Last time we learned that the “energy” from natural resources required to run a home are not the only natural resources involved in the production and operation of a new home. We also learned that LEED certification is a way to measure how green a home is by documenting how each of those natural resources is more efficiently used when compared to a non-green home, or even another less green home.
So what are those other resources? Well LEED has 8 separate measurements in defining a green home. Of course we’re already familiar with the first and largest component which is “Energy”. The others are; Innovation and Design Process, Sustainable Sites, Locations and Linkages, Water Efficiency, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and finally Awareness and Education.
Now at first glance you’re probably asking “how the heck does Innovation and Design Process make a home greener or use natural resources more efficiently?”. Well that’s why I’m here…. To be the answer man. Let me go back and remind you that way back in Blog #1, I defined “green” as any effort and any strategy taken to reduce the DEMAND of natural resources. Any effort. Any strategy. Any natural resource. Reduce demand of natural resources and you’re being green. Period.
I also said that being green is a great short term strategy for Mother Earth, but it still won’t solve the problem. More people means more demand no matter how green everyone is being and eventually we still run out. Mother Nature isn’t making any more natural resources, so supply is limited. We keep making people, so demand grows. Eventually those lines will cross on the graph of bad news.
Whoops… now I’m backtracking.
The point I was going to try and make was that when you’re talking about Green Homebuilding, its not always obvious how certain practices or strategies can be considered green. Especially as it relates to how LEED scores and certifies projects. And that’s actually why I started this blog. So when you hear some news story or some builder claiming to be doing something green you’ll have a reference point from which to challenge them and decide if its true …or if its hype.
But now my rambling has left me no more room for this excerpt.
Until next time
So last time we learned that, as humans, our everyday lifestyles and consumption require the use of natural resources. Natural resources are not available in unlimited supply. Therefore, over time, the use of them depletes that supply and eventually we simply run out. “Green” was defined as ANY activity, ANY strategy, that lessens the demand on natural resources. But being “green” is offset by population growth. Demand on natural resources STILL goes up because the amount of people goes up even if each person cuts their individual natural resource demand in half by being “green”.
So in reality, living “green” only delays the problem. It doesn’t solve it.
But what it does do is give all of humanity more time to determine what DOES solve the problem.
Talking about solving the problem begins and ends with the word “energy”. Everything we do, from blinking our eyes to changing a tire to the actual making of the tire itself, requires energy. Basically, if something changes, some sort of energy was involved in that change. Interestingly, if you follow all of life backwards far enough, and every change that has ever taken place on earth, you end up with the ultimate source of energy for life on our planet.
Over billions of years the energy emitted by the sun has been converted into everything we are. And by “we” I mean everything thats alive. From plants and bugs, to the cast of Jersey Shore and all other forms of bacteria. It all came from the Sun. As all life evolved, it eventually made it to humans. As humans evolved, our intelligence improved to the point where we actually figured out how to harness energy from natural resources other than the Sun. The idea of scarcity and that there were limits to the supply of natural resources wasn’t an issue. Now we know its a big issue. The perfect storm of the increasing energy requirements for our modern civilized lifestyle has combined with the increasing population of people wanting to live that modern lifestyle to make the “green movement” less a luxury and more of a necessity.
But as i said being green doesn’t solve the problem, it merely delays it.
To solve the problem we need to go back to utilizing our original source of energy, the Sun. Because, although I haven’t mentioned it and, in reality, it’s kind of obvious, the Sun is the ONLY source of energy on Earth that is unlimited. It won’t ever run out. Supplying enough energy to operate a modern civilzed society of an ever increasing amount of people WITHOUT depleting the supply of natural resources creates a “sustainable” environment. In other words if the supply of energy equals the demand of energy AND supply is unlimited, then theoretically demand could be unlimited, and the environment would “sustain” itself.
But I’ll have to expand on that next time
So we’ve been talking about the all-electric house. Why, if I say it’s so great, aren’t all houses all-electric?
