energy efficiency

Solar Powered Homes Charging into the Pacific Northwest

Pioneers like Thomas Edison have been excited for decades about the use of solar power. “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that,” Edison anticipated. Starting this Fall, the first of many Green Canopy's Net Zero Energy homes will be available on the market in Seattle - with a commitment to offering these high-performance homes at a price that is on par with code-built new construction homes.

Green Canopy is a mission driven Portland and Seattle infill homebuilder. The Company has always built resource-efficient homes to a standard far beyond building code requirements, keeping our communities and planet in mind. In order to serve their mission, it is important to continually be changing, improving, and innovating. The Company has been conscious of this, and it is now advancing yet another significant step forward. 

Zero Energy Bills, Less Negative Impact on the Environment
Net Zero Energy homes are revolutionizing green housing. Every Net Zero Energy home is modeled to produce as much power as it consumes over the course of a year using solar energy. They typically look like  other modern and minimal homes except that they come with an abundance of benefits many people don’t realize. The thought of buying a house that is modeled to cover the electricity bill is cool, particularly in hot housing markets that feel hard to keep up with, like Seattle and Portland. By soaking up the sun’s rays these homes generate enough electricity to power the home over the course of the year. Solar panels on each roof are among the many applications that make this possible.
 
Higher Level of Comfort and Less Expensive to Own
Net Zero Energy homes are also more comfortable because their high-performance envelopes (the wall, roof & floor systems) are ultra-efficient; The cold spots and drafts common in simple code-built homes tend to disappear. Furthermore, the advanced appliances and ventilation systems help to ensure evenly displaced temperatures throughout. Due to the intense efficiency and solar power generation, these homes cost much less to operate, offering homeowners, even in the PNW temperate climes, hundreds if not thousands of dollars in savings in their electrical bills.

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Understanding the Challenges and Breaking Through 
As one would expect, building Net Zero Energy homes require a dedication to mastery. Most importantly, the roofs must be designed large enough to fit all the solar panels needed to offset the amount of energy needed. Additionally, most housing envelopes aren’t efficient enough so achieving net zero energy isn’t possible in most existing homes in the PNW climate. For example, the average Seattleite’s home has roughly 1,500 square feet and three floors and consumes about 28,000 kilowatts per year. To fit around 100 solar panels needed to offset the energy consumed by the average heat-leaking, Seattle house, it’s roof would need to be four times larger. However, if a 1,500 square foot Net Zero Energy home consumed </= 8,000 kilowatts a year instead, it would require roughly only 32 panels for the net annual energy consumption to be zero. Getting to this level of efficiency and performance requires a thoughtful and dedicated approach. To accomplish it, Green Canopy had to recalibrate several of its processes and checklists relating to feasibility, designs, estimating and purchasing, and project management.
 
Other builders have risen to the challenge over the years. However, a search on the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, revealed only five (5) of the tens of thousands of homes sold over the last 20 years have claimed to be a Net Zero Energy home. Though custom homeowners have built more Net Zero homes, they very rarely enter the market for sale. The building science and technology needed to make Net Zero Energy homes possible has finally caught up to the times. As a result, these homes will likely be available to buy at a far greater rate than over the last 20 years, and Green Canopy is set on blazing the trail to help transform the market as quickly as possible.
 
Green Canopy itself has built several certified Platinum LEED for homes, Earth Advantage Platinumhomes, Built Green homes, and Net Zero “ready” homes in the past. Net Zero “ready” homes are efficient enough to be Net Zero if the homeowner installs solar panels—the most obvious and expensive part— after buying the home. Additionally, on occasion, a home will be built to offset the electricity use but not the natural gas used for heating, cooking or domestic hot water heating, so the homeowner stills pays for non-renewable energy.  
 
Net Zero homes are the future of home construction and ownership, and Green Canopy is determined to accelerate their arrival on the market. Evidence indicates that Seattle and Portland homebuyers are early adopters, technologically savvy, educated people who care and think about the environment and their long-term, financial investments. The Company’s commitment is to offer Net Zero Energy homes not just to higher-end markets but also to markets that young families and first-time buyers can afford, priced on par with new construction, code-built homes. “We aren’t looking to offer our homes outside of the current market’s range for homes,” Co-Founder, Sam Lai, states. “In every market area, there are run-down homes with single-pane windows and oil heat furnaces that sell for less than average. Likewise, code-built, new construction, well-designed homes with high-quality systems are selling for higher than the average at each price point in the market. We believe our Net Zero Energy homes will demonstrate enough benefit and value to homebuyers that they will be excited to experience the lifestyle, while being able to acquire them within the market range.”

