Adding another question?
When buying a new car, most people pay attention to — and factor in — the gas-mileage sticker in the window. But did you know that there’s a similar, nationally accepted energy rating system for homes?
It’s called the Home Energy Rating System, or HERS. Developed by RESNET, a nonprofit focused on achieving a nationwide, net-zero-energy residential sector by 2040, the HERS Index is the industry standard — recognized nationally and internationally — by which a building’s energy efficiency is calculated and measured. A certified HERS rater evaluates a home’s building envelope, mechanical systems, appliances, lighting, and more to create an in-depth analysis of its energy performance (and estimated energy costs). On a scale of 0 to 150, the lower a HERS-rated home is on the index, the more efficient it is.
But a HERS rating doesn’t have to be fixed forever. With a HERS score in hand, homeowners can identify ways to improve their homes’ energy efficiency — and lower their utility bills. On a community scale, more HERS-rated homes mean more opportunities to lower our collective carbon footprint. This can be particularly impactful in the Roaring Fork Valley, where the building and renovation industries play such a huge role — and where buildings account for 63% of greenhouse gas emissions.
The good news is, Pitkin County adopted HERS into its energy code in spring 2020. Under this code amendment, any new home or substantial renovation or addition (more than 1,000 square feet) must achieve a HERS rating of 60 or lower. A typical US home is rated 100. If the property has on-site renewable energy, the required maximum score is 30.
But what about existing homes? That’s where CORE comes in. We’re excited about the potential for HERS to move our community closer to a net-zero future, and we want to help homeowners onto that path as well. Here’s how CORE and HERS go hand in hand:
HERS is certainly not the only tool in our toolbox, but it’s an increasingly important one.
“We want to ensure as we work to make buildings less carbon-intensive that we have some evidence that it’s working,” says Marty Treadway, CORE’s program director and grants manager. “And for CORE, a HERS rating is the best thing we have to a performance-based approach to energy efficiency.”
Curious how your home ranks? Interested in a Net-zero Home Grant? Fill out the form below to get started today.
It’s not about social pressure. It goes beyond practicing what he preaches. Eden Vardy, Executive Director of the Farm Collaborative, strives for carbon-free living for the future. Whether it’s working towards a net-zero home (one that produces as much energy as it consumes) in Basalt or launching a five-million dollar capital campaign for his local non-profit, he has one thing on his mind: what the planet will look like for generations of children to come.
“I love my children and as a person who appreciates this planet, this incredible valley, and these wonderful opportunities in my life, I feel like I would be doing a disservice to not think about future generations,” said the environmental steward. “It is fundamental in my core to think about the future generation.”
Vardy’s “day job” at The Farm Collaborative, formerly known as Aspen T.R.E.E., is working to make local food more resilient and accessible. Their motto is: “connected by food, guided by nature, and rooted in place.” They are also working towards educating the next generation of environmental stewards with their Earthkeepers programs for kids. In his free time, Vardy employs energy-efficient practices at home by retrofitting his current house and drawing up his own Path to Zero plan for a future home. Aiming for carbon-free living isn’t a choice, it’s simply his lifestyle.
That’s exactly why he came to CORE in 2018. Vardy applied for The Randy Udall Energy (TRUE) Pioneer Grant, CORE’s biggest grant offering. This annual program provides up to $200,000 in funding for nonprofits, businesses, schools, and public agencies achieving carbon reduction through innovative energy projects. He set his eyes on not only reducing carbon, but reversing it. With inspiration from Paul Hawkens (author of the sustainable energy gospel, Drawdown), Vardy and the Farm Collaborative set out to incorporate alley cropping and carbon sequestration into their daily agricultural operations.
“We want to revolutionize our food system and shift how we relate to food. It may be one of our most impactful ways to turn around climate change,” stated Vardy.
The “it” Vardy is referring to is carbon farming. This sustainable agriculture approach reverses the flow of carbon that is being released into the atmosphere. Specifically, by planting rows of trees at wide spacings with a companion crop grown in the alleyways between the rows (a method known as alley cropping), Vardy’s team can capture and hold carbon in vegetation and soils. While Vardy admits that the notion of plants putting carbon back into the ground is not groundbreaking, the concept can yield big impacts.