Not the cost of the house. The cost of the electricity to RUN the house. Most of the time when you hear anyone talk about conserving energy, they usually say something “make sure you turn off lights when you leave a room”. Although plugs and switches certainly use power, especially if you have a bunch of TV’s and computers, about 75-80% of the electricity necessary to run an all-electric house is used to run the water heater, furnace, dryer, and range. I’m not sure when someone figured it out, but at some point someone concluded that natural gas is a cheaper alternative to electricity and if you could run the water heater, furnace, dryer and range on natural gas and everything else on electricity, monthly energy costs would be smaller. For decades, this has been the standard new home make-up; plugs and switches use electricity and water heaters, furnaces, dryers and ranges use natural gas.
When the switch to natural gas for most of the energy a house needed first took place, I think it was in the late 50’s early 60’s, obviously the per home electricity demand plummeted. The benchmark for typical electricity use per home was lowered considerably. However, power companies are monopolies. There is no competition. If they choose to raise electricity prices, they can, with basically no competitive consequences. We all have no choice but to pay whatever price the power company decides we need to pay. What that means is that over time there is a steady increase in electricity costs and, I believe that if left unchecked, the original savings that occurred when homes switched to natural gas, would be wiped out by the unending ability of power companies to raise prices. That’s kind of a long winded way of saying that originally there was a huge savings to the consumer in monthly energy costs AND a huge reduction in electricity demand, but over time the energy monopoly wiped out the savings by continually raising prices so that, on an inflation adjusted basis, the savings per home by using less energy disappeared.
However the electricity demand reduction remains. We are still using a LOT less electricity per home than if we had no natural gas. We’re just not getting the “relative” cost savings anymore. There is no question that if we went back to electric water heaters, electric furnaces, electric dryers and electric ranges our monthly electricity costs would SKYROCKET. It’s like the worst case imaginable. We no longer receive the cost savings of lessened electricity demand created by adding natural gas to our homes, yet we can’t go back to all-electric or our monthly energy costs would be outrageous. Plus if the energy monopolies continue to increase what they charge us, which is a given, at some point we’ll actually be paying MORE than when the big switch to gas occurred. What a stupid scenario of capitalism backfiring. Any Economics professor will tell you that monopolies are bad. Here’s a great example of why.
But if City Ventures is championing the all-electric home, doesn’t that mean that City Ventures homeowners are paying way too much for their monthly electricity ??
Nope. In fact most of them are paying almost nothing.
How is that possible??
I’ll tell you next month
So last time we talked about Sustainability.
If the energy required to operate the homes in our neighborhoods actually came from our neighborhoods, then we can call those neighborhoods “Sustainable”. They “sustain” themselves without the use of any “natural resource produced energy” to operate.
But is the energy to operate the homes we live in the only aspect of homebuilding that requires the use of natural resources? And therefore the only way we define whether or not a home is “Sustainable” or “Green”.
Of course the answer is no. In fact there are several natural resources used not only in the production and operation of homes and neighborhoods but also used as an indirect result of WHERE homes and neighborhoods are produced.
Gee, what we need is a way to measure how “Green” a home is and use that standard of measurement as a means of letting the public know which homes are green. It turns out we do! Its called LEED certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s a point system that encourages the production of “Green” homes by awarding different certification levels. The levels are basic LEED certification, LEED silver, LEED Gold, and LEED Platinum. Obviously the higher the certification level, the “Greener” the home.
There are two reasons a homebuilder would seek LEED certification. First, it’s the right thing to do. I know that sounds pretty new-agey. But we can’t keep building homes/neighborhoods/cities the way we always have. It’s not only irresponsible but it’s about as shortsighted and selfish as it gets. It unnecessarily wastes future natural resources for present economic gain. That’s just wrong. Secondly, and as I said earlier, it lets the general public know that the home they’re purchasing is green. For the same reason homebuilders need to stop building homes that aren’t green, the public needs to stop buying homes that aren’t green. It’s just wrong and it will get more wrong as time goes on and the battle of demand of natural resources versus the supply will inevitably push the equilibrium price of all natural resources beyond what anyone can afford to pay. Until they’re gone….and unavailable at any price.
That’s why the future of homebuilding is through green building practices with the ultimate goal of producing net zero energy homes that are 100% sustainable.
The first one to figure it out wins. And that’s my goal.
