If you only have a few minutes, please read this:
Our home now has a year-round zero-carbon footprint and we pay zero for heating oil and electricity combined. We have “gone zero”. Having a zero-carbon footprint on our home means the carbon dioxide gas emitted by us burning fuel to heat our home plus the carbon dioxide gas emitted by power stations to generate the electricity used by our home total zero for a full year.
How did we do this? By installing extra insulation, heat pumps and triple-glazed windows, we have cut the energy our house uses so much that it is now all generated by our solar panels. This not only gives us a zero-carbon footprint but zero heating and electricity bills combined.
This website and the accompanying book is the roadmap for you to go zero and to save money, probably thousands of dollars a year. It is based on our experience but also benefits from what we have learned along the journey. If we were to do it again, we could now do it better than the way we did it. This advice is version 2.0 of the roadmap of how to go zero and save money.
By going zero we have prevented over forty tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. Forty tons. Each year. Every year. Forever. Forty tons of carbon dioxide is about equal to the emissions from ten cars. You will do far more to save the planet from climate change by going zero on your home than you will by buying an electric vehicle.
The conventional wisdom is that going zero can only be achieved on new houses, that it is very expensive, and that it requires big lifestyle compromises. I have found that the conventional wisdom is wrong, on all counts. We have gone zero on our drafty 1970’s house, we are saving over eleven thousand dollars a year on utility bills and we have done it without any big lifestyle compromises. On the contrary, our lifestyle has improved as our indoor air is fresher and more comfortable and our house is quieter. I still take long showers.
There are only four ingredients in the recipe for going zero – the fab four:
- Install 12” of insulation in your attic and basement. See Chapter 1.
- Replace your heating/AC system with heat pumps. See Chapter 2.
- Install solar panels on your roof. See Chapter 3.
- Install triple-glazed windows when you replace yours. See Chapter 4.
It is easy to remember the fab four because the Fab Four (the Beatles) had lots of hits. HITS – Heat pumps, Insulation, Triple-glazed windows and Solar panels.
Solar panels on your roof can now generate electricity at a cost of only three to eight cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s less than one-third of what you are paying for utility electricity today. Solar panels powering heat pumps are now the cheapest way to heat your home. Together, they can heat your home at half the cost of heating it with natural gas and they emit zero carbon dioxide.
Technological advances and global competition have cut prices for the fab four significantly. These lower prices plus substantial subsidies make going zero now more affordable than ever. With the current generation of solar panels and current subsidies, the net cost of rooftop solar panels is only a few thousand dollars. And no, that is not with the leasing option from a typical installer of solar panels, which I rarelyrecommend.
Of the fab four, insulation has the best return on investment. The savings on your heating bills will usually pay for the insulation in 1-3 years. In other words, insulation is the best “bang for the buck”. Insulation is fairly cheap, and you can never really have too much of it. This is especially true in your attic where, because heat rises, most of your heat is lost. A lot of heat escapes through your basement too and insulating the ceiling of your basement is cheap, easy and effective. Solar panels, heat pumps and triple-glazed windows all pay for themselves in 5-9 years.
After the subsidies and tax credits, we have invested about $75,000 (about 5% of the value of our home) in the fab four. We now pay zero for electricity and heating oil combined. The savings on our utility bills, over $11,000 per year, will pay back our investment in all of the fab four in about six years. After that, we will have $11,000 more each year than we would have had without the fab four. Our return on investment is about 15%. That’s 15% after tax. That is a much better return than I am getting on my stock and bond investments and without the risk of a stock market crash!
In addition, by the estimates of the Department of Energy’s EnergyStar program, our house has increased in value by $111,000 from installing solar panels alone. That is considerably more than we have invested in all of the fab four combined, not just solar panels. I did not include this house price appreciation in any financial return calculations. The house price appreciation is on top of the financial returns.
Because we were replacing our 40-year old windows anyway, for triple-glazed windows our investment (and return) is the additional cost (and savings) above that for double-glazed windows. I only recommend you install triple-glazed windows when you are replacing your windows for other reasons such as because they are leaking, rotting or falling apart. Although it is hard to quantify, installing triple-glazed windows has rejuvenated our home and the feel is cozier. We no longer have to sit under blankets to avoid the cold drafts while watching movies in winter! If your windows are in good shape then a better option is to add low cost “fit-from-the-inside” window inserts. These effectively make a single-pane window into a double-pane window and make a double-pane window into triple-pane (or triple-glazed) window, but at about 1/10th of the cost of replacing your windows.
If you live in Massachusetts, as we do, and you want to go zero but do not have the cash available today, you can borrow almost all of the money you need with interest-free loans (for heat pumps and triple-glazed windows) or low-interest loans (for solar panels) sponsored by the Massachusetts government. The State subsidy for installing insulation is so generous that insulating your attic and basement will probably cost you only a few hundred dollars. Financing each one of the fab four is covered in the chapter explaining that technology. You can also get federal government-backed loans to finance going zero, but the Massachusetts loans are usually cheaper.
By installing the fab four you can cut your home’s carbon footprint to zero, cut your heating and electricity bills to zero, finance it with low-interest or interest-free loans, make a good return on your investment and increase the value of your home. It doesn’t get much better than this!
If you found this page interesting you will almost certainly find the book, Zero Carbon Home, helpful. It is written in the same easy-to-read style backed by the same rigorous scientific approach and detailed financial analysis. The e-book costs only $15.99 (the print book costs $24.99). Both are available by clicking here.
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