What exactly are these big impacts? Don’t all plants grab carbon from the atmosphere? That’s why we like trees, right?
The difference is that it is both intentional and quantifiable. Alley cropping provides the opportunity to research, experiment, and quantify the amount of carbon they are sequestering from the atmosphere. Their work will provide a case study and be a model for others. They are an ambassador, looking to understand the technology’s impact and increase knowledge about it here in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“Agriculture has the ability to transform itself from a net source of CO2 to a net sink of CO2,” Vardy stated in their grant application.
The goals of this project are to grow food in an ecological way and to sequester carbon using the alley-cropping method. By making food available locally, the Farm Collaborative is providing delicious veggies and fruits that consume far less energy than it takes to get you those avocados from City Market. A bonus to their master plan is that the “waste” on site will never actually be wasted; instead it will serve as resources they can use again in the farming process.
That got CORE’s attention. The Udall Grants are centered around emissions and carbon reduction, but something else can tip the scale for an application: creative solutions. And as an added bonus, they’ll be sharing that data with us.
“What drew us to the Farm Collaborative project was that they were talking about doing something different and innovative in our valley and quantifying those results,” said program director and grants manager, Marty Treadway.
CORE awarded the Farm Collaborative a grant of $25,000. The partnership has enabled Vardy to bring in more donors for the capital campaign, which recently passed the 50% threshold.
“One thing this [grant] has allowed me to do is fundraise,” added Vardy. “Heritage Park is one part of our capital campaign. This has given me the opportunity to leverage CORE and say ‘Won’t you stand behind us too?’ and allowed us to bring in more donors.”
The Farm Collaborative’s promise to cut carbon and prepare the next generation of environmental stewards goes hand in hand with CORE’s mission and the spirit of Randy Udall (CORE’s former director and namesake of our largest and most competitive grant).
“Fundamentally, this is a campus for our future and for our children and children’s children,” said Vardy. “These kids can plant trees now and then in high school they can harvest those trees they planted when they were 5 or 6.”
Are you designing an innovative energy project? Do you represent a Roaring Fork Valley government agency, nonprofit, school or business? If so, you may qualify for up to $200,000 in funding from CORE. To learn more about The Randy Udall Energy (TRUE) Grant, visit our webpage.
By day, as CORE’s Program Director, he’s a Certified Energy Manager and an evangelist for net-zero buildings, the kind that generate as much energy as they use. By night, as a family man (husband to Trina Ortega and father to two boys), he is co-creating a life in Carbondale that is steering away from fossil fuels and toward fun. To flip the switch, he and Trina recently sold their residence across the highway and purchased an old, leaky cold house in town. Good-bye commute, hello energy project!
As they embarked on a four-month energy remodel of the 1968 house, starting with a home energy assessment, Marty found out first-hand what retrofitting a residence to net-zero energy really entails — and almost got more than he bargained for. Now, after restoring his family’s home, he’s renewed his family’s life.
In this photo story, we break-down the steps that Marty took to get net zero done and show how you can do it too.
STEP 1: ASSESS + EASY ACTION
Following his home energy assessment, Marty inspects the attic of his family’s newly purchased, 1968-built home from a hole cut through the original roof. “For 50 years, there was more insulation R-value in the walls than in the ceiling. The attic was poorly insulated and the crawl space had zero. Their utility bills showed it: last December it was more than $500 for gas and electric.”
Asbestos Blessed Us, Kinda…“We intended to just remodel the kitchen and open up the living space when we were doing our energy upgrades. But when the asbestos test came back, we had to gut the entire ceiling and most of the interior walls. Mitigation blew the budget, but once you’ve pulled the sheetrock, you notice faulty wiring and lighting layouts that don’t make sense. Now we have a healthy house and lights where we want them, all LED with the color temperatures we like.”