Next time we’ll talk about those other aspects that make a home green
So what does “Green” mean? I find it interesting that it seems to be human nature to define something, and then broaden the definition so much that, over time, no one really knows the true definition. Or they end up with their own definition. Take the word “celebrity”. It used to be easy to define “celebrity”. One had to be talented and famous. Today you don’t have to be either. Pretty much any goofball with a gimmick or the right connections can be labeled a “celebrity”. Over time the definition has broadened so much it’s become essentially subjective.
“Green” suffers from the same problem. So to actually blog about “green” building, I feel I need to define the term as City Ventures sees it, so readers won’t apply their own definition after years of having the definition broadened so much that the term is meaningless. I saw an ad for a “green” diaper the other day and one for a “green” detergent. How can a diaper be “green”? For some reason it doesn’t seem plausible that a diaper can be “green”, a detergent can be “green”, and a house can be “green”, and it certainly doesn’t seem plausible that they all three mean the same thing when they label themselves as “green”.
So let’s define “green”.
As an Economics Major 100 years ago, I learned about the term scarcity. The whole basis behind Economic theory is that ALL resources on Earth are scarce and the study of Economics is how those resources get allocated amongst people. That’s called Economic behavior. Natural resources are no different than manufactured resources or service resources. They are scarce, meaning there is not an unlimited supply of them available. The demand for natural resources relative to the supply of them results in their price. As global demand for natural resources increases with population growth and supply decreases with resource depletion, the price goes up. It’s bad enough that the price goes up but the bigger issue is that eventually the supply runs out. In that case there is no price that creates equilibrium between supply and demand. The resource is gone….. and once it’s gone, it’s gone.
It doesn’t take much of an education to figure out that at the present rate of natural resource use, combined with the assumed rate of natural resource use as the worlds developed population dramatically increases over the next few decades, means demand of natural resources will eventually ELIMINATE the supply. Sounds a little extreme. But is it? Do we really think we can continue to use natural resources forever? It’s not logical.
“Green” is defined as any effort or any strategy undertaken to reduce the DEMAND of natural resources. Any effort. Any strategy. Any natural resource.
I need to expand on this subject further in the next blog as we’ll get into terms like sustainable and LEED certification. Plus I need to define “Green Building” . But that’s it for now.
As we end 2015 with the 50th Green Builders Journal, I find it amazing how far we’ve come since I wrote the first one back in March 2011. I thought I’d end the year with an encore Blog from early 2014 that sums up where I think things are headed.
I had a reader email me last week with a very interesting question. He asked me “How far do you think this Green homebuilding thing will go”? I must admit the question perplexed me.
I’m sure the reader knew what he was asking but through the magic of semantics it could be taken two ways. Is he asking “how far will it go” like it’s some sort of fad that will come to an end once people have tired of doing it? If that’s the case then it’s probably one of the dumbest questions I’ve been asked. Green homebuilding isn’t like the hula-hoop or disco music. It’s not something builders will adopt and then UNadopt as soon as it’s no longer in vogue. I’ll take it one step further and predict that at some point we’ll drop the term “Green” from Green homebuilding. We’ll drop it because Green homebuilding will be the only kind of homebuilding. It won’t be a separate niche within homebuilding. There will be no such thing as a NON-green homebuilder in the future. You’ll just be a “homebuilder” and how you build homes will be utilizing methods that continually reduce the need for natural resources and curtail the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere with the eventual emission goal of zero.
If the reader was asking “how far will it go” in terms of what is the ultimate goal of green homebuilding, then that’s probably one of the smartest questions I’ve been asked. It’s smart because no strategy of ANY kind can succeed, in my opinion, without the ultimate goal being defined. “I want to get into shape” can be the desire. Eating healthy and exercising can be the strategy. But unless the ultimate goal, or at least the definition of, “in shape” is defined, what really are you aiming for?
In our case being a green homebuilder is the desire. Manufacturing a home and all its components that uses as little natural resources as possible, and produces the fewest CO2 emissions as possible, is the strategy. I think you can already see that the ultimate goal would be to build a home and all its components utilizing NO natural resources and one whose operation emits ZERO CO2 into the atmosphere. That would be the ultimate goal of green homebuilding. Is it reality? Of course it’s reality…. even though it will require an immense amount of innovation and change in the business as it currently stands. Will it happen tomorrow? Of course not… but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start the evolution today and push the envelope every chance we get.
