Published Tuesday August 19, 2014: Updated March 12, 2016
About Our Home:
In 2009, we were looking to move to Kaysville, UT. Our only search criteria were: Newer construction, 2000 sqft home, with a 3-car garage, in a good neighborhood, NOT in an HOA. After exhausting our search, we stumbled upon an enormous, 5006 sqft, slightly trashed, bank owned, foreclosure, on a half acre corner lot with no landscaping.
While we did not need that large of a home, it was too good of a deal to pass up and it was in our price range. All those years of financial responsibility and frugality paid off.
Shortly after we bought the home, it was disclosed to us that it was indeed in an HOA. Darn! Oh well, that's a first world problem that I will discuss in another article. This home did not have any LEED or Energy Star certification at all. It was just a standard home built in 2006. Environmental impact was not even a consideration in our purchase decision. But about a year later, our personal views in this area started to change.
Throughout my business travels to Europe and Asia, I witnessed first hand how the more environmentally responsible, first-world countries live. Over time, I became more embarrassed of how selfish and wasteful we Americans really are. We buy it large, consume it and throw it away as if the planet is going out of style.
My wife and I wanted to do something about our actions which were indirectly causing harm to other people in this world and to our planet. But on the other hand, now that we were living in this large mansion of a home, in a great neighborhood, near great schools, we didn't want to move either.
While the damage had already been done, (moving into an unsustainable home, in an unsustainable neighborhood), we chose to make the best of it by making our home, vehicles, food and lifestyle as close to net zero as possible (without having to sacrifice our conveniences and standard of living).
Six years later, 100% of our energy (for lighting, appliances, heating, cooling, cooking, hot water, vehicles and yard care equipment), now comes from the sun, (either indirectly from the grid-tied solar panels on our roof, or passively from the sun itself). This solar energy also services a Plug-share oasis for other electric car drivers who need a charge while passing through the barren desert of charging infrastructure here in oil and gas loving Utah.
We used to spend about $5500/year on energy (for gasoline, electricity and natural gas), now we spend just $5/month (for the connection fee to the power grid). All our un-used energy goes back onto the grid where the power company then sells it to the other residents in our neighborhood.
We no longer buy gasoline for our vehicles or subscribe to natural gas service. Thanks to technological advancements, we no longer carry that burden.
And just like that, thanks to these technological advancements, the moral dilemma that comes from burning fossil fuels is eliminated.
We also grow 65% of all our food, in our own backyard, in our own Mittlieder garden.
Here is a summary list of what we did to make this a reality.
Solar Panels (11.5 kW total)
6.2 kW PV Solar Array installed in November 2010.
Twenty-six 240 watt PV solar panels
Produces ~9500 kWh per year
Initial cost ~$22,800 (in 2010)
Out of pocket cost $13,960
ROI (considering house power alone) 12 years (In 2022).
ROI (considering house power and fuel savings from driving electric cars) 4.2 years. As of January 2015, the panels have paid for themselves.
5.3 kW Solar Array addition installed March 2015.
Eighteen 295 watt PV panels.
Backup, battery-less power outlet when the grid goes down.
Both arrays cover all our in-home energy use (lighting, HVAC, hot water, appliances) with enough left over to power 2 EVs collectively driving 20,000 miles/year) and the plug-share where other EVs passing by charge up for free.
Three ground loops each go strait down 300 feet through soft, lake Bonneville sediment.
Climate Master Tranquility 30 Heat Pump feeds existing air ducts.
Hot water generator that provides up to 18,500 BTU of heat for culinary hot water. Electric hot water heater provides the remaining hot water needs.
50 gallon passive culinary water tank.
Cooling capacity 39,900 BTU EER 29.6
Heating capacity 29,200 BTU COP 4.8
Average power consumption in January, 836 watts
Average power consumption in July, 814 watts
Average yearly power consumption, 491 watts
Power consumption in Stage I, 1500-1700 watts
Power consumption in Stage II, 2200-2500 watts
Ventilation power consumption, 44-54 watts
Initial cost ~$32,000 (in 2012)
Out of pocket cost $19,200.
ROI 8.5 years
18-months after installing Geothermal, In May 2014, we cut ties with natural gas completely by canceling service with Questar gas.
Since May 2013, my wife has driven a Nissan Leaf. It works great for shuttling our 4 kids around to all their activities.
In January 2013 we sold our gas van (our last remaining gas vehicle). We have not bought gasoline for any of our vehicles ever since, we don't even own a container that holds gasoline anymore since our lawn mower is also electric. For longer trips, we rent a gas vehicle (happens 4-5 times a year), at least until the charging infrastructure across Utah and Idaho can get with the times.
Plug-Share Charging Station
While each Nissan Leaf charges on its own JuiceBox L2 charging station, a third Juicebox on the side of the house is available for guest and other EV drivers to use, any time, for free.
It provides up to 7200 watts of power, free to anyone who needs a charge.
You can buy your own 40 Amp Juicebox home charging station for as little as $498 here.
Let's get back to the good old days, before we got all greedy on oil, and "water the horses" for free, for anyone who needs a re-charge.