STEP 2: TIGHTEN BUILDING ENVELOPE
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Marty gets cozy in the crawl space with tight air-sealing of cold spots. “The rim of the floor framing is a constant suck of heat from your house. It’s your connection to the outside and heat always wants to leave there. Spray foam increases the R-value, putting serious heat resistance where it’s needed most, and adds the benefit of air sealing”
Attic: Where Pragmatic Meets Ecstatic
The attic is tucked into bed with insulation that keeps the whole house temperate. If you look closely, you’ll notice the cut in the original roof that Marty was standing in at the beginning of the project. “After spray foam at the heel of the truss, we blew in cellulose insulation. It’s critical that you air seal first. And don’t forget to seal the interior mechanical penetrations as well.”
STEP 3: ELECTRIFY MECHANICALS
Little Magic Box
Marty preps the indoor and outdoor units of his electric heat pump, the “little magic box” that provides all the heating and cooling for his home at extremely low energy-cost. “We were faced with replacing a natural gas wall furnace with another one just like it; there was no other distribution system in the house. [In our goal to be carbon-free], there was an opportunity cost to starting from scratch. Electricity is the future.”
Indoor Air Equality
Marty’s ERV — aka the Energy Recovery Ventilator — watches over the family. “It’s the intelligent bath fan that brings in fresh air and exhausts the stale air. Our two bathroom units serve the whole house with air quality control. Once I get my final blower door test, we’ll know how much fresh air we need and will set them to run at a certain percentage around the clock. That way it delivers all the fresh air we require for a minimum amount of energy.”
Hot Water On E-demand
Hot water and efficiency are just a click away with Marty’s phone tied to the family’s hybrid-electric, heat-pumpwater heater: “The control of this thing is amazing. You can turn it off remotely when you’re away. And the electricity usage is stunningly low: we saw a 50% reduction in demand (aka kilowatts) right off the bat. Anyone with a gas water heater should save money by putting one in and it’s a simple swap-out for those with an electric water heater.”
STEP 4: POWER WITH RENEWABLES
Bringing Solar Home
“When I got to the heat pump, I had to justify the cost. If I didn’t go for net zero and add solar panels to offset it, the long-term cost wouldn’t have made sense. Now, I’m seeing the energy remodel as a revenue generator. Energy savings pay back project costs. Solar runs the heat pump for nothing (after it’s paid off) and when the panels are generating, they’re actually ‘producing’ money. It’s efficiency plus renewables, with money to be had from both.”
Making the Numbers Work
“After the Colorado RENU Loan for PV is paid off (seven years), I will have zero utility bills. Period. My RENU loan payment is less than what the utility bills were. Plus we accessed CORE’s Net-zero Homes Grant(available to anyone) to help pay for the bigger ticket items, a solar rebate, and federal tax credit.” PC: Colorado Energy Office
STEP 5: DRIVE CHANGE
Now We’re Rolling
“We go a week without anyone touching a car. I’m not talking about it as an energy dork, it’s just more fun. Biking. Walking. We’re a part of town now; we’re connected.”
What does it take to build one of the world’s most sustainable distilleries? Ask Carbondale’s Connie Baker.
On a whim, the former contractor went to distilling school where she fell in love with making vodka, discovering that, “it can be made from almost anything.” She spent the next four years creating mashes and developing recipes that would become the cornerstone of Marble Distilling Co. & The Distillery Inn (MDC), a Carbondale, Colorado-based business, and world’s first net-zero distillery, that she co-founded with friends and family in 2015.
Along the way, she also unearthed a dirty secret about the industry: most distilleries flush unthinkable amounts of resources — hot water and compostable mash — down the drain. She knew there had to be a better way.
This curiosity of how things are made — and made better — has served her team well in developing their unique approach. The sustainability pioneer is the world’s only net-zero distillery recapturing 100% of the process water and harvesting the energy off of this process. Working with a team of twenty local engineers and energy gurus, MDC created an award-winning Water and Energy Thermal System (WETS) that reclaims and reuses the water from the distilling process to heat the building. This innovative closed-loop system saves four million gallons of water and 75 metric tons of carbon each year.
Leading-edge technology like this comes at a cost. Without external funding, the vision would have remained a cocktail napkin dream. Partnering with the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) — a trailblazing clean-energy nonprofit behind the nation’s first carbon mitigation fee and Colorado’s first wind power program — was a key to lift-off. CORE awarded the net-zero distillery $33,875 in grant funding, supported the team with technical and financial advising, and encouraged them to apply for a USDA Rural Energy grant that reimbursed 25% of the upfront costs of the WETS system. CORE and MDC hope their unique private-public partnership will be a model for others. Operating from an open-source mentality, MDC invites other distilleries, nonprofits and municipalities to glean from their experiences and program designs.