I believe it WILL go that far Mr Reader. I believe we WILL achieve the ultimate goal of green homebuilding. I believe that because I don’t believe we have a choice. I believe that because it’s the only logical path of the evolution of homebuilding. I believe that because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do from a business standpoint, and more importantly, it’s the right thing to do from an ecological standpoint. You couldn’t ask for a better combination.
Those that don’t agree will lose.
Until next time
California Energy Commissioner David Hochschild invited me to speak at the California Energy Commission last week. I accepted the invitation after he reached out to me several months ago when he heard about our solar all-electric homes. He ended up coming down and touring our Downey and Bellflower solar all-electric projects. We had a great conversation and he was very impressed with what we’re doing. It’s still hard to believe that 5 years after developing the solar all-electric home, City Ventures is still the only builder in California building it. As we approach our 1000th solar all-electric home its great to have someone like David acknowledge what we believe to be the future of homebuilding.
So I traveled to Sacramento last week to speak in front of the Energy Commission. It was pretty cool. Prior to speaking I spent a little time with David in his office and we talked about the future. In his opinion, the future for California is one that is “electrified”. That was his word. What he meant was the future is one that is run by electricity. Electricity powered by the sun. Everything we do requires energy. We’ve been using other natural resources to provide the energy we need to live our modern lives. Although the sun puts more energy on earth in one hour than the entire state needs in one year, we haven’t really been able to capture that massive amount of promise. That’s changing. Even though the sun has made all of life possible its only now beginning to make all of life’s daily energy requirements possible. We are close to what Commissioner Hochschild is referencing when he talks about electrifying California.
I laugh to myself sometimes when I think back five years and when we started the Green Builders Journal. I knew nothing then. Actually that’s not true, I knew that Green Homebuilding is the future. And I knew the first one to figure it out wins. What I didn’t know was what that meant. It was a long yet fun educational process to learn what Green is and how it relates to homebuilding. If you’ve read all 58 of my Green Builders Journals then you’ve followed the evolution of how we’re defining Green Homebuilding. Its about electric. Its about solar. There is no question that the future of homebuilding is one that is powered by solar electricity.
What’s really cool is that Commissioner Hochschild believes that more than just homebuilding in California is about solar powered electricity. It makes perfect sense if you think about it. Why wouldn’t we transfer the energy from the sun which is free and limitless into the energy we need to run our modern lives. Obviously the answer is we should and fortunately the technology is close enough that we can make that dream a reality in our lifetimes.
We at City Ventures will continue to push the envelope of what it means to be a Green Homebuilder and we applaud the efforts of people like Commissioner Hochschild and his efforts to promote our State towards becoming the first “electrified” State in the nation.
It’s only a matter of time. In other words its not IF but when.
Until next time,
Evolution is inevitable in everything. To try and stop evolution is usually an exercise in futility that inevitably ends in failure. But when trying to stop evolution costs people money and delays the obvious its just sad. And should be stopped. Solar energy in California is growing at an amazing pace. Builders like City Ventures have been including solar power systems in new homes as a standard amenity for 5 years now. The future of the standard power grid is in jeopardy and its demise is inevitable. And the utilities companies are doing what they can to delay the inevitable and we need to stop their helpless attempts at delaying the evolution of power generation.
In October the utility companies are proposing new laws aimed at curtailing the solar power mania that has changed their entire business model. As I said its an exercise in futility but monopolies never go down easy.
Currently the “net metering” policies that exist pay a solar customer for the power they generate through their solar power systems at the same rate as the power they charge them. In other words if I pay 8 cents per kilowatt hour for power, the utility companies pay me 8 cents per kilowatt hour for the power my solar system feeds into the grid when I’m not using it. If the energy I use matches the energy I supply to the grid, then I pay zero for my electric bill. In this case the grid is a back-up supply of energy. If my household uses the same amount of energy that I generate then my home is a net zero energy home and the only reason I need to be connected to the grid is in an emergency situation.
