This is a good question that I have often asked myself. I think there are three main reasons why today it is both possible to go zero and to save money:
- The technologies of insulation, heat pumps, solar panels, and windows have all improved dramatically in just the last few years. This makes going zero now practical because you can cut the energy used by your home to the point where you can generate all that energy from solar panels on your roof.
- The subsidies from states and the federal government are substantial, just as global competition has driven down the prices for the products you need in order to go zero. This makes the net cost of the products you need to go zero the lowest it has ever been, making going zero now affordable for many more people. The lower prices and high subsidies make our return on investment from going zero about 15% after tax. I think this is a good return on investment.
- Many people who want to cut their carbon footprint do not have the cash available to buy the products. The financing available with either zero-interest rate loans or low-interest rate loans is very attractive. This makes going zero now accessible to many more people.
It is this combination of practicality, affordability and accessibility that makes now the time to go zero. You can go zero, save thousands of dollars a year in utility bills, and get low or no-cost loans to finance it. This is the reality today. This is why now is the time to go zero.
Despite this trifecta of practicality, affordability and accessibility, I have found that people often get stuck when they try to figure out what to actually do to cut their carbon footprint. When they get into the technologies and their limitations (such as deteriorating solar panel power production with time, declining heat pump performance in very cold weather and the complexity of low-E coatings on windows) plus the complexity of subsidies, tax breaks, and financing options, many people get stuck and just give up. This book is for those who want to get unstuck and want to know how to go zero.
Going zero is made much harder by all the different units (such as kilowatt-hours, BTUs, horsepower and tons) used by different technicians to measure energy. It is as though each technology speaks its own language, and none of them speaks English. This makes it much harder to compare solar panels to heat pumps or insulation to triple-glazed windows when that is exactly what you need to do. I have tried to overcome these confusing terms by focusing on how much money you can save and on how much you can cut your carbon footprint. I mention British Thermal Units once, but I think I get away with it.
Going zero is made even harder still by the poor marketing practices of companies selling solar panels, heat pumps and triple-glazed windows. These poor marketing practices include confusing technobabble, overly optimistic forecasts and high-pressure sales tactics. I have tried to overcome these by avoiding technical terms and by using photographs, diagrams and charts, usually of our own experience. Almost everything I recommend in this book we have done ourselves. I recorded the money savings and costs from our actual experience and the financial returns are calculated based on our actual results not the manufacturers sales materials.
I would probably have given up on going zero too if it weren’t that our children really wanted to go “green”. Also, because of the time I had taken off work to let the injuries from my near-fatal car accident heal, I had the time to do all the research. And it took me, with a degree in physics and an MBA, about a year of research to figure out how to go zero and make money. But having figured it all out, I am very happy to share my “recipe” with everyone.
The following are the section titles within the chapter Why now? in Zero Carbon Home:
Why the time is now for spray-foam insulation in your attic.
Why the time is now for heat pumps.
Why the time is now for solar power.
Why the time is now for triple-glazed windows.
Why the time is now to go zero.
Why the time is now to go zero and make money.