This section is devoted to anything and everything related to sustainable energy.

Grow Solar Part 3: Incentives for Solar

Click here for Part 2 of our Grow Solar Series, where we talk about the energy efficiency measures we’ve taken to make solar power feasible in each home.

When we set out to build Grow Community, we committed to creating a One Planet community that would allow its residents to live a zero carbon lifestyle without spending extra money or compromising the comforts or quality of life that they desired.  We set an immense challenge for our team:  to design and build zero-carbon houses that could sell for less than or equal to market price.  Our incredible team met that challenge and exceeded our expectations, not only designing zero-carbon, solar powered homes that met our price requirements, but creating homes that are incredibly comfortable and pleasant to live in.  The homes are amazing spaces to be in.  Seriously.  If you haven’t been to the models homes for a tour, check it out.  We think you’ll agree.

We have an even bigger challenge now. To encourage each and every resident to join us in meeting the One Planet Zero Carbon goal for the community.  We think we can do this by making the option to add solar panels to each home an easy choice.  With no-money down financing available for the solar package, and a well-established federal and state incentive program that essentially pays for the solar, there really is no reason not to add solar to each house.  It is our hope that over time each and every building within Grow Community can be powered by solar, bringing the community as a whole closer to the goal of zero carbon living by 2020.  We know it can be done.

The idea of tax credits and incentives for the solar package may at first seem complex, but really it is quite simple.  The incentives available for renewable energy can be broken down into 3 major parts:

1. The most notable of these incentives is a 30% tax credit provided by the federal government to anyone installing renewable energy (Solar, wind, geothermal, etc.) at their place of residence.  As an example, say you purchase a $40,000 solar package.  In the first tax cycle after your purchase, you will receive a tax credit (actual cash – not a deduction) of approximately $12,000.

Here is some additional information from EnergyStar on this tax credit.

2. The second important incentive is provided by Washington State Department of Revenue’s solar power purchase incentive,through Puget Sound Energy (the energy provider on Bainbridge Island). In order to promote both energy efficiency AND Washington manufacturing, solar owners can receive up to $5,000 per year in production incentives until 2020 if they use renewable energy technology manufactured within the state. Grow Community uses solar modules manufactured by Washington-based iTek Energy and solar micro-inverters manufactured by Blue Frog Solar, also a Washington business, in order to maximize this production incentive.

3. Last, but not least, Puget Sound Energy has  a net-metering program where residential homes that use renewable energy can actually provide electricity back to the power grid. Based on typical modeled energy use, by sizing our solar for each home at Grow, and expecting average weather, each resident can end up producing as much as they use.  The result?  Your averaged annual energy bill – Zero.  With potentially rising energy costs over time, the ability to live in a home and not pay for energy has a significant positive impact on annual cost of living – no small consideration.

By working with iTek, Blue Frog, and PSE, to craft a solar package specifically tailored for each house, Grow Community homeowners are able to realize all three incentives: tax credits, power production incentives, and no electric bill each year.   All this results in a payback of 7 to 8 years and a better return on your money than many current investment opportunities.

We think it’s a no-brainer, but we are interested to know what you think.  Does it make sense?  Do you have questions?

Click here for more information on Washington State solar production incentives.

Stay tuned for Grow Solar Part 4: Financing and Paying off Your Solar Panels.

Grow Solar Part 2: Solar Power and Energy Efficiency

Click here for Part 1

So how can solar cover all our energy needs?

Well, traditionally it wouldn’t. Most houses you see around you draw more energy than solar panels could provide.

In our case, the homes of Grow Community have been designed from the ground up with solar in mind. This includes electric wiring specifically designed for easy installation of solar panels on the roof. If you take advantage of the solar option, the panels will be enough to meet the energy demand of your life due to the energy efficiency designed into every square inch of the house. You can click here to look at the options available to add onto it if so desired.

