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Net Zero Retrofit in Clifton Park, New York

An Interview with the owner of a net zero house

Original old house. Photo by Joanne Coons

Original old house. Photo by Joanne Coons

By Green Energy Times Staff

Can you briefly describe what a Net Zero energy home is?

It makes more energy than we use.

When or how did you first hear about Net Zero energy homes?

Through reading and attending conferences like NESEA Green Building.

What were your motivations for transforming a 1830’s historic farmhouse into a Net Zero energy home?

We had tinkered with renewable energy at our last home which was an 1852 Greek Revival home. Our children were grown up and it seemed like a good time to downsize and this farmhouse was sitting vacant for 10 years. We felt it was a shame to lose it to development since it had character and charm.

Do you think it was a worthwhile investment?

Absolutely.

Why?

Great location, (passive solar, sited facing south) as stated already, charm and character, comfortable living.

Believe it or not, this picture shows how the house now looks, after the restorations were done, complete with solar photovoltaics. Photo by Randall Perry.

Believe it or not, this picture shows how the house now looks, after the restorations were done, complete with solar photovoltaics. Photo by Randall Perry.

Compared to previous homes you’ve owned, how does this one compare with regard to energy efficiency?

Since we had totally gutted this home, we had control over air sealing and insulation which allowed us low energy needs to operate. By building the home right we could reduce our heating and cooling.

Could you describe the different energy-efficiency technologies employed in your home?

Heating and cooling is taken care of by ground source heat pump, air exchange by Life Breath, original windows on south side with magnetic storms and exterior storms for triple layer, all other windows were replaced with Marvin Integrity windows, closed-cell spray-foam insulation, 8.4 kW ground mounted PV, solar hot water for domestic hot water, whole house dehumidifier, energy star appliances, low flow faucets and toilets, honeycomb shades with tracks to control heat gain and loss, CFL and LED lights, induction range, cool roof, solar clothes dryer, recycling, reuse, look for products that have recycled content to reduce embodied energy.

What’s your favorite thing about owning a Net Zero energy home?

Low cost of living and the comfortable environment inside the home (and to watch the meter spin backwards).

How would you describe its performance in the summer vs. the winter?

Equally comfortable, there isn’t a swing in temperature or humidity.

Would you recommend building a Net Zero energy home to other home owners?

First steps are load reduction and insulation; it can be a process, not an event. Doing something is better than nothing. I am amazed at how many people don’t take advantage of NYSERDA energy audit, this is a great first step.

What was the building-renovation process like?

Fun because it is a real learning experience. Solving problems such as design to provide form and function is something my husband and I enjoy. We attend lectures, read, go to conventions and network with many people.

What kinds of questions did you ask your builder going into the process?

My husband had just retired and needed a “project” so he was the GC. We talked about solutions to problems daily through the planning stages and construction. Our architect and engineer were very helpful. Measure twice, cut once. Planning is key.

How long did the renovation take from start to finish?

One year

What kind of financial incentives did you use/receive when installing the system?

NYSERDA incentives and Federal tax credit.

Could you describe the process of applying for/receiving the incentives?

Our solar installer, Kevin Bailey, pretty much took care of the incentives since he received the money and our tax preparer is knowledgeable about renewable energy tax credits due to another job she has had.

Did you or will you receive any tax credits because you built a Net Zero energy home?

Yes but anyone installing renewable energy would. It doesn’t have to be Net Zero.

Was NYSERDA helpful in getting the home built? If so, how?

Yes, made installation of the renewables more affordable.

Is this home a New York ENERGY STAR® Certified Home?

Yes.

If you could say one thing to people who have never heard of a Net Zero energy home, what would it be?

We know how to build an energy efficient, comfortable home that saves energy, reduces fossil fuel consumption, and ultimately cost much less to operate. It would be in our best interest to adopt these practices for a healthier future.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Since we have an excess of electrons (energy) we “dump” them into our cars, an all-electric LEAF and plug-in Prius. This also helps reduce our fossil fuel consumption. We use an electric snow blower, grill, lawn mower, weed whacker. We use electric whenever we can so we can use our own home-grown electrons.

 

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