Wednesday, October 18, 2017
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) presented its 2017 Housing Innovation Awards to 24 of the nation's leading builders recently at the Energy and Environmental Building Alliance's High Performance Home Summit in Atlanta. Four Colorado builders were among the national honorees, one of them for homes being built in the Denver metro area.
Thrive Home Builders (Denver) was the Grand Winner in the Production Home category. The Custom Home category had no Colorado honorees. Thrive Home Builders (Lone Tree) was the Grand Winner in the Multi-Family category. Revive Properties (Fort Collins) was also honored in the Production and Multi-Family categories, and Mantell-Hecathorn Builders (Durango) was honored for Innovation in Custom Homes (Buyers), but not as the Grand Winner in that category.
These innovation awards are part of DOE’s “Zero Energy Ready Homes” program. According to Sam Rashkin, chief architect at DOE's Building Technologies Office, “Zero Energy Ready Homes are designed to provide a whole new level of home owner experience, including ultra-low utility bills, ensured comfort, comprehensive water protection, whole-house fresh air delivery, high-capture filtration, contaminant control, and enhanced durability.”
“These winners are leading a national movement to Zero Energy Ready Homes, providing better places for Americans to live, stronger communities, and a more economically and environmentally resilient nation,” said Rashkin.
The judges also selected homes for honorable mention in each category. Winners and honorable mention recipients will be featured on the DOE Tour of Zero, a virtual tour of Zero Energy Ready Homes across the country. A list of previous years’ winners (going back to 2013) can be seen online at https//energy.gov/eere/buildings/doe-tour-zero. Thrive Home Builders won this award in 2013, 2014, 2015 under the name New Town Builders and in two categories last year, as they did this year, under their new name.
From attending builder booths at various Realtor events, I have observed that builders active in the Denver market are highly competitive regarding the energy efficiency of their new homes. Energy efficiency is measured by the builders’ average HERS scores. HERS stands for Home Energy Rating System, where a score of 100 equals the energy efficiency of a home built to current code. Thus, a HERS score of 60 would signify that the home uses 40% less energy than one built only to code. The lower the HERS score, the more energy efficient a home is. Almost all builders active in the Denver market boast average HERS ratings of 70 or lower. Thrive Home Builders is building homes with HERS ratings under 10.
According to Susan Elovitz from Thrive, “All Thrive homes go beyond the Zero Energy Ready Homes program to also include Thrive’s premium performance 9½” walls filled with energy saving insulation, PV solar, LED Lighting, tankless water heaters and more. Indoor airPLUS certification is also standard, which means they meet rigorous EPA guidelines for improved indoor air quality, but again, it’s only a starting point for Thrive. Innovations in clean indoor air include active radon systems, advanced air filtration, continuous fresh air ventilation, corn-based carpeting and drywall that absorbs and breaks down formaldehyde to ensure that indoor air pollutants are reduced in the air you breathe.”
That’s impressive. Our agents were also impressed by Meritage Homes’ new subdivision at Richards Farm, where we got a pre-construction tour and could see that builder’s approach toward insulation.
Meritage showed us how they use sprayed foam insulation instead of fiberglass insulation in their walls. Closed cell foam is a far better insulator than batts made of fiberglass. Meritage is the only builder I know that conditions their attic, meaning that they insulate the ceiling of the attic — that is, the underside of the roof — instead of the floor of the attic. Other builders typically blow in cellulose insulation that rests on the floor of the attic The attic above the insulation is then ventilated with outside air. If there are heating ducts in an unconditioned attic, the warm air in those ducts could lose a lot of their heat, but if the attic is conditioned space, that doesn’t happen. If you have gone into your floor-insulated attic during the summer months you know how exceptionally hot it can get. By comparison, temperatures in an attic with an insulated ceiling are greatly reduced.
Notice that I used the verb “to hire.” This is a job, and the job is to handle one of the largest financial transactions in your life, so first of all you need to establish qualifications and criteria before even interviewing candidates for this job.
