Blogs, Energy Efficiency, Solar

Net-Zero Homes

By: Arjay West (Energy Savers America CEO)

Recently I read an interesting article that I wanted to discuss. It was published on Bloomberg.net and entitled “Homebuilders Oppose Zero-Energy Homes Liked by Dow Chemical”.

I am not surprised by the unfavorable response that many home-builders’ are voicing towards the concept of “Net-Zero” Homes.

The industry still suffers from conventional mindsets, and it has struggled with selling the true costs of its products.  When many builders should be focusing on the full life-cycle costs of their homes, many focus instead on the pointless metric of price per square foot.

I have long advocated changing to a life cycle cost model.

I am especially bothered by the concept of ‘length of time until pay back’.  I wonder how many years it takes to get the payback on the granite counter tops mentioned.  I say that with my tongue firmly planted in cheek, as that concept should not and does not apply there.

So, why is it the first thing out of the detractor’s mouth when the discussion turns to budgeting for energy improvement measures?

The answer lies in his myopia.  It is hard to plan when you can’t see past price per square foot.  This is both a challenge and an opportunity for our industry.  We have to be leaders here.

The truly frustrating thing is that no challenging viewpoint is presented.  There are many such viewpoints, starting with the fact that when one takes a look at the cash flow of the efficiency improvements a different picture emerges: $46,000 financed at prevailing rates for 30 years yields a monthly payment of $216, $150 of which is tax deductible.

Now, compare the resulting net cash out of the pocket number to the monthly utility savings estimate of $203 and you see positive cash flow.  Further, when compared to leaving the money in the bank at the prevailing interest of 1.50%, if you are lucky, you can more clearly see the benefits.

Other notable arguments for investing in energy efficiency measures include the hedge against future energy price spikes, improvement of occupant comfort, the fact that the majority of the improvements will continue to benefit the purchaser long after they are paid for, as well as of course the environmental and energy independence components.

When one is discussing a ‘net zero energy’ home, the conversation has to include the premium many would pay to eliminate the worry of future electricity outages, whether by rolling brown or blackouts or something much worse.

I don’t know about you, but I see value in the comfort afforded by the knowledge that my family will always have heat, lights, refrigeration, and the possibility to see the news and to communicate with others.

The concept is called ‘passive survivability’ and it has a growing number of supporters.  We live in a complex and dangerous world that is entirely dependent on sophisticated and sensitive systems, and we have become very reliant (perhaps overly so) on being able to flip a switch to give us what we need to live.

What would you do if the power went out, and the powers that be said they didn’t know when OR EVEN IF it was coming back on?  

For the vast majority of Americans, there would be no answer, and that is scary.

So, what will your answer be the next time someone says, “yeah, but how many years until I get paid back (for those solar panels for example)”…?

This is not a sermon…just something to think about.

 

To view the original article: See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-22/zero-energy-homes-liked-by-dow-chemical-opposed-by-homebuilders.html

Arjay West is the Chief Executive Officer of Energy Savers America and has over 25 years experience in the home-building sector. To read more about Arjay West Click Here.