The economics of this encourage the installation of solar power. I don’t need to spend much time on how this benefits Mother Earth from a climate change point of view and I probably don’t need to spend much time on how saving consumers money on a monthly basis in terms of energy costs is a good thing. But apparently I need to spend some time asking why the utility companies feel the inevitable needs to be put off. I remember when the newspapers thought the internet was a cute fad that would never interfere with their business model of supplying the public with information. They ignored the onslaught and did what they could to fend it off never actually embracing the inevitable in an attempt to modify or EVOLVE their business model to embrace the internet. The result was what we have now. Newspapers are essentially dead. Evolution won. And it always does.
And it will win in the energy sector as well. The utility companies want to fend off evolution by paying people less and less for the energy their solar systems supply to the grid and charge them more and more for the upkeep and maintenance of the current system. In basic terms they want to pay a solar provider 4 cents per kilowatt hour for power they provide and then turn around and charge someone else 8 cents per kilowatt hour for the same energy. They become a middleman. It actually discourages solar power installation as it makes it less of an economic benefit for someone to install it.
We can’t allow this. Evolution is unavoidable. Power grids are the newspapers of the 2020’s. They need to embrace solar power generation in homes and businesses as the obvious evolution of energy and evolve their business models to what that means. I’ll admit I don’t know what the answer is but I do know that trying to stand in the way of evolution is a losing proposition. The smart minds in the utility companies need to spend less time trying to figure out how to fend off the inevitable and more time trying to figure out how to embrace what is inevitable and evolve their business model to include solar power generation.
Mother Earth would be very happy if they did, as would consumers.
Until next time
It took us just under 5 ½ years to get our first 1000 homeowners and only 18 months to get our second 1000! Enjoy an encore blog post for the Green Builders Journal about why we sell all-electric homes.
So I left off last month with a question.
How can City Ventures sell all-electric homes? Or better yet, WHY sell all-electric homes?
The first thing to remember when answering that question is that City Ventures is first and foremost, a business. Businesses operate to earn a profit. Without a profit there would be no business. Being Green and “doing the right thing for Mother Earth” are certainly motivators on HOW we run the business. But make no mistake that WHY we run the business is to make a profit. So how do you make a profit as a homebuilder? It’s pretty simple. You sell homes. Every decision you make as a homebuilder is designed to sell more homes. Sell more homes and I almost guarantee you’ll make a profit. Obviously I make it sound easier than it really is since there are homebuilders that sell homes and don’t make a profit, but that’s the subject of a whole different kind of Blog.
This Blog is about building Green. And therein lies the point I want to make.
There are builders that are making a profit without being Green and there are builders building Green and not making a profit. At City Ventures, our strategy is to make a bigger profit BY being Green. Instead of making them mutually exclusive, we’ve chosen to USE being Green as the strategy that will help us sell more homes. Once again this sounds easier than it really is because of one irrefutable truth. It costs money to be Green. Economics 101 tells us that when something costs MORE, people buy LESS. Actually, depending on what aspect of Green we’re talking about, building Green can cost A LOT more. So how do you sell MORE homes, if they cost A LOT more? You can’t. That’s not reality. People may say they’d pay more for a Green home when they’re taking some survey coming out of a grocery store, but the reality is unless people see value, they won’t pay anything more. Especially in today’s internet based society. People are just too informed these days. They don’t have to take anyone’s word anymore. They can go online and do all the research they need to make an informed decision. And they do.
So back to the question of why an all-electric home.
We believe the key to getting buyers excited about buying a Green home is twofold. First, make the cost of buying Green be as close to zero as possible, and second, make one of the benefits of buying Green that it actually reduces the true cost of living for the homeowner. That’s what the all-electric home does. We’re selling the all-electric Green home for the same price as our non-Green homes. We have figured out a way to have the Green homes cost NOTHING more. Obviously I won’t share all those secrets through the Blog, but I will discuss the other aspect which is having the Green homes reduce the cost of living to the homeowner and answer the question; How can City Ventures sell an all-electric home?
Here’s how it works. We made the homes all-electric. We put a large enough solar system on the roof to generate the power necessary to operate this all-electric home. We then eliminated natural gas in the project. Obviously the homeowner will have no monthly gas bill. That’s a cost of living reduction. Because the solar system on the home is big enough to generate a large amount of power, depending on usage, the homeowner will have no electric bill. That’s a serious cost of living reduction. We actually went one step further and pre-wired the homes for an electric car. If the homeowner had an all-electric car, charged by solar power, they’d have no gasoline bill. That’s a massive cost of living reduction with $5/gallon gas out there.