Becoming a licensed real estate agent is probably easier than it should be, considering how important our job is. Appraisers, by contrast, have to study more, pass harder tests, and even apprentice before they can get their licenses. For real estate, you need only take 168 hours of licensing class (which you can do online) and pass a 3-hour state exam, plus survive a criminal background check from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. This is why we have so many part-timers in this business, and why the average real estate licensee earns less than $50,000 per year. You’d be surprised at how many licensees have zero or one transaction per year. Those agents are living off another income or a supportive spouse, and their small number of completed transactions means they have limited experience to serve you.
So, qualification number one for the job of listing your home should be the number of completed transactions the licensee has had within the past few years. You can get this information on Denver’s MLS, www. REcolorado.com. I’ve created a shortcut that goes directly to the agent look-up page: www.FindDenverRealtors.com. See screenshot at right. (Keep nicknames in mind when entering your candidate’s name. I’m Jim, not James, but some Jim’s may be under James, etc.) When you find the agent, click on “View My Listings” where you’ll see a number for “Properties I’m Selling” and “Properties I’ve Sold.” This is not to say that a less experienced agent working under good supervision (like my broker associates) wouldn’t be a good candidate, but experience does count, so find out how experienced he or she is. With proper supervision, a newer, hungrier agent might do a great job and be more attentive.
While you’re there, take a look at how the agent is presenting his/her listings. Are the all-important photographs high quality, or do the rooms appear dark and are the windows a white blur? Study the details of each listing. Does the agent describe each room in detail, including dimensions, or do they just have barebones public remarks? Click on the “virtual tour” (if you see a link for it above the main picture). Is it just a slideshow of the same pictures but with music, or is it a narrated video walk-through of the property?
Remember, the best predictor of how your house will be portrayed is how this agent has presented his or her prior listings.
Any employer (which is your role in this situation) would Google the candidate’s name and see what comes up. Look at their Facebook page and other social media to see if they’re serious and successful and have good reviews.
Appraisers are required to have “geographic competence” when accepting assignments, but not so with real estate agents. You are perfectly free to hire an agent who hasn’t had a listing within 20 miles of your home and doesn’t know your market. But should you? All too often I see instances where a seller fell in love with a home far from their current home and hired the agent for that home to list their current home. Do the opposite. Hire the best qualified Realtor to list your current home and let that agent represent you in the purchase of your replacement home — and have that agent discount your listing commission because of what they will earn on your purchase. That’s what I do.
If you’re like most people, you have a friend or relative with a real estate license, or a friend who recommends their friend or relative. Subject that candidate to the same qualifications and criteria as any other candidate. This job is just too important. Hire wisely.
They don’t build wood frame homes in Italy (or elsewhere in Europe that I know of). The concept of building walls with 2x4 wood studs and covering them with half-inch drywall, as best I could tell, would probably seem a bit strange to an Italian (or perhaps any European). They build homes to last, using concrete or tile blocks, which are then covered by stucco. As for roofs, I suspect an Italian home builder would scoff at the idea of composition shingle roofs with 30 to 50 year lifetimes, easily destroyed by a hail storm. In Italy, virtually every roof is tile, and many of them look as if they are hundreds of years old. I imagine they’d find it curious that we replace roofs that don’t leak but have merely lost some of their surface granules after a storm.
Perhaps there are readers who are familiar with European construction methods who could provide me with additional information that I can then share in a future column, because I find the concept of building more durable homes highly attractive.
The way we build homes in America strikes me as “penny wise and pound foolish,” but I don’t consider myself an expert on the subject and would like to know more. Call or write me so I can learn more and share more!
In discussing solar electricity with battery storage last week as an alternative to being “on-grid,” I neglected to mention something called V2G—Vehicle to Grid. The idea is that after you have charged your electric car from your home, you could draw upon the vehicle’s stored energy during a power failure. Another reason to own an EV!