“Innovative thinking and community partnerships like this one will create the unexpected solutions and new technologies that are the key to our future,” said Mona Newton, executive director of CORE. “We are proud to step up to the challenge with Marble Distilling Co., a company that is an inspiration to us all.”
It was a near miss and chance encounter that started The Arts Campus at Willits on its Path to Zero. But as the arts organization winds up construction on its new Contemporary Center for the Performing Arts, AKA The Contemporary, and gets ready to welcome audiences in summer 2021, the conversation is still far from over.
A few years ago, TACAW Executive Director Ryan Honey was skiing in Snowmass for a friend’s 50th birthday party. Coming out of a line on Hanging Valley Wall, he and another skier nearly ran into each other. They got to talking later in the lodge, first about the awesome powder conditions that spurred the near collision, then introduced themselves: Turns out the other skier was Dave Munk, a board member of both Holy Cross Energy and CORE. That fortuitous meeting got the conversation rolling on how to make TACAW’s future performing arts center — then in the early planning stages — as climate-friendly as possible.
At Munk’s urging, in 2019 TACAW applied for and received CORE’s biggest grant, then called The Randy Udall Energy (TRUE) Pioneer Grant, rebranded as the all-encompassing CORE Grant, which would pay for most of the cost of a 64-kilowatt solar array on the roof of the 10,000-square-foot building. Receiving the grant says Honey, “made it clear to us we wanted to go all-in on sustainability for our new building. Everyone at CORE is so passionate about the mission. They walk the walk; they’re true believers.”
And so, the conversation evolved between TACAW, CORE, and Holy Cross. Possibilities were explored to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, and everyone got excited. When the team planning the building said gas wouldn’t power it at all, “our input on that note was, no gas is great, but you have to do electric right,” says CORE Program Director Marty Treadway.
That led to, for example, a decision to use a more climate-friendly refrigerant than is typically used in the heat pump system. And an all-electric building powered by solar, Honey and Treadway both pointed out, holds the potential of storing energy in batteries, possibly for future community use.
“At a time when we’re talking about resiliency in communities and our buildings, the arts center as a community node could offer some resiliency in times of crisis,” says Treadway. “This is a unique opportunity to make a difference with a really valuable community space.”
For Holy Cross, a progressive utility that has committed to providing 100% renewable energy by 2030, the publicly accessible building could serve as an example to potential clients, a showcase of what’s possible.
Ryan Honey also doesn’t consider the conversation closed once the Contemporary opens this summer. For one, there’s planning for the rest of the arts campus — the building sits on just one-third of the parcel on which TACAW has a 99-year lease. Then there’s the Contemporary’s programming, and all the people — artists, audiences, chefs, presenters — who will be coming through. Communication about energy efficiency, beneficial electrification, and climate should be infused in all those areas.
“We see CORE as a real partner in trying to elevate the conversation on climate change with our new building,” says Honey.
So, how does The Contemporary become the first net-zero performing arts center in Colorado — and one of the few in the country? Here are 5 ways:
1. Rooftop solar
A large, flat roof in the middle of a sun-soaked valley is a great place for a solar array. TACAW worked with Holy Cross to figure out how much electricity would be needed to power the building, and solar was the obvious choice. The biggest factor in getting to net-zero and one of the largest in the valley, the 64KW system is estimated to produce 103,000 kilowatt hours per year — which is about what the building is expected to use, says Honey. There’s room for a few more panels, and “if we need additional energy, we plan to buy renewable from Holy Cross until we can upgrade our systems to get to net-zero.”
TACAW’s 64-kilowatt solar array covering the entire roof of the 10,000-square-foot building
2. All-electric kitchen
With culinary arts becoming so popular, they’ll be integral to The Contemporary’s programming — think dinner and a movie. By not having a gas line powering stoves and other kitchen appliances, “part of the story is chefs learning how to cook in a net-zero kitchen, which is where it’s all going faster than any of us think,” says Honey, who consulted with caterers and restauranteurs on the topic. And the opportunity to showcase all-electric cooking to participants and audiences in culinary events and programs — priceless.