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The New Standard
Green Canopy’s first Net Zero Energy home represents the future for the Company as it rotates its entire pipeline to build only Green Canopy Net Zero Energy homes in the coming months and years ahead. This wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the dedicated team and partners such as Evergreen CertifiedVan Wyck & Porter, and Northwest Electric and Solar. This is also made possible due to the Green Canopy design, purchasing, and project management teams that are so efficient the Company is able to maintain cost control far beyond industry standards. The Green Canopy team is a highly motivated and passionate group that follows a tight, quality-control system performing more than 50 quality inspection checklists throughout the time of construction. This ensures that Green Canopy’s homes are quality built, focused on craftsmanship and sustainability both inside and outside the walls.

For these reasons, Green Canopy Homes is proud to now be able to call themselves today and moving forever forward, Net Zero Energy homebuilders. "Our vision is to help make Net Zero Energy homes the new standard and broadly accessible across the income spectrum." – Aaron Fairchild, CEO.

Green Canopy is a Portland and Seattle urban infill homebuilder, developing environmentally advanced and thoughtful homes for sale to a broad range of communities and income levels since 2009. It is a certified B-Corp company with the impact investing community making up 100% of shareholders in support of the movement. Their mission is to inspire resource-efficiency in the residential market, with a vision to transform homebuilding and urban communities across the nation.

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You Blow my Mind Like a Ductless Mini-Split

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"What speaks to buyers when they are looking for a green or high performance home?" 

Contributed by Sam Lai, CMO for Green Canopy, Inc.

Last Wednesday I was on a panel at the Home Performance Guild of Oregon Conference in front of an audience of performance contractors, energy efficiency organizations, realtors and appraisers.  

My fellow panelists and I were discussing how to help customers understand the value of high performance homes, when Waylon White of Earth Advantage posed this question:

"What speaks to buyers when they are looking for a green or high performance home?" 

Sometimes the best way to answer a question like that is to describe what DOES NOT work. To that end, I recited awful pick-up lines that sound like they belong in a singles bar, but are value propositions for green and high performance homes gone horribly wrong!  

These were my top 5 “worst pick-up lines”  

5. Hello!  I’m really complicated and high maintenance.

4. Pick me!  Or else you will feel guilty the rest of your life.

3. I’ll cost you more than normal, but you’ll be thankful in 10 to 15 years.

2. I’m clearly not easy on the eyes, but I’m good for you.

1. I may not be that big, but I’m really, really, flexible.

Later, in the conference, there was a brilliant idea that cut through the noise of home performance geeks, like myself, whipping out the results of our latest blower door tests.  Fiona Douglas-Hamilton reminded all of us that green, high-performance homes are “simply better homes.”  

Ah, yes, thank you Fiona!  Great reminder.  For us, as we always offer our products at the same price (or more competitively) than other conventional homes.  And, while many of our homeowners did not start looking for a green home before seeing a Green Canopy Home - we hope that all our homeowners continue to feel that their homes are simply better homes. 

Our Colorful Debate

Contributed by Sonja Gustafson:

One of the great things about home building is the lively stream of passers-by who offer encouragement, ideas, and remarks about the project.  By far the most encouraging comments from people who stop are along the lines of “we’re so glad you didn’t tear this down and build a skinny tower” or “we appreciate that you’re keeping the original style.”  Thanks for that!

And when we painted the exterior of the house, this too generated a stream of comments from neighbors and visitors.  The color scheme was a mix of a vibrant green with an orange/red accent.  A few of us on the team were pretty enthused about the colors, but on the construction site the comments ranged from “I love it!” to “truly horrid” and even a clever “Oh, but I thought you wanted to sell the house.”

Oh.  Whoops.

Back at the G2B Homes office, we began a vigorous discussion, which in itself generated Sam’s recent blog post about our color choice.  But despite the fact that we actually liked these colors, we needed to address the obvious issue that many neighbors - people who would be living near and seeing this house every day -  did not.  That matters to us.  We didn’t want to present a product that would distract discussion from that which we get most excited about:  driving efficiency in existing buildings while ensuring quality, innovation, value and good design.

There were pros and cons to re-painting.  Obviously, the pros would be that we could remove a barrier to market acceptance (“make it look better”).  The cons were significant:  not only was this going to cost us time and money, it also meant covering new paint.  The obvious wastefulness in this was troublesome to us.  We are, after all, a BuiltGreen builder, and now faced the tension between waste and an attractive, salable product.

So we decided to bring the debate back to the neighborhood.   If we really needed to make a change, why not engage the very people who had a strong interest in the aesthetic of their surroundings?  We printed up flyers, got up on Facebook, invited people to engage, and held a neighborhood open house to let them decide the new color!  Over 40 people showed up, took a look at our swatch display, and voted. The winning color is great – we didn’t vote ourselves, but it was our favorite – and it is going to go up soon.

This entire debate – both within the team and with the local community – was so valuable and engaging that we are going to offer neighborhood input in every project.   We will select a palate of options and then take it out to for a vote (before the first coat!)  The result is neighbors participating in the improvement of their community.  What fun!