It’s possible with the City Ventures all-electric home to eliminate a natural gas bill, an electric bill and the monthly cost of gasoline. We believe if you can show buyers that without paying any extra for a home, you can substantially eliminate the monthly cost of living for them, AND do the right thing for Mother Earth, we’ll sell more homes.
And we’re proving it every day. We have over 100 homeowners in 4 projects that have no gas or electric bills. And they didn’t pay one dime extra to get that kind of home.
I’ll expand on this further next month.
So last time I left off with a discussion about the supply and demand for energy from a household. All the energy to 99% of the households in our country come from electricity and natural gas. Natural gas is considered a much cheaper and efficient energy source that supposedly doesn’t harm the environment. The problem is that it really only supplies the energy for our furnaces, our hot water, our cooking, and our clothes drying. All the other energy a household requires for ALL OTHER needs is supplied by electricity. That electricity, unlike natural gas , is anything but “natural”. Its generated by a number of resources. Most is generated by using another resource that is “burned” to create the current. Namely coal and oil. The burning of both of those resources has a negative effect on the environment and is non-renewable.
I think we all get that.
The energy we create is the “supply” of energy. The energy we use as we go about the process of living in our homes is the “demand” for energy. Someone asked me the other day that “isn’t the ultimate goal of the Green Movement to have the supply of energy meet the demand for energy for every home”. I told them it already does. If you turned on every light, filled every plug with a running device, ran your air conditioner 24/7, supply would still meet that demand. The issue for the Green Movement is that the supply needs to come from a source that not only doesn’t affect the environment in a negative way but also comes from a truly renewable source of energy. Burning a lot more coal or oil to supply the energy your household demands when everything is turned on and plugged in is NOT what the green Movement is about even though the supply meets that demand.
The “Green Movement”, “net zero energy”, “sustainable” world, (take your pick on what word or phrase you like best), wants the supply of energy to meet the demand of energy but the key difference is that the supply has to come from the same source that demands it. The house both supplies energy and demands it. If they equal then we have true sustainability, true net zero energy, true achievement of the Green Movement.
This world is moving very fast and here’s where it’s headed. Last time I mentioned that solar technology is getting MORE powerful, requiring LESS space and is getting MUCH cheaper every day. I talked about how originally I thought that the demand side of each household would improve with technology and supply would not need to get more powerful. As it turns out getting more and more powerful solar systems on homes is happening at a fairly rapid pace. Much like the computer chip in the 1980’s it’s easy to see that the supply of energy that a rooftop solar system can provide will easily meet the demand of any household. And do so for a reasonable price while taking up less and less space.
It took me a while to get what I wanted the point of this Blog to be but I’m here now. Right now the rooftop solar system City Ventures supplies to all of our solar all-electric homes generates 2KW of power whenever the sun hits it directly. 100% of the power that the home demands when the system is generating power is taken care of by the rooftop system. If no one is home during the day then that power goes into the grid. The power company essentially buys that power from you by using a net metering concept. The amount of power you generate is credited towards your meter. Then when you get home and start using power, the meter starts debiting. At the end of the year you get a bill for the difference of the amount generated less the amount demanded.
In the real world today that number always has a positive balance. In other words you basically never generate MORE energy than you use. It’s always in the power companies favor.
That will soon change.
If the energy you generated during sunny days could be stored so that you could use it when you got home, then there would be no question that what you supply would be DIRECTLY offset by what you demand. The power company would never get it first.
That’s what’s coming next. It’s still early but like solar panels, it’s happening pretty fast. At some point soon, and I and assure you City Ventures will stay on the cutting edge, your home will generate 100% renewable energy from the sun during sunny days, store it in home battery systems, and then be the supply of energy when people need it. For a while the grid will still be needed in emergency cases but over time the grid will disappear as a necessary source of energy for all new homes. The home will BE that supply of energy and as long as demand stays equal to or less than supply, and it will given the pace of solar technology, all new homes will have attained true net zero energy and be 100% sustainable.
Mother Earth will be so happy.
Until next time,