3. LED lighting and air circulation
All the lights throughout The Contemporary are LED, which not only is the most energy-efficient and longest-lasting option available, but also offers another distinct advantage for a performing arts center: LED lights don’t generate heat. Honey tells of running the AC full blast in the middle of winter at The Temporary, due in large part to all those traditional bulbs generating heat in a room packed with people. In the new building, LED lighting and an air circulation system that can pull in fresh air from outside are expected to be a major factor in reducing energy usage.
The unfinished basement of The Contemporary’s new campus. It’s well lit and ventilated using as little energy as possible and even has extra space for battery storage.
4. Involve the artists
The performing arts are a fossil fuel-intensive industry, considering artists’ needs to tour — and all the stuff that can accompany a traveling gig. TACAW is looking to change that. Starting with the Denver-Boulder to Basalt corridor, Honey is hoping to find partners to provide zero-emissions transportation, for example — and work toward net-zero bookings one route at a time. “As a net-zero performing arts center, we have a unique opportunity to transform the touring industry,” he says.
Ryan Honey looking good in the laser-level light. As an artist himself, he knows how to drive action in his community.
5. Get people talking
Issue-based programming, including panel discussions about climate change and documentaries on issues concerning the mountain West, will be an important part of The Contemporary’s offerings, Honey promises. He’s also planning a display about the building’s net-zero story in the lobby area, called the Commons, where a 14-foot video wall might also show a livestream of a climate conference, for example. There will be bike racks and likely a WE-cycle station, plus ample opportunity to use The Contemporary’s backyard, which includes a 75-seat amphitheater and lots of green space. “This building will be a model building, but we also want it to be a hub for conversation and things that drive action,” says Honey. “Anything we can do to move the needle.”
The Contemporary has big plans to blast the sustainability message out to any and all that want to be a part of a carbon-free future.
TACAW is about to be the lowest carbon-producing performing arts center in all of Colorado – and as far as we know, the entire country – with a little help from a CORE Grant. Start a conversation with CORE’s Program Director Marty Treadway and learn how we can help fund your innovative carbon-cutting project. Don’t delay, CORE’s biggest and most competitive grant is now accepting applications on a rolling basis, 24/7/365!
No one would say Ben Koons gives up easily. Not only did he achieve his goal of being an Olympic skier – but despite the odds – his dream sustainable home is now under construction and proving net zero is possible.
Born and raised on the South Island of New Zealand, he made his trek to the US by moving to central Maine in high school. He’s a Nordic skier who raced in college and during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. After spending some time in the architecture world of San Francisco, he planted his flag in the valley in 2012. Locally, he’s known for his work with Al Beyer Design and as a Nordic ski coach for Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club.
His free time is spent doing all the things that draw people to the Roaring Fork Valley: backcountry skiing, climbing, mountain biking, and trail-running. When I asked what adventures he’s been getting after lately, his answer was frank. “Right now on the weekends, you can find me on the job site.”
Koons came across what he described as a “funky piece of land” in Old Snowmass that multiple people have tried (and failed) to develop. It’s been through so many hands that Koons describes a cheeky interaction with the building department, whose first response was, “Oh, this piece of property again?”
The land might have its flaws, but Koons is up for the challenge. The local architect commented that the property “shows the state of the valley” where the affordable land left is largely “funky, steep, and has some issues.”
Despite the quirkiness of the lot, Koons has pushed forward with designs for a net-zero home, a concept where homes produce as much energy as they consume. During the initial construction phase, he started off by taking advantage of cheaper — and more fun — labor: his friends. “I’m trying to make it work financially and figuring out how I can involve my friends for free labor … and still, keep my friends,” Koons said with a laugh.
Through his architecture work, Koons has always been interested in building high-performance, green, net-zero homes. With his friends helping lay the groundwork, he brought in local, qualified subcontractors to get the job over the finish line. “I’m not a contractor, I have an architecture background. So this has been a massive learning experience and everyone has been super useful and enthusiastic.”
