Before and After: This Old House Goes Net Zero

September 6, 2011

Meeting the challenge of transforming a drafty 100 year old house in cloudy Michigan, to a net zero 21st century marvel.

The first video, above, was uploaded in May of 2010.  Video 2, below, is a television report from June, 2011.

More at Greenovation TV.

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9 Responses to “Before and After: This Old House Goes Net Zero”

  1. otter17 Says:

    For a while, I considered changing jobs to either working for a small company that installed these type of net-zero systems in homes or starting my own business. For now, I’m happy where I’m at, but these videos sure make that move seem tempting again.

    Nice stuff.


  2. Ok how much did it cost?

  3. Alteredstory Says:

    My question, as someone with a very limited income, is always about the cost. Honestly I think these videos, while good in that they show that doing this is possible, would be a lot more useful if they also showed how much it cost to do it.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      speaking as a retrofitter with net zero ambitions, but unfortunately, also a net zero bank account (two kids in college) – I’ve focused on making the upgrades to my home that make the most sense under any scenario.
      a) windows. This is one of the biggest no brainers, which will instantly make your rooms cozier and less drafty, while instant value to the home.
      b) insulation is of course, an automatic. The previous owner did a real good job rolling out fiberglass in the attic, so not much improvement needed there. I installed new siding 8 years ago, and added a layer of foam under that.
      c) what is your existing heating/cooling system? upgrading an aged furnace will pay huge dividends immediately, going to gas if you are not using that is probably a good idea. If you have the money, do as this homeowner did and look into geothermal.
      Check and see if there are any tax credits for these upgrades in your area, and also find out if there are funding mechanisms in your area that will pay the upfront costs for these changes and make the payments out of savings on your electric bills.
      Generically, these are called PACE programs, and there has been a hangup at the national level with these, but some localities may have their own brand.
      Finally – Almost any new appliance is much more efficient than an older one, even more so if you shop with efficiency in mind. Energy star ratings are useful but not always definitive. Washers, dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, are energy hogs, so these would be worth replacing if it’s time.

      • Alteredstory Says:

        Unfortunately, I rent – my employment isn’t near stable enough to buy right now. I do what I can, but I was mainly wondering for a comparison.

        If someone can get an old house for 50,000, and it costs another 150k to get it to net zero, they’d probably be better off building a new home. I just don’t have a clear idea how much it would cost to do something like that, and these videos never seem to say…

  4. adelady Says:

    For costs? Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. Do what you can with insulation for starters. You’re probably better off spending a bit extra on insulation if you know you won’t have the money for solar or a geothermal system. If you know you’re likely never to have the cash for double/triple glazing, buy or make appropriate indoor and/or outdoor blinds as well as pelmets and super duper curtains for the rooms you use most.

    For the water use, put a filled bottle of water in the cistern if you can’t afford to replace the whole toilet. But economical showerheads aren’t terribly expensive. They’re probably worth saving up for and they have a double whammy by affecting both water and power use. Same goes for lightbulbs – do them a few at a time. And if an old lightbulb dies in a room that’s little used, transfer a bulb from a more frequently used light and put the LED/CF in where it’ll have the biggest impact.

    In the end, if you lack the money, you have to put in time and effort, because that’s what you’ve got. You also have to focus on behaviour – the classic example being those motion sensors. If you can’t afford those, you just have to remember to turn the lights and power off yourself.

    • otter17 Says:

      Without a carbon tax or some other incentives program, there is certainly a “chicken before the egg” or “cart before the horse” problem. Sure, these net zero solutions pay for themselves eventually, but how to pay for the initial capital cost? The people that have trouble with high energy costs also find it hard to afford the solutions that could lower their energy costs.

      As adelady says, the way to approach that problem is from starting with the cheapest solutions and moving to the more expensive. After deploying the cheaper solutions, their energy reductions help fund the more expensive solutions.

      A solar setup like that shown in the video could cost you $15k – $20k USD. Now, don’t take my word for that; it is just the average price I have seen when looking at different solutions. This website provides some pretty good cost estimates.

      http://www.thesolarguide.com/solar-power-uses/cost-faq.aspx

      Also, check to see if your utility will allow you to switch generation providers. I was able to switch to a company that offers a 100% renewable package for around 3.5 cents more per kW-hr, or an average of $18 more on my bill every month (around $30 more on the average American’s bill, $360 per year). It was easy to switch. I just filled out a website form and my utility took care of the rest on my bill. My city of Pittsburgh is in coal country, but this comment is brought to you by wind power.


  5. [...] reported here in recent days on homeowners in the northern midwest who have been able to convert a 100 year old existing home into a “net zero” dwelling – producing more energy than it [...]


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