Gayle Morgan

Old Cabin, New Net Zero Renovation

  • CORE Support: $4,000 rebate + $2,500 renewable energy rebate
  • Action: Renovated old log cabin to be more energy efficient with full electrification
  • Innovation: Following the Path to Zero to a Net Zero Home

Location: Old Snowmass

Home size: 3,700 sq ft

Year Built: 1982 log cabin kit, full renovation completed December 2021

Net Zero Design: Jeffrey Woodruff- Cloud Hill Design

Intro: Gayle Morgan has called the Roaring Fork Valley her home for many years. Like many residents who live here, she has seen the changes in climate, particularly with droughts and wildfires. Her goal when she bought a 1982 log cabin in Old Snowmass was to make it net zero and all electric, to go beyond code, and to have fire protection in mind. 

Before renovating this home, she built a home in Aspen. During the process, she learned about the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (REMP) – either pay a fee for a new build over a certain square footage, or add renewable energy, which inspired her to install solar panels. When she moved to Old Snowmass, she knew she wanted to add solar again, but this time using as little energy in her home as possible. After doing some research, she was introduced to Jeffrey Woodruff, an architect who has experience on net zero projects. 

The problem: She brought Jeffrey on board from the get go, and he helped her work through every space of the house, seeing what could stay and go, but they found almost everything needed to go. Fortunately, they were able to donate or give most items away, and had family and friends help with the demolition process. This, along with using as many local materials as possible during the renovation, allowed them to have very little embodied energy (the total energy consumed during the production of a building including transport, delivery and construction). 

The first thing they noticed was the old cedar shingled roof. In a fire prone area, this needed to be replaced, and they figured since they were redoing the roof, they should add insulation too. After the initial assessment from Charles Cady, the home was moderately tight, but that wasn’t going to be good enough. The home was heated by a wood burning fireplace and a propane boiler, and also had a gas stove. Air quality was important to Gayle, so she wanted to remove these contaminants from her home. There was also an electric water heater, but it was very dated. According to Jeffrey, “removing fossil fuels from a home is about having a healthy indoor environment – the air we breathe and the comfort of our space – while respecting the health of our surroundings.”

The solution: Every part of the home they touched, they wanted to improve and going “beyond code” was important since the Pitkin County building codes were adopted in 2015. Following CORE’s Path to Zero, Jeffrey used this same process to ensure the home would reach net zero.

Assess + Easy Action: They switched all of the lights to low wattage LEDs and put in smart thermostats to control the temperature. She also added all energy star appliances. These measures keep your energy usage as low as possible. 

Air Seal + Insulate: When they replaced the roof, they added insulation, and all new doors and windows. They also insulated between all of the logs of the cabin. The home tightness increased by 40%!

Electrify Everything: After removing all propane and gas options (including the hot tub), Jeffrey suggested heat pumps to heat and cool the home, so she has 3 Mitsubishi Hyper Heat pumps, which are the most efficient heating and cooling option on the market, and run off electricity. They also added a new electric hot water heater, as well as an induction stove and electric fireplace. 

Power with Renewables: Gayle had solar at her previous home, and knew she wanted it again. For this 3,700 sq foot space, Sunsense Solar gave the best quote and recommended 21 kW of solar that cover most of her roof. 

Store it with a Battery: Gayle has 5 Tesla batteries, which she thinks are just beautiful and would keep them in her living room as a decoration. She decided to go through Holy Cross Energy and participate in their Power+ Program. HCE bought Tesla batteries and now people like Gayle can “lease” them and pay them off over 10 years. Holy Cross can use up to 75% of the battery capacity to reduce peak energy demand with the understanding that the utility will replace what they use.

The positives: Her home still has the charm of a log cabin, but with zero energy footprint. Gayle is very happy with her renovation, the quality of air she breaks, and the comfort of knowing that she is being a part of the solution. She said, “hopefully it all helps, we did it more because we wanted to experiment with it, every time someone employs someone to work on this stuff, it makes it more and more possible for other people”. 

What they learned:

  1. The original hot water heater was in the kitchen, so they knew they wanted to move it. The best choice would have been to move it to the crawl space but they couldn’t find one that fit. They decided to put it in the garage, but they didn’t think about ducting it. Energy Star hot water heaters blow off cool, which is great if you want that space cooled. Jeffrey put walls around it, but it is still making the garage very cold.
  2. Because of the location of the heat pumps, they should have put pads under them and covered them. They are in a very snowy and exposed area. 
  3. When you go all electric, you should commission the solar panels at the same time. You want to be producing electricity at the same time as you are consuming. Gayle moved in and began using her all electric home before the solar panels were commissioned, so that first winter, she had a very large electric bill. The system came online in December, so it didn’t feel beneficial, but this summer, it will even out.

Since Gayle has not had a summer with her solar panels, we do not have all of the information on what they are producing and her total savings. We will follow up with her next fall for the results!

For more information on getting started with a residential energy assessment or applying for rebates, talk to CORE’s Residential Program Coordinator Jesse Kahn at jesse@aspencore.org or 970.925.9775 x 1005.

Architect Jeffrey Woodruff standing in front of Gayle Morgan’s Mitsubishi heat pumps. PC: Dan Bayer Photography

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CORE is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to leading the Roaring Fork Valley to a carbon-free, net zero energy future. Under the guidance of a Board of Directors–made up of elected officials, utility representatives, and committed citizens–CORE helps people, businesses, municipalities, facilities and nonprofit organizations save natural resources and lower energy bills while reducing their carbon footprint.