We finished our first “high performance” home in 2019. It is at Evans Farm in Lewis Center, Ohio. We live there now. By high performance, we mean low energy consumption, not off-grid. Our first house still costs about $750 per year for its electric utility power, which accounts for about half of the power we use (all-electric, we really cannot use gas, oil, coal, and wood anymore). The remainder comes from solar panels on our garage. Key factors that make this possible are a tight Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) envelope, triple glazed windows, efficient HVAC, efficient electrical appliances, and LED lighting, Our Tesla Model 3 costs about $250 to run for a year, for about 10,000 miles. So, total cash to the utility is about $1,000 per year (1)
Our good experience with our home encouraged us to build another home for sale as a way to push this better technology out into our community where people could see it and learn about it. We started that second house, a 3 bedroom ranch with basement, early in 2021 and finished it in October.. It sold before it was done. The November electric bill (house is all-electric) was $97. That is right on target. Summer 2022 should see some negative bills.
We learned many things about home building on the second house project, and chief among those was that it is possible to build high quality, efficient homes for not much more than conventional timber-framed structures. Yes, it will cost a bit more. Perhaps 5% more, but we really can’t afford not to spend that 5% given the environmental crisis we are presently experiencing. That money will come back to the occupants quickly, very likely making the slightly higher mortgage payment and utilities combined even lower overall. Every new home should be a high-performance home.
I have been watching Tesla’s Plaid release video’s for the last few days. They were hard to miss, really very interesting, and I’m fine with what I’ve seen, in context. I own a Tesla Model 3 Dual Motor LR. Love it. But, we really don’t need many Plaid Model S cars, and, fact is, we won’t get many. I’ll never have one.
The Plaid Model S is a magnificent technology development project for Tesla. Good for business. Importantly, it projects leadership and power. It is a poster child (1), and that’s its context. However, in service the Plaid S is just a 390 mile range toy that gets to 60 mph in about 2 seconds. It is very expensive, and for that reason alone cannot urgently and directly help us solve our number one contemporary human survival problem, global warming.
Climate-wise, we need practical long-range carbon-free vehicles that we can afford to buy. Sadly, they are not here yet. But, there is hope.
Oddly enough, there was a fledgling company called Aptera Motors (2) putting on a show at about the same time as Tesla’s Plaid reveal. I suspect very few people watched Aptera’s webinar. Their car, the 1000 mile range (show me) Sol (current alpha version name), is a total departure from contemporary automotive design. The minimalist Sol could bring costs down to where common folk can participate in the greening of private transportation, even if it takes a lethargic 3.5 seconds to get to 60 mph. My Model 3, by the way, takes about 1 second longer, and it can be quite scary.
I’ve placed my deposit on a Sol-like production car, and hope I live long enough to complete the purchase. Aptera plans to start production this year, maybe next. We’ll see. The general simplicity of the vehicle and its composite fuselage may make that possible, may make it possible to avoid Elon Musk’s Model 3 manufacturing hell.
But, one thing for certain, while I am sure the Plaid is an absolute blast to drive, it cannot help solve the big problem. It’s at the wrong end of the solution spectrum. Aptera is at the correct end, maybe too close to the end for some, but at the correct end.
It had to happen, of course, and I have no problem with it. That is, those of us who drive electric cars have not been paying for road use. While that might have been be OK for a while to stimulate electric car development, it was not sustainable – particularly with all these new Teslas whispering around. Gotta fill those pot-holes and prop up those bridges. Ohio now requires a surcharge of $200 per year to register an electric car. We just paid ours. Other states are beginning to do this, as well, but the Ohio surcharge is at the top of the range. (1) So, I wondered how our car compared with gas cars under this new scheme.
Here is what I found:
For a normal year, Ohio seems to have a fair scheme, and contrary to some complaints I had heard and read, (2)(3) electric cars are not costing more in road taxes than gas and oil burners. Tax-wise in Ohio we’ll still be about $130 a year cheaper on average. It seems to me that this scheme must be much easier and cheaper to administrate than the gas pump tax method. So maybe it’s a win-win. (4)
And, let’s not forget that electric cars are, first — cheaper to run quite apart from the tax issue (which really isn’t an issue) and, second — an essential part of solving the climate crisis. We really have no choice.
The corona virus quarantine has given us all the chance to do some reading, if reading is one’s thing, as I hope it is for readers of this post. I bought Our House is On Fire, (1) and closely read it in two days. Note the red tags marking what I found to be particularly interesting passages. Lots of them. It’s an easy read, constructed as a series of short scenes that help focus attention on the matter at hand.
I am hoping that members of my family will read this book, as well, with the red tags in place. Perhaps adding their own yellow, pink, or blue tags.
There are many powerful lessons between these covers. Lessons about the scope of climate change, yes, but also lessons about heroic parenthood. Lessons about cultural changes required to save our environment (there is no other way). Lessons about the power of sticking to a commitment in the face of adversity in the family and in the world in which we live.
