Closer look: First Zero Energy home in Frisco, Texas (near Dallas)

Zero Energy Home

I noticed last week that the first Zero Energy home built up in Frisco, Texas (an exurb / suburb north of Dallas) was on the market. So over the Memorial Day weekend, I went up to take a look at it and see what I could learn about green building techniques.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my company is doing a green renovation project with an existing commercial building, so I have been looking around the Dallas area to see what other people and companies are doing to see what we can learn from it and implement ourselves.

A zero energy home is designed so that it theoretically uses close to no energy from the utilities over the course of a whole year. It’s still hooked up to the electric grid just like every other house. But it also has solar panels and an extremely well insulated and efficient design that uses the amount of electricity of a house a third of its size. When you factor in the energy that the solar power generates and the the efficiency of the house, you end up with a net energy cost of running the house that is near zero dollars over a year.

The builder of this house has a web site that explains the concept in more detail.

You could write a book about all the features of this home, so I’m just going to cover some of the features that I thought were cool.

Solar panels, rainwater cisterns

This photo was shot from an upstairs window, looking down into the back yard. You can see one of the solar panels on the roof, and you can also see one of three giant water tanks that collect rainwater for the irrigation system of the home. The home uses native and Texas-friendly landscaping that does well with low amounts of water. And then, the house uses ultra efficient drip irrigation to keep it watered. See a photo of the irrigation below.

Drip irrigation setup

One of the issues that most homes out in Frisco have to deal with is the oppressive Texas heat in the summer, combined with the fact that there aren’t many trees that are old enough and big enough to provide shade to the houses out there. You combine this with the typical high ceiling design, the 4,000 plus square foot footprints of a Frisco home, and some of the highest electric rates in the country, and you can imagine the monster electric bills that most Frisco residents face.

Since there were no existing trees on the lot of the zero energy home, the architect and builder designed the home in a way to take advantage of the solar orientation and the natural breezes. There is a totally awesome shaded, screened porch that would be a really nice place to spend time.

Overhangs to shade windows

But you can also see how the builder created a lot of roof overhangs that shade the windows of the home from direct summer sunlight, while still allowing plenty of natural winter light to light up the home and keep it from looking like a cave inside.

This house is currently for sale for $750,000. It is a 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom, 3,800 square feet home.

One last thing. This isn’t really related to zero energy at all, but I can’t mention Frisco real estate without mentioning my friend Geoff Davis, the Frisco mortgage broker who has helped me out several times. He works all over the Texas area, as well as covering several other states. He’s helped me finance the last four homes I have bought in Dallas, so I figure he deserves a mention.

What to do with all of those empty plastic water bottles?

From Flickr.

Today’s NY Times has an article about the 215 billion beverage containers that Americans buy every year. (That’s right. 215 billion. Every year.)

Turns out that the nickel deposit laws passed in many states around the country doesn’t usually cover bottled water — just beer and carbonated beverages. In the 1970s, water in plastic bottles wasn’t really an issue that anyone imagined.

Bottle bills are still surprisingly good at inspiring recycling and reducing litter. But, though they are idiosyncratic in every state, the vast majority of the laws share one colossal, unanticipated flaw: they place a deposit on beer and carbonated beverages only. The bottle bill’s scope, and to some extent the very vision of a more waste-conscious world that first motivated it, has been swiftly trivialized by the ubiquity of bottled water. This year, Americans will drink more than 30 billion single-serving bottles of water. Oregonians will throw out about 170 million empty ones. Those same bottles, filled with something fizzy, would carry nickel deposits.

“That was the stupidest thing we ever did,” says a veteran of the original Oregon campaign. The laws were written in a different era, a less health-obsessed one, when drinking out of a bottle or can meant drinking beer or soda. If bottled water, teas, juices and energy drinks existed at all, they were quaintly called “new-age beverages.” (“In the late ’70s,” one bottled-water executive urged me to keep in mind, “no one was putting on little shorts and running in the streets.”) Bottled water, Berger says, “is what’s truly different from 1971,” which is why she and others are battling to expand their bottle bills to include it.