When you have an endless supply of free, renewable solar energy, you SHARE IT!
Drain-Water Heat Recovery Unit
It takes 150 watt-hours of energy to heat 1 gallon of hot water.
A shower throws away most of that energy. Energy going down the drain is still much warmer than the water temperature coming into the home.
Copper drain pipe captures waste heat from waste water (like when taking a shower).
Heat is transferred to the coiled copper pipe.
Up to 64% of the heat can be reclaimed and put back into the hot-water supply.
Material cost $649.
ROI ??? Not enough data has been collected to determine the actual ROI. However, the manufacturer claims a 6 year return on investment.
In an ideal home, there would be just 1 sewer stack and the DWHR unit would span the length of the stack. Nearly all waste hot water heat sources could be reclaimed.
Our home has 3 separate sewer stacks but only 1 has this unit installed. Therefore, only the waste water heat from 2 bathrooms upstairs are being reclaimed. All other sources (laundry, kitchen, hall bath, basement bath) are not reclaimed.
Hyper-Insulated Electric Hot Water Heater
This is just a standard 40 gallon electric hot water heater wrapped in R-19 insulation. Cost: $20.
Gas water heaters (even high efficiency ones) need air flow and exhaust ducts (which results in tremendous energy loss). Electric ones do not.
Natural gas tank water heaters lose the gas equivalent of 8.3 kW of heat energy each day.
Electric tank water heaters lose 1.4 kW of heat energy each day.
A hyper-insulated electric tank water heater only loses 0.5 kW of heat energy, (a 0.9 kW reduction in energy loss).
The hot-water generator in the geothermal heat pump provides 70-80% of all hot-water needs. The electric hot water tank provides the rest (~1620 kWh/year).
A typical electric hot water heater will use 4470 kWh/year, for a family of 4.
With a HWG and DWHR unit and efficient appliances our electric hot water heater only uses 1620 kWh/year, for our family of 7.
Insulated Hot-Water Plumbing
Our home’s plumbing layout is very inefficient.
In order to get hot-water in the kitchen or master bathroom, almost 1 gallon of water has to be wasted, running the tap until hot water is at the faucet.
An average of 160 watt-hours is wasted every time the faucet is ran until hot-water is available. That’s enough energy to drive an electric vehicle nearly 1 mile.
While insulating the plumbing is an energy saver, it is done more for comfort and convenience.
Hot water in the pipe is kept warm for upwards of 2-hours.
Investment cost of materials. $18
We bought most of our lights at Costco for an average of $1.65/bulb.
LED tubes in the garage and basement laboratory. Purchased from eBay for as little as $10/tube, (requires modifying the florescent fixture and removing the ballast).
Energy Star Appliances
Anytime you buy a new appliance, make sure it is energy star certified and a common brand with replacement parts readily available.
Make sure the ROI is sorter than the life of the appliances.
Many energy star appliances like refrigerators and LED TVs can be easily justified based on the energy savings alone.
Energy Efficient PC/Sleep PC
Buy computer hardware first for efficiency and then for performance. You will not notice a difference for everyday tasks.
A green network switch cost the same as a power hungry one. Both perform the same.
A "green" hard drive costs the same as a power hungry one. Performance is nearly the same.
SSD hard drives have much better performance and they only draw 2 watts of power.
Buy 80+ gold or higher ATX power supply for PC.
TED (The Energy Detective)
It is one of many energy monitoring devices on the market today.
Every home should have a way to monitor energy consumption in real time.
Probably the highest return on investment you can make in a home. Finds power wasters, helps you start energy efficient habits, indirectly saving you money.
Ability to monitor power consumption in real time allows you to collect trending data and track down/eliminate power wasters.
Able to keep track of annual power consumption of individual circuits, (like clothes dryer, stove, electric water heater, A/C, electric vehicle charging station, or the whole house).
Costs about $240 for a single channel version. $89 more for each additional channel (up to 4 channels).
It is one of many energy monitoring devices on the market today.
Monitors real-time power consumption of an individual 120V appliance.
Cost about $20.
Everyone should have at least one on hand.
Attic Heat Clothes Dryer
The summertime temperature in the attic is upwards of 145 °F.
Using attic heat to feed a clothes dryer serves a 3-fold purpose.
Reduces energy spent drying clothes by more than ½.
Cools down attic, (reducing HVAC energy usage) as well as extending life of roof.
Reduces air draft/leakage inside the home.
All while preserving convenience of using a clothes dryer, even in the middle of the day.
During a 30 minute dryer cycle, upwards of 1.4 kWh of heat energy is pulled from the attic (for free) and used to dry clothes.
Typical electric clothes dryer heating element draws 4700 watts (cycling on and off, or from low 2400 watts to high 4700 watts).
Pulling heat from the attic makes the heating element duty cycle shorter (on for a shorter time, off for a longer time).
In the winter time when the attic air temp is cooler than the house air temp, the dryer pulls air from the house like normal.
Investment material cost ~$50
Attic insulation and Air Sealing
Added an additional R19 of insulation blown into the attic, for a total of R57. Cost $600. Rebate $600. ROI: Instant.