So just how energy efficient are these homes? Well, until we get people living in the homes full time we won’t know this exactly, but we’re happy to talk about how they have been designed. Plus having this option may give people some flexibility when they learn more about their utility options. Here are some of the features that make these homes as efficient as possible:

Heat pump: The ductless minisplit Greensboro heat pump by mitsubishi in each home is twice as efficient as a gas or electric water heater. There are many different types of water heaters available on the market, from electric to tankless, you have an array of options when obtaining a water heater for your home. Whether you’re moving to a new home, or just want to have your heater replaced, you can look online on sites similar to Water Heater Reviews and check out their vast catalog of water heaters. You can visit homepage for more information.

Ventilation system: Every home in Grow Community is outfitted with a heat recovery ventilator (HRV), which provides a great compliment to our ductless mini split heat pump by keeping the temperature range consistent within the home and allowing our heating system to work less and more efficiently. (This is very cool technology, and worth it’s own blog post in the future)

Lights: Most of the lights use high-efficiency LEDs, which are many times more efficient than conventional light bulbs. Almost all of our lights are LEDs and we’re pushing to have a 100% LED lit home in the future.

Windows: We use high quality energy-efficient windows, which are generally where houses lose a majority of their heat.

Appliances: All of the appliances in our homes meet or beat current energy star performance requirements.

Double Walls and Insulation: Walls in each home are twice as thick as standard walls, and are doubly insulated, reducing heat energy waste through the sides of your house.

All these energy-efficiency improvements greatly reduce the amount of power your home requires (saving 2-3 tons of coal per year), enabling the power created by solar panels to cover the rest.

Check out part 3, where we describe the incentives available to homeowners to help cover the costs of installation.

Grow Solar Part 1: How Grow Community Will Be Zero Carbon by 2020

Before we ever broke ground building Grow Community, we the Grow Team had a vision for the perfect neighborhood. We wanted to create a One Planet community that took environmental, economic, and social sustainability into account. Working toward this vision has been an adventure, and has helped us reach for our goal of being a Net-Zero carbon community by 2020.

A big part of achieving this goal is the option for each homeowner to install solar on their homes.

In the following blog series, we will explore this solar option start to finish. What makes this a viable option?  What are the benefits of solar? How much will it cost? Will financing be available?

So stay tuned and head on over to Part 2: Solar Power and Energy Efficiency where we answer the question “How can solar cover all our energy needs?”

 

Net-Zero Home Revealed on East Coast

A new Net-Zero residential test facility has been revealed this week by the National Institute of Science and Technology. This is great news for the advancement of sustainable housing in the United States, however they have an interesting take on it: the four bedroom, three bathroom house will be occupied by a “virtual” family.

“Helping scientists test the home’s systems and determine whether it’s truly “net-zero” is a virtual family of four. Energy use by the family will be simulated by computers that turn on and off various household appliances according to daily routines.”

The Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility in Gaithersburg, MD.

The goal of the company is to eventually sell energy back into the grid, offsetting the electricity used by the family and making it a truly net-zero home.

“Building the home is just the first phase of the project. This fall, NIST scientists and engineers will begin a two-year long research project designed to put the net-zero home to the test. Computers will simulate everything from cell phone charging, to vacuum cleaner use, to the amount of water used to cook meals and bathe.”

While similar to the goals of Grow Community, there are several differences between these two projects. Grow Community, based on the ten guiding principles of One Planet Living developed by BioRegional, aims to address entire lifestyle impacts, with the goal of reducing overall ecological footprint. Grow Community is the first of its kind in the United States to start construction on sustainable homes using these One Planet Community development guidelines. From zero carbon homes and transportation strategies, programs that increase local food consumption and procurement policies that support a local green economy, the Grow Community is applying One Planet Living solutions to create a cost-effective, creative, inspirational and replicable community on the leading-edge of sustainable development practices.

Jonathan Davis, Owner of Davis Studio Architecture & Design, and Lead Designer for Grow Community, likes the goals of the NIST test facility, but thinks the plan has its own limitations.

