Eliminating your energy bills is possible. We’ve proved it with our historic net zero home we call the Mission Zero House. It’s not magic. It can be done with smart planning and existing off-the-shelf technology.
But, unless you’ve got boxes of cash stashed under your floors, taking your house net zero is not likely to happen overnight. It takes a vision and a plan. Every decision you make about products you bring into your home, remodeling choices and how you use energy will be guided by this carefully articulated vision.
Inspired by one of my heroes Ray Anderson - we call this Mission Zero.
Mission Zero is setting a goal based on the understanding that in the near future our homes will no longer be powered by dirty fossil fuels. Instead, they will:
- harvest their own energy and water,
- create zero waste, and
- will be restorative to the community.
It’s important to see where you stand with energy use (Keep Score), then see where we can look to lower consumption and eliminate waste (Lose less, Use less), then figure out how much remaining load is needed to be produced by renewables (Produce).
3 Steps to Zero:
- Keep Score.
Energy bills to homeowners are like blows to the head for football players. If you don’t keep track of how many times you’re getting hit in the head, you end up with a serious injury.
KNOW WHAT YOUR SPENDING:
The simplest way to keep score is to collect a year’s worth of your energy bills and find the total annual dollar amount for all energy consumed (gas, electric, wood, propane, . . . . whatever). Energy costs are rising.
While natural gas prices are at historic lows, they won’t stay low for long and total energy costs are expected to rise by about 7% annually (your utility company will tell you they’ll rise only 4% . . . but the past seven years in Michigan, for example, have seen energy prices spike on average 5.71% over the past seven years).
Here’s what you’ll spend over 25 years if your annual energy bills are $2500:
7% annual energy inflation = $169,191
5.5% annual energy inflation (meaning you believe energy inflation will decline from recent levels) = $134,119
4% annual energy inflation (meaning you are wildly optimistic and you believe the people who are taking your money each month) = $108,279
GET AN ENERGY AUDIT:
Call a company or non-profit that specializes in energy performance. A typical energy audit will include a blower door test to help you find and fix air leaks, and an infrared imaging test that will find all the places that need more insulation.
MONITOR YOUR USAGE:
Another way to keep score is to install an inexpensive whole house electricity monitor. While this won’t tell you about your gas usage, it will give you live data telling you how much energy you are using at any given moment. You can use this information to learn how you use and waste energy and then target ways to reduce your consumption.
- Lose less, use less
Whatever consumes energy in your house there is probably a product out there that provides the same service and uses much less energy. Start with the most energy-efficient heating and air conditioning system you can afford or finance, and make sure your house is well-insulated and air-sealed. Then, every time you buy a new appliance make sure it is Energy Star-rated. Look for the “Most Efficient in Class” on the Energy Star website.
Finally, install smart thermostats and lighting controls. See /blog/3-green-gadgets-steve-jobs-wouldve-loved/ and /blog/iphone-godfathers-create-coolest-thermostat-ever/.
- Produce (then reduce some more)
When you’ve finally squeezed out every drop of waste that you can find, and you are getting 100% of the benefit of the energy you are paying for, then call a renewable energy contractor (solar, wind, etc.) and get an assessment of your home’s energy production potential. There are many fantastic incentives that often have immediate positive cash flow with little to no out-of-pocket cash.
This isn’t rocket science. Done with a careful plan that optimizes smart opportunities as they arise, you can produce enough energy at home to meet all of your needs. And the best part . . . you can eliminate your energy bills for life. We’re doing it . . . so it must be possible. www.missionzerohouse.com
If you’re in the Great Lakes region, you can learn more about going net zero by attending the Mission Zero Fest 2012 on June 9-10 in Ann Arbor, MI. www.missionzerofest.org
Matt Grocoff, Esq. LEED has been honored with the 2012 Michigan Green Leader Award and is founder of Thrive - Net Zero Energy Consulting Collaborative, host of Greenovation.TV, a contributor to The Environment Report on Public Radio, the green renovation expert for Old House Web, and a sought after lecturer. His home is America’s oldest net-zero energy home and was called “Sustainable Perfection” by The Atlantic, and honored as one of USA Today’s seven “Best Green Homes of 2010″ and Preservation Project of the Year. He has been featured in hundreds of publications and news shows. Join him on Google+, Twitter and Facebook