America's Oldest Net Zero Solar House

By: Matt Grocoff , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, House Styles, Green Renovations, Technology, In The News

Mission Zero accomplished!! We will never have a utility bill again! And . . . we’re on our way to making our home a restorative part of the community rather than one that takes its resources and returns only waste and pollution.

America's oldest Net Zero home. Michigan's first Net Zero energy home. America's first Net Zero home restoration in a historic district.

If you’ve been watching our videos, read here at Old House Web or followed my show on Greenovation.TV, you know that my wife Kelly and I have set a Mission Zero goal for our house.  Well . . . the Ann Arbor Historic District approved our full-roof solar array with a unanimous vote!

The house will achieve the remarkable feat of net-zero energy - it will produce more energy than we consume.

Check out our Facebook page for more photos.

The house will be:

  • America’s oldest residence to achieve Net Zero Energy
  • Michigan’s first official Net Zero Energy home
  • The first Net Zero restoration in a designated historic district.

We’ve reduced our energy load by 70% and now our solar panels will provide all the power we need and leave enough to power an electric car for 10,000 miles per year. In fact, we will be receiving checks from our utility company. We’re proving it’s possible and hope to encourage others, including you, to invest in improving their homes.

As you can see from the photos I shot, this is not your stereotypical “green house”.   We have restored the house to the original condition and maintained its historic elements, meeting the strict preservation standards of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This is not a gut rehab or a pre-recession McMansion remodel of an old house, this is an affordable and practical restoration that we hope is an example for others to follow.

This is an All-American folk-Victorian home with the classic front porch in a Norman Rockwell neighborhood. You would never know it was “green” if you didn’t see the solar panels on the roof.

Best Way to Invest Our Money During the Recession

Investing in energy efficiency and solar will help create wealth and security for our family. We will eliminate $77,400 in energy costs over 20 years and receive over $27,000 in renewable energy credits from our utility company. That’s a $104,000 return that we will keep in our community in Michigan to help restore our economy.

Our geothermal heating and cooling system was made by WaterFurnace in neighboring Indiana. Our solar panels were made by California-based SunPower. Our ventilation system was made by UltimateAir in neighboring Ohio.  All of the contractors who worked on our home are people who live in our community.

In this economy, our homes are the best places to invest.  Savings accounts return 0%, CDs return 2.5%, the S&P 500 is returning only 2.9% or 0% after inflation. But, energy efficiency and renewables have a guaranteed return. Kelly and I believe it’s the safest place to put our money.

Did we mention that our house is also the most comfortable house in the neighborhood?   Well - come see for yourself .

Wanna know how we did it?  Check out this video and visit www.Greenovation.TV You can also visit our home’s website: www.MissionZeroHouse.com

Photo copyright Cybelle Codish

Creative Commons License
Mission Zero House Photos by Matthew Grocoff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.Greenovation.TV.


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  1. 10 Responses  to “America's Oldest Net Zero Solar House”

  2. Steve Kelleher
    Aug 29, 2011
    Matt: Cheers & great work. One question: does your utility actually pay you for the power sent back into the grid? at the wholesale or retail rate? Some utilities (like mine) will credit you @ their wholesale rate but never actually pay you anything; at the end of the billing cycle (typically a year), if you have a credit you just go back to zero & start all over again. Thanks!
  3. Aug 29, 2011
    Lucy - I have a full breakdown of all the costs for us to go net zero on our home's website: www.MissionZeroHouse.com
  4. Val
    Aug 29, 2011
    Thanks for such a great post! This information is encouraging particularly to historic home owners that have faced ongoing challenges with utility costs.
  5. Tara
    Aug 29, 2011
    I'd really love more info, particularly on the install of the solar panels. My home is Circa 1914. Not on the historical list as of yet. All the Solar places I have talked to so far really want to butcher the original woodwork up in the roof area. It shouldn't be necessary, it was built to support terracotta and/or slate, but only has asphalt. I'd love to know who and how they managed the solar array without ruining the roof!
  6. frank
    Aug 29, 2011
    Great post! It is awesome that your energy provider gives you financial credit for the extra power your solar panels produce. In my area you are limited to only putting the amount of energy you use back into the grid, which amounts to a no-cost utility bill at the end of the year(best case scenario).
  7. Lucy
    Aug 29, 2011
    So awesome. Way to go, Matt. And the solar panels look beautiful. I'd love to see a breakdown of the costs of the solar panels including installation.
  8. Aug 29, 2011
    Way to go, Matt! This is a huge deal. This part is especially thought provoking: In this economy, our homes are the best places to invest. Savings accounts return 0%, CDs return 2.5%, the S&P 500 is returning only 2.9% or 0% after inflation. But, energy efficiency and renewables have a guaranteed return. Kelly and I believe it’s the safest place to put our money. Let me echo the other commenters in offering you some well deserved congratulations! Looking forward to reading more about your home, and good luck with the 25% tax credit. When will you know? I hope you'll post an update as soon as you find out.
  9. Jeff Brooks
    Aug 29, 2011
    Major congrats, Matt. I'll be very interested to learn whether you qualify for the 25% preservation tax credit. You are a role model- I commend you on your vision and dedication. Hope more people have the wherewithal to follow your lead.
  10. Aug 29, 2011
    Thanks Megan!!! We are still having conversations with our State Historic Preservation Office about whether will will qualify for the 25% preservation tax credit. They are determining whether our solar and insulation methods meet their standards. So, the conversation and the education continues. I'll keep y'all posted. I'm off to the GreenBuild Conference in Chicago today. I'll be updating everyone on what I learn on Twitter and Facebook. Join me there!! http://www.facebook.com/pages/GreenovationTV/32143154732?ref=ts
  11. Aug 29, 2011
    Congratulations!! What a wonderful first for the partnership between energy efficiency and historic preservation. As us preservation geeks always say, "The greenest building is the one that's already been built."