In order to achieve net zero, Koons’ design returned to the basics of passive house and energy efficiency. “It’s really the boring, less jazzy things that matter: well-sided, well insulated. The most important thing is to invest in the [building] envelope.”
Koons furthers his sustainable practices with an eye for reclaimed materials: “There is so much waste with teardowns in the valley, all my appliances are from other projects. It adds up to about $10,000 and I can use that money to invest back into the insulation and solar PV.”
In addition to his focus on the envelope, the home is all-electric with ductless mini-split heat pumps. This heating method can reduce electricity consumption by 50% compared to older electric heating models and as technology improves, so has their ability to function in cold climates and at high altitudes.
Koons’s project represents a young person in the Roaring Fork Valley trying to make affordable housing work. He’s used his connections, whether it be free friend-labor or skilled contractors, and scoured teardowns for appliances to help him hit his bottom line. That’s exactly why he reached out to CORE regarding their net-zero home grants.
“CORE is such a great resource in the valley. It would be a shame not to use it.”
CORE’s Net Zero Homes grants utilizes the HERS index to determine grant amounts, and pays more the better your house performs. “Our Net Zero Homes grant supports innovative homes that use less energy, cut carbon, and harness on-site renewable energy,” said Marty Treadway, Program Director + Grants Manager.
By taking advantage of CORE’s incentives, Koons can potentially receive up to $8,000 in grant funds. And to sweeten the pot, the Net Zero grant can be combined with CORE renewable energy rebates, leaving up to $4,750 in rebates for solar thermal and PV on-top of the grant amount. Koons is six months into a project with an anticipated finish date of mid-April. Upon its completion, he’ll give CORE a call with a HERS rating in hand, to see what funds he’s eligible for.
This transformation of an idiosyncratic, steep piece of land in Old Snowmass showcases how friends and community can come together to build something great. And great in our eyes — as in Ben’s — means a highly efficient home emitting zero greenhouse gas emissions into our local atmosphere.
BONUS: Just after the winter holidays, Ben Koons invited CORE and local photographer Dan Bayer, into his construction zone. Check out the pictures below and see how net-zero buildings come alive.
Like many who grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley, Andrew Wickes left home to pursue his studies, a career, and an urban lifestyle in Europe. And like many natives who decided to come back, he faced the quintessential local challenge: affordable housing.
Andrew and his wife, Adriane, whom he’d met while living in Berlin, didn’t shy from this challenge. They lived with his parents, Steve and Barbara Wickes (who own Sundance Liquor & Gifts in Snowmass Village, which Andrew manages), while they weighed their options —seemingly slim given their wish to have a big garden. But when a family member suggested they put a home on the Wickes’s large lot in Meadowood, it set them on a path to build a home that suited both their desires and principles: a 1,000-square-foot, net-zero house that demonstrates how property owners and the local workforce can partner to achieve climate and housing goals simultaneously.
“If people want to make a difference, and not only help with energy efficiency but also with housing — and if they have the land — how about focusing their caretaker units to contribute to both those goals?” says Andrew.
Admittedly, Andrew and Adriane had an advantage, in that the landowners in their case are Andrew’s parents. But from start to finish, the couple planned, directed, and financed their home project. Andrew tapped a well of local resources he knows from chairing the Snowmass Village Environmental Advisory Board. Adriane, a relentless researcher who won’t take no for an answer, knew from growing up in Germany that small, sustainable spaces can be feasible and affordable. Perhaps most importantly, they put together a team that was aligned with and knowledgeable about their zero-emission goals, led by Raw Creative, a Denver architecture and design firm founded by Andrew’s childhood friend.
“They took an active role in being part of the solution as homeowners,” says Cameron Millard, the CORE energy advisor that worked with the Wickes. “The whole climate problem can feel so abstract, and we can feel powerless by the enormity of the problem. But there are so many good steps we can take at the house-to-house level that are important, meaningful and have additional benefits.”
Andrew and Adriane took the lead in planning their net-zero home — on a strict budget, no less. Here’s how they did it, and you can, too, by following CORE’s Path to Zero.
