 55-degree fluid further to cool the home.

Ron Suliteanu’s home in Golden Gate Canyon also has a ground-source heat pump which provides heat through both a radiant floor system and three wall-mounted units which resemble mini-splits but which provide their heat through fluid heated by the ground-source heat pump, something I didn’t know existed.

Passive solar design is also growing in popularity, and several homes on this year’s tour incorporate passive solar design in their sustainability mix. The tour includes 4 new construction homes, two of which are Passive House certified (top-of-the-line building code) and two of which are near Passive House standards.

Laurent Meillon’s home in Lakewood taught me a lot about solar thermal systems, which Laurent sells and installs. If you’re not familiar with solar thermal, it involves circulating water (or glycol) through black panels which are roughly the same size as solar photovoltaic panels. The sun heats the liquid in the panels which is circulated through a 1,000-gallon tank inside the house. That fluid gets as hot as 150 degrees. Coils within that tank circulate water for domestic hot water use (showering and cooking, etc.) and for circulation during colder months through the baseboard hot water heating system. Solar thermal panels were popularized during the Carter administration, well before solar photovoltaic systems became popular for generating electricity. Many homes still have those Carter-era solar thermal systems, but many of them are out of service for one reason or another. Laurent’s company can inspect the solar thermal systems in those houses and get them working again — and explain them to the home owners, who may have inherited the system from a previous home owner but have no idea how they work.

One home on the tour was chosen for its urban farming aspects, including composting, a greenhouse and a chicken coop.  The owner thanked me with a dozen eggs, which were delicious!

From 3 to 5 pm (same as for our EV Roundup below), you can visit a nearby “growing dome” at 509 9th Street, a short walk from the American Mountaineering Center at 710 10th Street, where you sign in for the in-person tour and return at 5-7 p.m. for a green expo and reception.

April’s Green Home of the Month

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.

Buyers Benefit From Having an Agent Who Knows Home Systems and Sustainability

One of the reasons I enjoy showing homes to buyers is that I get to educate them about home systems and how they work, as well as identify the sustainable and not-so-sustainable features of each home.

The agents at Golden Real Estate have a thorough understanding of home systems as a result of our combined decades of experience and hundreds of transactions. In addition, we have taken classes on energy efficiency, insulation, solar power and home construction which allow us to serve buyers better when we show them homes.

Together, for example, we toured the model homes at Richards Farms when they were under construction, where we learned, among other things, about that builder’s foam insulation process.

There are so many aspects of energy efficiency and sustainability. Everyone by now knows about solar photovoltaics — creating electricity from the sun. Our office has 20 kW of solar panels, but having solar power is only the beginning. It’s how efficiently you use that power that makes the difference.

Heating and cooling is the biggest user of energy in any home, and the number and variety of HVAC systems have become more extensive and more complicated, and we understand and can explain them. They include: gas forced air heating and compressor-based air conditioning (most common in Colorado and much of the country), hot water baseboard heat, hot water radiant floor heating, wall-mounted heating panels or strips, heat pump mini-splits for both heating and cooling, hybrid heat-pump with gas forced air (which Rita and I have in our home), ground-source heat pump for both heating and cooling (the “gold standard” of efficient heating and cooling) — and let’s not forget heating with wood or wood pellets!

Windows can vary greatly. Double-pane windows may be standard now, but a Colorado company, Alpen, has made a name for itself with triple-pane windows and now quadruple-pane windows.  Recently I wrote about John Avenson’s Westminster home, in which some of his south-facing Alpen windows have micro-etching to divert sunlight toward the ceiling of his kitchen, a high-tech alternative to reflective window shelving, which we saw when we toured a newer building at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Skylights are so 20th Century. Today’s modern replacement are sun tunnels (Solatube is a leading brand), which are great for illuminating interior rooms. Just last week I showed a home with five Solatubes in it, lighting up the living room and an interior bathroom amazingly well from the mid-day sun. My buyer didn’t realize they weren’t ceiling light fixtures until I pointed them out. (We have two sun tunnels in our home illuminating our windowless garage and laundry room, and we have four sun tunnels in the Golden Real Estate office. We don’t have to turn on any lights on sunny days!)

A knowledgeable agent can also point out passive solar features of a home, which others might not recognize. These include proper window configuration, wide overhangs above south-facing windows, thermal masses in south-facing sunrooms, and deciduous trees providing strategically positioned shade in the summer but allowing more sunlight in the winter. I like to see (and point out) cellular shades, especially vertical ones covering patio doors for cold-weather insulation.

Often I notice that the listing agent didn’t mention the features (such as the Solatubes) that my buyers and I recognize as selling points. Of course, when doing the narrated video tours of our own listings, my broker associates and I don’t miss the opportunity to point out those features. And, of course, we are sure to mention those features in the MLS listing.

Many agents miss the opportunity to write a separate description on the MLS for each individual room. It’s not a mandatory field, but it’s the best place to mention a room’s Solatube, heated floor, porcelain tile, hardwood or other feature.

John Avenson of Westminster Is a Committed Teacher of Energy Efficiency

The sponsors of the annual Metro Denver Green Homes Tour, held on the first Saturday each October, are preparing to “go virtual” in case an  in-person tour is not allowed.

John Avenson’s house at 9988 Hoyt Place, Westminster

That will be accomplished by creating online video tours of the most notable “green” homes featured over the past 20 years. Since I’m on the steering committee for the tour and have the equipment and experience from creating video tours of homes for sale, I volunteered to create those video tours, starting with John Avenson’s home at 9988 Hoyt Place in Westminster.

By clicking here, you can view the 41-minute video tour, led by John, which I created last Friday. It is highly educational.

John Avenson

Many people, myself included, have created homes which can be considered a “model” of sustainability, solar power, and energy efficiency, but John is surely the only homeowner who has turned his home into a classroom for teaching it. He even posted pictures and diagrams throughout the house with instructional content about this or that feature, as you will see on that video.

He also hosts monthly Passive House meetings in his home theater which are also streamed online. They can be found at www.meetup.com/Passive-House-Meetup-S-W-Region/

John’s house was originally built by the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI, now the National Renewable Energy Laboratory or NREL) in 1981 using then-state of the art technology, but John has diligently, and at great personal expense, kept retrofitting his home with newer technology, which he is happy to explain to visitors and which he explains on the 41-minute video.

CERV monitor screenshot

For example, because of increased insulation and Alpen quadruple-paned windows, he was able to get rid of SERI’s supplemental natural gas furnace, installing a conditioning energy recovery ventilator (CERV) which is powered electrically. His grid-tied solar PV system provides all his home’s energy needs and has reduced his Xcel Energy bill to under $10 per month — the cost of being connected to the electrical grid.

Some of the technological innovations featured in my video with John were new to me. For example, the Alpen windows across from his kitchen have horizontal micro-etching which redirects the sun’s rays 90° upward to his ceiling instead of straight through the glass, reducing the need for lighting.

John provided his email address in the video, saying that his “learning center” is open 24/7 and that he welcomes all inquiries and visitors.

Video Recording of Sustainability Series Session #3 About Solar Power Is Now Available to View

Recorded by Martin Voelker of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society on March 21st at the office of Golden Real Estate.