We’ll continue to use tools to help make the process fun and efficient.  If you want to follow the action, be sure to become a fan on our G2B Homes page on Facebook.

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Why is Green Housing so Scarce?

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Post contributed by Sam Lai:

If green, energy efficient homes are so hot right now, then why isn’t everyone doing it???

It seems like everyone’s going green these days.  When you buy your car, a tree gets planted in honor of your purchase, or the chemicals used to dry clean your shirts are “less toxic” than normal.  With every industry scrambling to get to the front of the green line, you would think that the housing industry should be no less affected.  And, with the amount of media attention on green, it would seem to indicate that we’ve reached a saturation point in every sector of society.  However, the availability of green housing seems relatively scarce even in the greenest corner of the left coast.

A recent report was published called the Green Building Value Initiative –Assessing the Market Impacts of Third Party Certification on Residential Properties by Earth Advantage Institute.

The report analyzed the market performance of third-party certified homes in the Portland and Seattle metropolitan areas.  Green homes are commonly recognized as homes that demonstrate a certain level of energy and water savings, CO2 reduction, improved indoor air quality and stewardship of resources.  Prior to the development of any certifications standards, consumers were left in the dark about the actual performance and attributes of homes which were being marketed as green or “sustainable.”  The analysis reports that certified homes in the Seattle metro area sold at a price premium of 9.6% and a 3 to 5% premium in the Portland metro area as compared to non-certified counterparts.  If this is the case, why don’t we see more available green housing stock in our Seattle metropolitan market?  Here are a few thoughts from the perspective of a certified residential appraiser in Seattle (me):

*Green Equals New

Although third-party certification of green homes has been an effective means to differentiate new construction green homes with a greater assurance of quality, certification of the refurbished existing housing stock has been non-existent or extremely uncommon.  Of the 500 homes sold in Seattle in the last 12 months that were marketed as being “green,” only 6 were built prior to 1990.  Of these 6 homes only 1 home was certified as green.  The other supposed “green” homes built prior to 1990 were marketed as having one or two marketable “green” characteristics such as low voc (volatile organic compounds) paint, non-toxic finishes, double-paned windows, energy star appliances, bamboo flooring, tankless hot water heater and energy efficient heat pump.  While many of these characteristics are certainly found in homes that are green, it is self evident that installing bamboo flooring is not enough to transform a conventional house into a “green” house.  One agent went so far as to write on the NWMLS marketing description that the house was “essentially like a brand new 3-star Greenbuilt home.”  In other words, “it’s not new or 3rd Party Certified, but trust me, it’s still green.”

*Live in a townhouse OR drive green?

The scarcity of available virgin home sites in these metropolitan areas also regulates the diversity of design characteristics of new homes that can be built.  Seattle is comprised of housing stock that was primarily developed prior to 1955.  While green/efficient housing is best fit for close-in metropolitan housing markets, these areas are typically already built-up of older housing stock with few development sites available.  The result is, of the 500 self-declared “green” homes sold in Seattle in the last 12 months, 442 were townhouses or ultra compact zero-lot-line cottage homes.  Would-be buyers of green homes are frequently forced to choose between a historic energy sucker built in 1926, a green triple level 2 bedroom townhouse designed for young professionals with no kids and no arthritis, or move to a “green suburb” and spend over an hour in traffic every day.

*New Equals Green

Seattle Department of Planning and Development has a reputation for being one of the most stringent energy codes in the country and is touted as achieving potentially 10-20% energy savings over ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-1999 and Standard 90.1-2004 respectively.  I’ve heard numerous builders, developers and buyers say, “Yeah, if you’re looking at a new house in Seattle, you’re already looking at a green house.” Right or wrong, there’s a pervasive perception in the marketplace and in the building industry that new homes in Seattle have already undergone a high level of scrutiny to pass Seattle’s increasingly strict energy codes.  Therefore, the perceived delta between the efficiency of a Built Green certified home and a conventional new home in Seattle may seem diminished both for developers and consumers.  

*Green Is Custom-Built

When asked about the current trend of deep green projects being developed and certified in the Puget Sound, the program manager at Built Green, Koben Calhoun, responded:  “We are pleased with the number of projects we have seen come through at the 4 and 5-Star levels. Particularly in the past two years the number of 5-Star projects has increased dramatically. At the end of 2007 we had around 16 or 17 5-Star projects (the 5-Star program started in 2004 so in 3 years we had that many), and now in the past two years we have added about 50 more 5-Star projects. It is definitely exciting and I am hoping we can keep the trend headed that way.” While the numbers for 4 and 5 Star homes seem encouraging for the green market as a whole, many of these deep green homes are custom built, luxury quality and not available for middle market buyers.