I have said in earlier posts that management of the global climate crisis is not an economic matter – except that it is a new economic opportunity. It’s not old economy before new ecology, because, believe me, if our leaders continue to take that approach, as Greta Thunberg and her family know, as careful thinkers know, as scientists know, both will come tumbling down in a sudden, violent, and unstoppable human disaster. Our House Is On Fire does not seek to show a hopeful outcome with respect to global warming. That’s the approach contemporary politicians tend to take. Our House Is On Fire is alarmist, as it should be.
The first 12 month’s energy consumption and cost numbers are tallied. While I was a little disappointed with the raw percentage solar, the projected annual cost came in below that expected for the house. The HERS (1) estimate was $950, and we ended up at $1058.67. But — (and BIG but) that annual cost includes one year of driving our electric car. Because the HERS calculations on our basis document do not include a car, as nearly as I can figure we are doing better than expected on total building energy useage, which I really thought we would. The data is below.
The spreadsheet above shows that winter energy consumption is higher, and that central Ohio is a cloudy place during fall and winter. No big surprise on either point. We had originally planned for 24 solar panels, and that might have been a better choice, but we thought we’d wait and see how things panned out. I think we’ll wait another year before putting panels on the main house (just on the garage, now). If we do that we’ll probably go to 28.
We have made some other little changes that may show up in the next 12 months. The hybrid water heater has recently been switched from hybrid operation to heat pump only operation. We see no difference in hot water availability, and that should reduce power use. We have also switched to a renewable power generation supplier. That lowered supply costs a bit and makes us totally renewable.
Edit: Revised spreadsheet to correct % solar numbers (increased), and eliminate electric car estimate. The car will be another topic. 8/15/2020
I was walking in the neighborhood yesterday and it struck me how bright and clear the sky suddenly was. Of course, that’s because people have been driving much less. (1) We are staying close to home as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
There is a teaching moment here, and that is that we have been dumping easily noticeable amounts of fossil fuel junk into our atmosphere for 100 years or so, and it’s piling up. A lot of that dull brown cast on the horizon we are used to seeing comes out of car tail-pipes, and it’s pretty well dispersed right now here in Lewis Center, Ohio. Just think how much better things will be when we are all driving renewable sourced electric cars, and the planet has had some time to cleanse its lungs.
Teaching moments too often do not stick around very long in our brains, however, especially if the lesson is inconvenient or expensive. And, right now, just as we are clearly seeing the immediate effects of reduced vehicular fuel consumption, our short-sighted and conflicted leaders are backing off efforts to compel car makers to meet 2025 CAFE fuel economy standards that would have made permanent air quality improvements pretty much equal to what our COVID-19 travel restrictions have done. (2)
Though they complain, car makers can meet the 2025 CAFE numbers. Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, and Toyota can pretty much do it today. But, the real answer is not better fossil fuel economy, it’s electrification. Maybe we should just stop all combustion engine car manufacturing in 2025, instead. It’s not a new idea. (3)
We ran across an interesting article on Remodelista’s site this morning. (1) It’s a getaway house that uses much of the same technology our Legacy House employs. The design is very Scandi, and that simplicity can be used to help control costs where it is appropriate.
On Thursday, February 13th, 2020, AEP and Efficiency Crafted Homes held their annual awards ceremony in Columbus, Ohio. Our builder, Dan Troth, on the right above, of GreenTech Construction (1) had the honor of taking home four awards. The one we were most interested in was for our house, Lowest HERS Score Including Renewables, (solar panels, in our case) with a HERS Score of 16. Lower is better, 100 is typical of a standard new home.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Greta Thunberg to get an economics degree before advising others as to how to deal with energy policy. (1) In doing that, Mnuchin demonstrates his total lack of understanding of the interplay of energy policy and our climate crisis. The fact is that the climate crisis is not an economic problem unless you are invested in fossil fuels and don’t care what damage you cause or who you kill to make your buck. The climate crisis is a survival problem, a breathing problem, a thirst problem, a hunger problem, a fire problem, an immigration problem, yes, but not an economic problem in the sense that we have any choice about spending boatloads of money to get it under control. Even so, you’ll find more than one real economist (not Steve) who will tell you that the technology and industrial effort required to save our planet through something like a “Green New Deal” is really a remarkable economic opportunity. (2) Would I rather dig coal or build hydro plants and install solar panels?
No one needs a degree in anything to read a thermometer or to do at least something about the climate crisis and all of us need to be active in the effort. Changing one lightbulb or planting one tree won’t help much by itself, Greta will tell you that passionately, but even such a small act helps build grassroots awareness that will be required to implement much more difficult changes in the way we live in the near future.
We are starting to build another small Zero Energy Ready house in our community with the builder of our present home. We’ll sell it, and try to build another after that. Maybe one each year if we do not lose our shirts along the line. That’s doing something that is visible on the street, something neighbors will talk about. We never planned to become home-builders, but it is something we can do, indeed, must do.
There is a list of 10 simple things we can all do at ThoughtCo. (3) You can visit the site to get the story on each item.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Use Less Heat and Air Conditioning
Change a Light Bulb
Drive Less and Drive Smart
Buy Energy-Efficient Products
Use Less Hot Water
Use the “Off” Switch
Plant a Tree
Get a Report Card from Your Utility Company
Encourage Others to Conserve
Even if these are small things in themselves, they help create the awareness and the culture we need, they add up, and you don’t need an economics degree to get them done.