V2G is a version of battery-to-grid power applied to vehicles. There are three main different versions of the vehicle-to-grid concept, all of which involve an onboard battery:
- A hybrid or Fuel cell vehicle, which generates power from storable fuel, uses its generator to produce power for a utility at peak electricity usage times. Here the vehicles serve as a distributed generation system, producing power from conventional fossil fuels, biofuels or hydrogen.
- A battery-powered or plug-in hybrid vehicle which uses its excess rechargeable battery capacity to provide power to the electric grid in response to peak load demands. These vehicles can then be recharged during off-peak hours at cheaper rates while helping to absorb excess night time generation. Here the vehicles serve as a distributed battery storage system to buffer power.
- A solar vehicle which uses its excess charging capacity to provide power to the electric grid when the battery is fully charged. Here the vehicle effectively becomes a small renewable energy power station. Such systems have been in use since the 1990s and are routinely used in the case of large vehicles, especially solar-powered boats.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
This 7-acre, 3-bedroom, 2,072-sq.-ft. home at 1795 York Gulch Road is my favorite listing ever. I’d buy it myself if I didn’t need to be closer to my office and clients. It is possibly the best engineered house I’ve ever listed — and it is completely self-sufficient regarding electricity and water! Solar panels feed a battery pack providing uninterrupted 220-Volt power, with two backup generators that are hardly ever needed. County maintained roads lead to it, and a firehouse is less than a mile away. It enjoys great cell service and internet too! At 9,250 feet elevation (with great views of the Continental Divide) it needs no A/C and has flexible heating options, including 2 wood stoves, a propane forced air furnace, and 2 wall heaters. The acreage is south facing, so snow melts readily, making this a rare year-round home, considering its elevation.
If you like the idea of being in the mountains but only 30 minutes from the metro area, watch the video tour at www.MountainTopHome.info, then call your agent or me at 303-525-1851 for a private showing! This home is three miles from Exit 238 of I-70 (Fall River Road). Pictured below is a pasture across York Gulch Road that is part of this parcel. An adjoining 5-acre buildable parcel is also available at a discount. The combined 12-acre property is bordered by National Forest.
Showings are granted only to buyers who have first watched the video tour at www.MountainTopHome.info.
Then call your agent or Leo Swoyer at 720-933-1968 for a private showing.
News from our hurricane-ravaged states and from the Caribbean islands can be unsettling, even to those whose life and property weren’t affected by these events. How would life be for you if you lost electricity for several weeks, or even months?
Without electricity, there is no refrigeration, and you can’t even run a gas furnace to keep warm. If you live on well water, you couldn’t run the electric well pump, so without a manual pump (which are still available) you’d be without water. Forget the internet and charging your cell phone. Gas stations wouldn’t be able to pump gas, so you’d soon lose the use of your car or at, best, find long gas lines — unless you have an electric car powered by off-grid electricity.
Even before the devastating news from Puerto Rico, I’d been considering going off-grid in my Golden home, or at least buying a Tesla Powerwall battery pack as back-up to the electricity supplied by Xcel Energy. I have enough solar panels to power my home and my cars, but when the grid goes down, my solar panels are useless. With today’s solar power systems, you’re either on-grid or off-grid. I used to like to say that the grid is my battery. Now I’m not so confident of that. My home sends power to Xcel during the day then receives if from Xcel at night. As long as this give-and-take arrangement (called “net metering”) works as designed, it makes no sense to own your own battery. But what about when it doesn’t work?
A friend and mentor of mine, Steve Stevens, has a home powered by Xcel, but also keeps a fully-charged battery pack in his garage so when there’s a black-out he can throw a switch and run his home (and charge his cars) directly from the battery pack. His solar photovoltaic (PV) system will continue charging the battery pack during daylight hours, which is capable of providing enough electricity to live normally during the night.
