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.

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.

Come Visit Us at Our New Downtown Golden Office, 1214 Washington Ave.  

The broker associates at Golden Real Estate and I are truly excited about our new office in the heart of downtown Golden. It has been over 14 years since we launched Golden Real Estate in the former restaurant building at 17695 S. Golden Road.  We would have liked to be in downtown Golden, but we needed a place to park our free moving truck where it could be seen by passersby as our “billboard on wheels.” 

When Rita and I bought that building, I was a broker associate at RE/MAX Alliance, and I wanted it to be a satellite office for that brokerage, but RE/MAX International wouldn’t allow us to display a RE/MAX sign because of the other franchises in the area. I liked the building more than the brand, however, so that’s when I decided to create Golden Real Estate, securing the corporate name and the URL www.GoldenRealEstate.com for our website. And, as they say, “the rest is history.”

A downtown storefront has the advantage of more walk-by and walk-in traffic. Before signing the lease on our storefront, I checked the transaction volume of the other real estate brokerage on the street and discovered that their ratio of buyer sides to listing sides was 2:1, whereas our ratio on S. Golden Road was 1:2.  We look forward to increasing our buyer representation in our new location.

The left half of the picture above is a visualization of the TouchPoint Systems display that will be installed this week. It is a through-the-glass touchscreen unit which allows passersby to  search the MLS real-time, featuring Golden and Jefferson County listings in a slide-show format when not being actively used. The closest similar installation is in the window of an Olde Town Arvada brokerage.

Sharing our office is Wendy Renee, a loan officer with Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation. Would-be buyers will appreciate being able to meet with a lender in conjunction with their home search without leaving our office.

Although we can’t park it downtown, we’ll still be offering our free moving truck to buyers and sellers and to local non-profits such as BGoldN, the Christian Action Guild, and the Golden Chamber of Commerce, of which we’re a long-time member. It will still be parked at our former office on South Golden Road, which Rita and I still own, and which we’re converting into a one-stop shop for “all things sustainable” under the name The Net Zero Store.

Several readers, upon learning of our move downtown, called me last week to ask if we’re still accepting Styrofoam for recycling. I assured them that nothing has changed in that regard.  As a matter of fact, we took a truckload of the material to the recycling center just this week and expect to continue doing so twice a month from the “Styrofoam Corral” behind our former office,

Aside from this column, which I have been publishing on page 3 of this newspaper for over a decade, we are best known, perhaps, for the live-action narrated video tours and drone videos which we create for each of our listings. I enjoy creating the narrated videos so much, I offer to do them for our broker associates, although some of them choose to do their own. They are so effective that we have sold listings to out-of-town buyers who only saw the home in-person when they flew in for the inspection.

For out-of-town buyers interested in homes listed by other brokerages, we have shot video tours for their eyes only, often resulting in a signed contract without those buyers seeing the home in person prior to inspection.

For sellers, we provide a free staging consultation to help their home show its best. We also have an in-house handyman to work on those things that need to be handled before going on the market.

Happy Thanksgiving! Here Are Some Things That We’re Grateful for This Year  

2021 has been a difficult year for everyone, but it has also been a year of growth for Golden Real Estate and for me personally. Fortunately, Rita and I have escaped infection by Covid-19. We are all fully vaccinated, and Rita and I plus a couple broker associates have received our booster shots.

We’ll be closing out 2021 with over $50 million in closed sales volume, compared to less than $32 million in 2020.

So we have a lot to be thankful for at Golden Real Estate, most especially the patronage of buyers and sellers who chose us to serve their real estate needs.    I know for a fact that many of this year’s clients chose us not only because of the real estate reputation we have built through this weekly column but also because of the political stands I have taken regarding our former president and his followers. We gained far more clients than we lost because of my political writing.

And we are not alone politically. While fellow agents and brokerages have not spoken out as we have for fear of losing clients, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has taken some courageous stands demonstrating alignment with our own values. For example, last fall the incoming president of NAR apologized for the past policies of the association which reinforced systemic racism, such as redlining and steering buyers to minority areas instead of showing them all listings they were financially qualified to buy. I’m grateful for the attention paid by NAR to social justice issues, but also for its effort, albeit unsuccessful so far, to eliminate the practice of off-MLS (“pocket”) listings.

I’m also grateful for the progress being made by REcolorado, Denver’s MLS. I have seen this progress from the inside as a member of the Rules & Regulations Committee as well as from being a user of REcolorado’s services. I appreciate REcolorado for adopting some of my suggestions, such as creating a field for closing notes.

At the top of my gratitude list is the fact that we were able to rent a storefront in downtown Golden. In early December, Golden Real Estate will be moving to 1214 Washington Avenue, the former location of Laurel Property Services. We look forward to benefiting from the pedestrian traffic of that prime location. We have ordered a WindoVision unit from TouchPoint Systems to capitalize on that traffic. Below is an artist’s rendering of it installed in our storefront. It allows passersby to search the MLS live using a through-the-window touch screen.

What’s really exciting about our move to downtown Golden is what it allows us to do with our current building on South Golden Road. As you know by now, we are a showplace of “net zero energy,” so I am partnering with broker associate Ty Scrable, who is super-committed and knowledgeable about sustainability, to create a new business we are calling The Net Zero Store. Our goal is to bring under one roof and into one showroom the various products and services that allow homeowners and businesses to “go net zero.”

Ty and I will be presenting our plans for this new venture at the Nov. 30th, 7pm, meeting of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society at the Jefferson Unitarian Church, 14350 W. 32nd AveHere’s a link if you’d like to attend.