Air sealed windows jams, wall plate baffles and all ceiling fixtures. Cost ~$800. ROI from energy savings, about 2 years.
Had an air-blower door test before and after to quantify difference. House went from 4 air exchanges per hour to a little over 1 air exchange per hour.
That’s good enough for a home this size. Any tighter and we would probably have to install an indoor/outdoor air heat exchanger. Having no natural gas appliances also helps keep oxygen levels higher in the house.
Provide free, passive heating in the winter time.
Removing window screens during the winter time will increase passive heating through the window by 40%
Keeping windows clean will also allow more passive heat into the house (but not so much that you need to obsess over it).
Our house has 275 sqft of south-facing windows (with a 0.71 visible transmittance). On a perfectly sunny day on Dec 21st, that equates to 16,000 watts of passive solar heat entering the house.
That’s like 10 space heaters all running simultaneously for FREE!
On a frigid but sunny, winter day, the house will heat up past 74 °F without any help from the heat pump.
Window shutters and double cell blinds
Double cell blinds and shutters add an extra layer of insulation over the window for better heat retention during the winter time.
Winter time – Low sun angle: Opening during the day time they allow more heat in. Closing at night, they keep the house warmer for longer.
Summer time – High sun angle: Opening shutters facing upwards they allow in light but block out direct sunlight.
Our house has excellent solar glazing but non-ideal roof eves. An ideal house would have long south-facing roof eves that would block out direct sunlight in the summer time but still allow in direct sunlight during the winter time.
Food Storage Room
We can store up to 2 years of food.
Shelf system where no stacking is needed. Everything is accessible and labeled.
Future Cold Storage Room
Currently used as miscellaneous storage
This room will one day be our cold storage room to store apples, pears and other items grown in the backyard.
Air Conditioning Condensate Water
Over 6 gallons of water is condensed out of the air each day during the summer time.
This is a byproduct of the air conditioner and goes down the drain. What a waste of a free resource!
This water is slightly acidic (just like rain-water). It has a pH of around 5.6 and is perfect for watering acid loving plants.
We collect this water and use it to water our blueberry plants. In an emergency this water can also be used to flush toilets, for cleaning or filtered and used for drinking.
Has its own kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and office area.
It is heated and cooled with the geothermal HVAC system and supplemented with space heaters since the whole house is on one zone.
It too receives most of its energy from the solar panels on the roof.
Bidet Toilet Seats
Why are we Americans still cleaning the filthiest messes the human body can make using just DRY PAPER? How Unsanitary! How primitive and barbaric!
A bidet toilet seat will cuts down on toilet paper use by 70-80%.
It is far more hygienic than dry paper.
It uses relatively little water. Reduce toilet clogs and excessive water use from multiple flushing.
Potentially reduces the number of times that you need to shower each week.
Men, Women and children everywhere could benefit from a bidet.
Cost as little as $35.
Low-flow Shower heads
1.5 gpm flow rate.
Has a small but powerful stream that simulates a much higher flow-rate.
Optional ultra-low flow valve switches to 0.75 gpm. For those times you just don’t want to get out of the shower but still want the feeling of lots of warm water all over you.
Because of hard water in our area, we also added an efficient water softener so shower heads and other plumbing fixtures don't get plugged up with mineral deposits.
Mittleider Veggie Garden and Berry Patch
We grow about 40% of the food we eat in our own backyard.
Here is a list of what we grew in 2015.
Sunflowers (for seeds, cold-pressed oil and to make sun-butter – takes the place of peanut butter).
Pumpkins (for soups, pies and seeds)
Corn, Beets, Onions, Garlic, Potatoes
Artichoke, Asparagus, Peas, Okra
Beans, (bush, red, black, pinto, white, soy and fava).
Pumpkins, Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Honey Dew, Crenshaw
Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Radishes
Green Peppers, Chile Relleno, Anaheim, Jalapeño and Peppercini
Spaghetti Squash, Yellow Neck Squash, Acorn Squash, Zuchini
Broccoli, Cauliflower, Celery, Cabbage
Lettuce, Romaine, Boston Bib, Red, Mustard, Spinach
Sugar beets, Wheat and Gourds.
Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Goji Berries and several varieties of Grapes.
Cherry, Peach x2, Apricot, Nectarine, Apple x3, Pear x2 and Plum
Food Storage Room
We have lots of room in our house, so we might as well make good use of it for storing bulk food items and fresh produce, picked from our garden and preserved for the off-season.
A food storage is often kept for decades and only eaten in an emergency. My wife and I believe it is better to store what you eat and eat what you store.
We strive to keep a 1-2 years supply of grains and legumes on hand in our basement food storage, and continually use them in our daily meals.
- Whole Wheat Bread (3 loaves a week).
- Pita bread, flat bread, Artisan breads and tasty pastries, all home-made.
- Home made yogurt and granola cereal (I eat every morning for breakfast). Green Smoothies.
- All sorts of soups made from beans, rice and lentils.
- Other yummy dishes made from beans, rice and quinoa.
- Nearly every meal is home-made. Except for pizza once a month and dinner on our date night.