I used to think such an investment was silly, but so, it could be argued, is flood insurance — that is, until you have a flood. I’m not considering flood insurance, but I am seriously considering buying “electricity insurance” in the form of a battery back-up system for my home and possibly for my real estate office.
Even a one-day power outage could spoil food in the refrigerator and freezer. Perhaps you’ve had that experience. Such a system would help to mitigate that risk.
Maybe you read, as I did, that Tesla has suspended the production of its new Tesla Semi so it can concentrate on making Powerwall units for Puerto Rico and other areas devastated by hurricanes. Presumably, Tesla is also sending the solar panels necessary to charge those battery packs.
It’s also possible to get off the natural gas grid and heat your home with electricity. If you’re skeptical, it’s probably because when you think of electric heat, electric baseboard or “resistance heating” comes to mind.
Resistance heating involves the use of electric coils which get hot when connected to electricity. You’ll find this same level of technology in the toaster sitting on your kitchen counter – an appliance invented in 1893. Modern electric heating, on the other hand, is accomplished by way of a heat pump. These devices use an electric compressor to extract heat from inside your house when it’s hot (we call that "air conditioning") and extract heat from outdoors, even when it’s below freezing, to heat your home in the winter.
This kind of heat pump is called an “air source” heat pump because it extracts heat from the outdoor air. A more expensive but more efficient heat pump extracts heat from the earth, which is a constant 55 degrees once you reach six feet below the surface in our latitude. It takes less electricity to extract heat from that 55-degree source than it does from the air, because the air can get much colder. Unfortunately, the cost of installing the vertical or horizontal wells required for a ground-source heat pump makes these systems much more expensive to install, though cheaper to operate.
Recently I wrote about “mini-splits,” which are air source heat pumps common throughout Europe and Asia but which are just beginning to make their appearance in America. They will ultimately make our gas forced air furnaces and A/C units obsolete. They haven’t been popular here because, without using ducts, you’d require one for each room. At right is a 12,000 BTU kit that I found online for only $645. There are systems currently available that include up to four interior wall units (at the top in the image) that run off a single compressor (bottom left in the image) for under $2,000. They both heat and cool, eliminating the need for a gas furnace plus separate A/C compressor and chiller unit.
Domestic hot water can also be heated electrically using a heat pump water heater. Home Depot sells a 50-gallon Rheem model (left) for $1,199 and claims “$4,000 in energy cost savings.” It’s important to put this model in unconditioned space — or in a room with outdoor air available. The reason is that the heat pump is transferring the heat from the room into the water, so it functions like an air conditioner for the room in which it is installed. If it’s in a small room, that room can get very cold as your water gets hot! If your current furnace room has “combustion air” ducts supplying outdoor air to your gas furnace and hot water heater, those same ducts can provide the needed outdoor air when you convert to heat pumps. Just be sure to keep the door to this room closed — and not have louvered doors.
If you can also do without gas for cooking — and there are some great electric cooktops available now — you can get rid of your gas meter (saving the monthly grid connection fee) and live only off the sun.
14317 W. 4th Place, Golden
More pictures and info at www.6thAveWestHome.com
This lovely bi-level home is located in walking distance of the light rail station serving 6th Avenue West and Red Rocks Community College. It has been beautifully updated with hardwood floors, maple cabinets, granite counters, vaulted ceiling and updated appliances. A heated and finished bonus room (or “man cave”) is located behind the 2-car garage. The home sits on a large cul-de-sac lot adjoining Flora Way. The fenced yard includes a dog run with dog house and large wood deck. Top-rated Kyffin Elementary, which has a Gifted & Talented program, and the community swimming pool are a few blocks away, as is a vest-pocket park for the neighborhood hidden from street view. There are 4 bedrooms, 2 upstairs and 2 more downstairs, with 3 baths. You’ll love the master bathroom! A narrated video tour is in production and will be viewable at the above website. This home will be open this Sunday, October 15th, 1-3 pm.