Step 1: Assess and Easy Action
CORE recommends a professional energy assessment as a first step to understanding what can be done to improve heating and cooling, insulation, and more — and to identify rebates and other incentives for those improvements. With a new build, the Wickes didn’t take advantage of that step until construction was substantially complete, but CORE offers free energy advising in the early stages of design. On their own, they had plenty of flexibility, and they chose energy-efficient systems up front, including Phillips Hue LED lighting, Energy Star appliances, a small (by American standards) refrigerator, and a Nest programmable thermostat for their radiant electric heat system. When they got their energy assessment the Wickes’s home checked almost all the boxes, according to Millard.
Step 2: Tighten Building Envelope
In this step, homeowners can improve air sealing and insulation, based on results from the energy assessment, which includes a blower-door test to identify air leaks.In the Wickes’s case, their brand-new building envelope was sufficiently tight, thanks to following — and sometimes exceeding — Pitkin County’s most recent codes. A smart design, including burying the back of the house into a small hillside, highly rated Pella windows, and more insulation than required, help keep the house warm in the winter and cool in summers — and tempers demand on the solar-powered electric boiler system (more on that in a minute). In fact, the house is so tight that it needed help with ventilation (see below).
Step 3: Electrify Mechanicals
Going all-electric is critical to achieving carbon-free living, especially in the Roaring Fork Valley, where electric utilities are moving swiftly toward all-renewable power mixes. This starts with balanced ventilation: the house was so tight they needed strategically positioned windows provide natural circulation, while a required ERV air-exchange system prevents the house from getting stuffy when doors and windows are closed. This keeps their house the temperature they want while keeping pollutants out. Knowing this they wanted all electric, Andrew and Adriane decided to go with a highly efficient two-in-one electric boiler, which provides radiant heat and hot water and fits neatly in their tiny mechanical closet. While space largely determined their choice, CORE highly recommends heat pumps for heating, cooling, and hot water — and sweetens the pot with rebates. With no natural gas line to the home, Andrew and Adriane also cook on an induction stove (ubiquitous in Europe). “In going all electric, we knew we could meet our carbon goals,” says Andrew, who added that Adriane’s European habits helped to increase potential for energy efficiency and reduce energy demand.
Step 4: Power Renewably
In the Wickes’s case, this is the step where CORE came in. Millard approved a $2,500 rebate for the 7.92-kilowatt solar array they put on their nearly flat roof — “the icing on the cake,” he says, “to make sure the energy comes from a renewable energy source.” With their energy usage offset by the solar panel system — which produces more than three times the energy that the home consumes in the summer — Millard calculates that Andrew and Adriane will save $22,000 in energy bills over 20 years. Both those incentives, along with a nearly $5,500 rebate from Holy Cross Energy (which also covered battery storage) and a 26% federal tax credit, made it easier to swallow the up-front costs of the system, says Andrew, which was constrained by the size of the roof and their budget. As for carbon goals, in just over one year the solar-produced energy has saved around 16,700 pounds of CO2 emissions, the equivalent of planting 126 trees, according to data produced by the system’s SolarEdge inverter.
Step 5: Drive Change
Central to the Wickes’s home project was battery storage — the future of maximizing energy-saving potential. While Andrew’s goal of running the house on stored solar power in case of a winter power outage falls short — he would need four of the LG Chem batteries to do so, he says — the battery does discharge back into the electric grid during high-demand events as part of a Holy Cross pilot program. And as it stands, the system produces enough excess energy to offset use in Andrew’s parents’ house. For CORE, driving change includes helping homeowners finance their projects. Along with rebates, guidance, and connections to other incentives, CORE is now offering a Net Zero Homes Grant, which pays up to $8,000 based on the HERS index rating of a home.
Settled into their net-zero home, Andrew and Adriane will continue to make some tweaks — like automating the heat tape and insulating the battery in its exterior closet — with ongoing help and advice from Holy Cross and CORE.
“If people are thinking of energy upgrades, CORE is a great resource whether you’re just getting started, halfway there, or already built,” says Andrew. “It’s a really knowledgeable team.”
Home sweet home indeed.
CORE is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to leading the Roaring Fork Valley to a carbon-free, net zero energy future.