*Green – It’s For You, Too

Where will the next wave of certified Green/Energy Efficient housing for the masses come from?  I think the answer is right under our nose.  Existing housing stock in major metropolitan cities across the country can be refurbished and repositioned in the market as certified Green and Energy Efficient housing.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, almost 75% of the buildings in the country were built prior to 1979[1].  Refurbished Green/Energy Efficient housing resonates with the values held by consumers in metropolitan markets on a number of levels:

*Reduce/Reuse/Recycle – nuff said

*Green home buyers can select close-in neighborhoods in walk able/bike able proximity to employment & goods/service centers

*Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from some of the guiltiest perpetrators (old residential housing)

*Existing housing stock is plentiful and allows for a much more diverse & cost effective Green/Efficient housing options

*Homes built in the 1950’s and earlier are 50% more compact than average new homes today.

More to come…

Green Trifecta in Motion

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Post contributed by Aaron Fairchild:

I got back from the West Coast Green building conference recently, and I continue to be struck by issues of contrast. Green “do-gooders” and green “capitalists” mingle about with policy wonks like one big happy family. I have written about this contrast before. But what I continue to find is that, while tension still exists, we are for the most part coming together nicely. There are a lot of people out there who have been fighting for the environment and changing their behaviors for a long time. Some of these folks have a proprietary feeling regarding issues of the environment, but the majority holds open their arms to welcome in the mainstream. I see the convergence of three major sectors around a new green economic imperative or paradigm on the horizon: for-profit business, non-profit, and government.

On the government side, I had the opportunity to talk to a small business owner at West Coast Green named Nathan Doxsey who wanted his city to do more to support sustainability. Nathan owns a small real estate company in the city of Austin, and is focused on marketing Green homes. Nathan was instrumental in helping the city adopt a brilliant ordinance requiring most all residential homes to have an energy audit done during the purchase and sale of a home. Energy audits performed at the point of sale is just smart policy. Energy is a public good and the use and application of energy affects everyone in society. It is already a regulated resource and the thoughtful use and monitoring of energy should not be left entirely up to the free market. The arguments pro and con couldn’t be exhausted in one or even two essays. Needless to say, at G2B Ventures we are promoting a similar policy for the city of Seattle.

At West Coast Green I also listened to panel discussions that were full of good intention and short on actionable ideas. Those panel discussions brought me back a few years, because they had the activist feel without creating pathways to sustainability through profitability. However, I also met Adam Boucher at West Coast Green. His resume need only read: “Entrepreneur with a golden revenue model; eco-capitalist.” Adam is creating financing solutions at the project level in addition to bringing solar panel to over 100 homes in southern California. Go Adam!

More recently, this afternoon I was at a round table discussion at McKinstry sponsored by Climate Solutions talking about Federal regulation. That was the trifecta of for- and non-profit coming together with federal and state policy makers around the issue of climate change and cap and trade. I have rarely seen such as sense of possibility and urgency as I witnessed in that gymnasium.

In meeting after meeting, I have become more and more convinced the world is changing as you read this. All sectors of our society are pivoting toward green issues. Green had become code for being environmentally and socially responsible. Green equals awareness, but it shouldn’t only equal non-profit “do-gooder” or government bureaucrat. The free, public markets and making money is part of the economic green transformation. Note Apple rejecting the US Chamber of Commerce for its stance on climate change. Note Wal-Mart’s efforts to create a more sustainable supply chain. Note Daniel Pink’s video,  “the surprising science of motivation.” Green gives us a purpose to our businesses and makes those businesses more productive and profitable as a result. The green revolution is not only being televised, it is being brought to you in every sector of your life.

For Profit and Energy Efficiency

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Post contributed by Aaron Fairchild:

I was recently invited by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis to present in Louisville, Kentucky at a symposium on “Green” Finance Investing in Sustainable, Energy Efficient Developments. I was very honored to participate and to share what we are working on at G2B Ventures. You can download a PDF of the agenda here. There were a lot of other very cool programs presented, like The Babylon Project out of Babylon New York, and Enterprise’s Green Communities program.

I headed to Louisville with a healthy dose of humility, expecting to be an outlier from the speaker’s podium, and left there with the impression that I was indeed an outlier, but only because I was one of the only speakers talking about for-profit approaches to improving our existing residential building stock. In fact, G2B was the only group represented on stage with a for-profit solution to improving the energy efficiency of existing single family housing. As a result, I had a great time sharing what we were working on and enjoyed several questions and discussions about how to implement a program similar to ours in Louisville and beyond.

I also left Louisville with a new outlook on the city. They are making big strides toward energy efficiency, and Kentucky is working on retrofitting 10,000 homes with their Clean Energy Corps! I had the opportunity to visit a very progressive and fun hotel / museum, 21C, and would recommend the city to anyone interested in visiting. Thanks for the hospitality Louisville and thanks to the team at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.