From there, proposals often seek to fix a mess of other unanticipated dysfunctions and complaints. For starters, no state had the foresight to require its nickel deposit be adjusted for inflation. That nickel is now worth about a penny in 1971 terms, and redemption rates have depressed — except in Michigan, the only state with a dime deposit, where the rate remains 97 percent. Other states have tried to move to a dime. What’s more, in most states, if we toss the can, or even if we dutifully put it in our curbside recycling, our nickel quietly remains with the beverage-distributing company to which we first paid it. This year, the Bigger Better Bottle Bill campaign in New York is making its sixth attempt to redirect those unclaimed deposits — estimated at $100 million each year — into a state environmental fund. “It’s the people’s nickel,” says Judith Enck, Governor Spitzer’s deputy secretary for the environment.

PZEV Vehicles of 2007: These cars have the lowest emissions

Photo of a 2007 PZEV Ford Focus by Jalopnik on Flickr.

I was flipping through a local magazine in Dallas, and I saw an ad for the Subaru Forrester and Outback PZEV models, which are probably in the magazine because Dallas has so many problems with clean air.

Anyway, now is the part of the blog post where I have to admit that I had never heard of PZEV, which is a standard started in California that means Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.

I’m going to be in the market for a new car in the next year or so, and I’ve been leaning toward the new Camry hybrid at this point. But then I read in this ad that these new Subaru models were even built in a new plant that was designed to achieve zero landfill status. “The plant products less waste material in a year than the average household!” the ad says.

I like Subarus because of the all wheel drive thing, and I like the look of the new Outback wagon.

I started searching around to find out more about PZEV cars, and I found two great pages. One of them has a list of the top 10 “greenest” PZEV vehicles, and the other one has a list of all the PZEV vehicles for 2007. I was surprised to find that there are even some models that have PZEV status that are over 300 horsepower. You probably won’t be saving gas money with a 305 horsepower car, but at you’ll be doing pretty good with emissions!

The Greenest Vehicles of 2007 (Click through to see the complete top 10 list and info at the site.)

1. 2007 Honda Civic GX (We have written previously about the Honda Civic GX)
2. 2007 Toyota Prius
3. 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid
4. 2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid

You can find the entire list of all 2007 PZEV vehicles at the California site.

Is anyone out there driving a PZEV car that they like and would recommend?

Tell us about it in the comments.

The idiotic way to “save” gas money and “conserve.”

Here’s a new one from today’s NY Times that has me completely dumbfounded.

People concerned about the high price of gasoline are keeping their big cars and SUVs and adding a third small car like a Prius or a Yaris or a Civic so that they can save money on gasoline.

Pierre Tremblay, 67, of Howell, Mich., bought a Toyota Prius this month because driving his Dodge Ram pickup 40 miles round-trip to work was costing so much. So far the Prius is getting 55 miles per gallon, compared with 13 for the truck.

“I can go to work now, back and forth, on less than a gallon,” said Mr. Tremblay, a maintenance manager for a cement company. “Before it was at least three.”

With regular unleaded gas averaging $3.53 a gallon in Michigan this week, according to AAA, that is a savings of over $8 every workday.

But Mr. Tremblay was not ready to get rid of his pickup, which he uses to haul a camping trailer.

Americans have spent $20 billion more on gasoline so far this year compared with 2006, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office. That works out to about $146 a person, a fraction of what a new car costs.

What’s next? Buying a smaller vacation house to “save” electricity costs from living in your main house?

Green Building renovation. What to do with construction debris?

Steel Rods for recycling

Erin, a local blogger in Dallas who also does a weekly radio segment about green home improvement, has a great post about keeping construction debris to a minimum.

We have been thinking about this issue at Clean Air Gardening lately, as we do a green renovation on a building that we recently purchased.

Our building used to belong to a clothing wholesaler, so there are hundreds of steel rods throughout the building that were used to hang clothes on. This will actually be the easiest thing for us to deal with, because steel is worth good money! We’ll be able to sell it to a scrap metal dealer. (See photo above.)

We have been thinking about how to effectively recycle some of the other things left in the building though, and Erin’s post had a lot of good suggestions. We had already discussed posting something on Craigslist or Freecycle, and her post gives us confidence that we are on the right track.

Thanks for the post, Erin!

Anyone else have any ideas about recycling materials that you take out of a building when you renovate? Leave a comment!