Andrew-Adriane-Net-Zero-Home
Andrew Wickes & Adriane Simon’s Net Zero Home in Aspen

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 requires a professional energy assessment as a first step to understand 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.

  • Phillips-Hue-LED-Lighting
  • nest-programmable-thermostat
  • Low-Energy-Appliances

Step 2: Tighten Building Envelope

  • Windows
  • air-sealing
  • Insulation

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.

  • Balanced-ventilation
  • electric-boiler
  • Bathroom-exhaust

Step 4: Power Renewably

  • Solar-panels
  • SolarEdge-Inverter
  • solar-power

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.

LG-Chem-Battery

Photo’s of the Wickes’s home by Daniel Bayer Photography

Going Net-Zero is possible for anyone, and it just takes getting started on the Path to Zero. Call CORE today to schedule a home energy assessment, unlock incentives, and make the path right for you!