Summarized from IN PRACTICE article, Building a Net Zero House Holistically written by Elizabeth Marks, Issue #170, pages 3-4.
Summarized by Renee Roberts
After 20 years of renting, Elizabeth Marks, an HMI Certified Educator in New York, decided to build her dream home utilizing Holistic Management and design principles. After searching for land for a year, she found 10 acres (5 acres of pasture and 5 acres of wooded wetlands) in upstate New York.
Elizabeth’s first step was to create a holistic goal for her home-building project. She wanted her plan to be very specific, identifying resources and values that pertained to the building process as well as a place where she visualized living. What emerged from her plan were many core values including a living space that is open, light, warm and bright – yet energy efficient; wise use of space (no unused places in the home); spending money only once; a home that fits her needs now and in the future, while considering resale; and staying within her budget. She also outlined everything she needed to achieve her core values and her future vision for her dream home.
Elizabeth then developed a resource inventory for her project, identifying any weak links and challenges. One of her key resources included the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). In New York, NYSERDA offers rebates and resources to help with green building. They have an energy star program that provides funding for a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) rater, an employee who can advise you on green building and what components will give you the biggest bang for your buck and send someone out to conduct a blower door test so leaks can be detected and fixed. NYSERDA also provides funds to off-set solar and green building costs.
After exploring many home-building options, Elizabeth decided to go with stick built and to be her own general contractor. Her home includes many solar features; advanced framing techniques to minimize pockets of uninsulated areas and use less wood; and an energy system designed as an interconnected whole rather than individual parts.
Her home also includes an energy recovery ventilator; an energy efficient air source heat pump (also serves as an air conditioner in the summer); Energy Star appliances, windows and doors; and LED and certain lights that operate on motion detectors and will go out if no movement is detected.
Throughout her entire home-building process, Elizabeth searched for ways to reduce/reuse/recycle and believes the benefits of building green have been immense and hit evenly with her financial, environmental and social values.
“My utility bill (heat, hot water, electric) averages $25 a month ($16 monthly utility service fee and $9 on average for propane for a cook range and fireplace), or about $300 a year,” said Elizabeth. “Many houses of similar size in my area of upstate New York (think cold winters) pay $3,000 – $5,000 a year for heat and electric. The total additional costs for the energy efficiency components minus my federal and state tax deductions and an incentive payment from NYSERDA was $16,000. I estimate that the payback period is 5-6 years. My solar panels have a 30-year life expectancy.”
Environmentally, Elizabeth is not using oil and has significantly reduced her carbon emissions, and her water efficient appliances and fixtures have greatly reduced water waste (40 gallons of water per day vs. 80-100 gallons per day for the average American).
And equally important to Elizabeth has been the satisfaction of living according to her values. “Good planning in combination with actions in alignment to your values is a powerful force,” stated Elizabeth.
To read the entire article, you can order IN PRACTICE Issue #170 here.
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