What We Learned at the Avon Open House

This past weekend we welcomed 84 people to see and learn how different a future friendly Zero Energy home is from the homes most of us live in. We gave a presentation explaining why that difference matters, and how we achieve such high performance, and with the walls open we could show how the home is built.

Checkout Our Net Zero Home Guide

 For those who couldn’t make it, or those who did and would like to review what we presented, we’ve created this handy guide to what a Zero Energy home is, how they’re built, and why it matters.

Here is a summary of what both of us learned from each other over the course of this stimulating event. Let’s start with what our audience learned and experienced:

THE WORLD AS IT IS

  • The homes that most of us live in reflect what mattered when they were built, including an expectation that they would be kept comfortable with a big machine burning fossil fuel
  • They paid little attention to the energy they relied on and as a consequence were cavalier about energy performance. It was never a factor in their design.
  • This resulted in homes that were drafty and unpredictably comfortable. Temperatures varied from room to room and fresh air was uncontrolled and too dry, too humid, or too stuffy to feel good. They fall short in providing comfort and health.
  • The energy our homes rely on are a load we are committed to carrying on and on, year after year. The ways in which we measure our use offer us little control. We set the thermostat and pay the bill. They commit us to escalating costs.
  • The energy our homes rely on are doing damage to our environment and compromising our climate. Their dependance on large quotients of energy lock in a destructive pattern.

THE WORLD AS IT COULD BE

  • We have learned a new method of building that is fundamentally different than how we designed and built the homes of the past.
  • By orienting a building toward the “free energy” we receive from the sun, building a shell that retains heat like a thermos, capturing free energy thru windows that preserve more energy than they lose, creating a stable interior temperature, and making the building air tight but providing balanced ventilation that sustains health, we can meet our heating and cooling requirements with the equivalent of a couple blow dryers.
  • By reducing our other energy uses for lighting, appliances, household equipment, and hot water production we can fully satisfy all these needs with a rooftop solar array that provides all the energy we require on an annual basis. This is the definition of “net zero.”
  • A technology revolution is taking place. We are now integrating the solar energy we harvest on our rooftops with battery storage systems installed in the home AND parked in the garage – Electric Vehicles are batteries on wheels!
  • High performance homes are consistently comfortable and provide the conditions that support health and wellness
  • As we dramatically reduce operational carbon, we need to address the embodied carbon of the materials we build with

 

WHAT WE LEARNED FROM THEM

  • In a quick hands up poll – 10% currently own an electric vehicle, while over half intend to – an indication of the technological revolution taking place and the direction toward a renewable energy economy that these homes are a part of.
  • Folks appreciated that by investing 5% more in 5 of the 500 items that go into a home you can lock in a zero energy cost for the life of the home – it pays back in 5-7 years, so let’s “bake in” those features when we have the opportunity.
  • As they toured the house folks said, “there is nothing like being able to see and feel the space, and how it all fits together using familiar methods and materials installed with the right know how.”
  • Everybody is pretty amazed at how small the heating and cooling system is and how even the temperature will be, even if the power is out (a story was told by someone we built for about how their house stayed at 57 degrees with the power out for three days and temperatures of minus 12!)
  • I think they were even more interested in the “lungs” of the home. The heat recovery ventilation system provides constant filtered fresh air without exhausting precious heat.
  • The opportunity of living “pest free” due to the tightness of construction is a welcome benefit.
  • Over and over we heard this, “Why isn’t every home being built like this?” The answers to this question range from “the land of steady habits” and reluctance to change to the way in which realtors and banks have not produced a method to establish the “value” these homes represent. That is changing, gradually but inevitably.
  • In talking to folks who would like to create a home like this or transform the one they live in I realized that one of the most important things we help people do is discover a path to follow and help them keep moving along it. “A journey begins with the decision to act,” and we often meet people at their “action impasse.” Sound familiar?
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