“We’re doing something more real, for a lot cheaper.” says Davis, “They’re saying the house prices are about $600,000 for a house with state-of-the-art technology in it, not including the land. So we’re creating homes that are more affordable, with the same claim to Net-Zero energy usage, and we’re testing it with real people.”

“It’s great that someone wants to study something like that and get some useful information, but essentially we are doing it in the real world. And we’ll know in a year, just like they will, whether or not it will work.”

First solar panels installed at Grow today, one step closer to a zero-carbon community

The first of many solar panels are being installed today on the model homes! These are the first of thousands of panels that will be installed on the homes, apartment buildings and community buildings at Grow, helping us to create a zero-carbon community, with the goal of making all buildings zero-carbon by 2020. This means that both homeowners and renters at Grow have the opportunity to reduce their overall annual cost of living by paying little or NO energy bills! Imagine that.

Using solar panels is not anything new, as they are becoming more and more common on homes and the buildings of businesses. There are even brewers, winemakers and distillers who are gaining attention for their efforts to be more “green” (click here to see how). However, having a zero-carbon community will be quite amazing. Not to mention that if all goes as planned, this will be the largest residential solar community in Washington State.

The solar package, supplied by BlueFrog Solar, includes all Washington manufactured components: Itek photovoltaic panels – manufactured just 100 miles from here in Bellingham, Washington; APS Microinverters, also locally manufactured in Poulsbo, Washington, and racking from Sunmodo Corp. in Vancouver, Washington.

Reporting from the Grow Community, our architect, Jonathan Davis of Davis Studio Architecture & Design, had this to say:

It wasn’t a blue-sky day, but it made it easier on the installers. When the micro-inverter was plugged in the lights lit up showing we are making power!! Read more

Keeping you in the loop: 5 things taking place on Grow Avenue this week

Wondering what’s happening at the construction site on Grow Avenue this week?

A lot has been happening at the Grow Community construction site this week. You may have noticed how quickly the model homes are going up and been wondering what exactly is going on along Grow Avenue. Read on for your weekly digest of Grow Community construction news and let us know in the comments if you have any questions. Read more

This week at the Grow site: Building energy efficiency (and savings) right into the walls.

A lot has been happening at the Grow Community construction site this week and we want to make sure you’re kept in the loop! Last week we talked about the air barrier being put up on the Aria which left some residents wondering if we were painting all of the homes at Grow black. We know that with a project this size there will be lots of questions
and general curiosity from the community, so read on for your weekly digest of construction updates at the Grow Community and please let us know in the comments if you have any feedback or if there’s anything specific you would like us to address in a future blog post.

Energy Efficiency is the Name of the Game at Grow this Week 

Energy efficiency is about more than turning down the heat.  And we have always said that living at Grow isn’t all about warm beers and cold showers.  While residents will need to be mindful of their energy use in order to achieve net-zero energy in their homes, we have put an incredible amount of thought into how we can design homes that will be inherently energy efficient, and even more than that, homes that will be comfortable. You won’t be chilly in these homes. We promise.

In order to achieve this, it’s necessary to build the savings right into the walls. Creating enough solar energy to power an entire home with the amount of space available on most roofs’ is very difficult, so the goal  Read more

Is Johnny Cash moving to Grow Avenue?

We’ve been getting a lot of questions at the GROW site regarding the new homes being built along Grow Avenue. Mostly, people seem interested in the progress on the site, when the homes are going to be ready for touring, and why they appear to be being painted black and if we plan on leaving them like that. Our Project Manager, Greg Lotakis, laughed and said he thought it looked like Johnny Cash – the infamous ‘Man in Black’ – was moving to the Grow Community.

You might be a little disappointed to learn that the late, great Johnny Cash is not moving to Bainbridge Island. You will, however, be happy to learn that we aren’t planning on building black homes along Grow Avenue, but are instead, in the process of building some of the most energy efficient homes in North America.

What you’re seeing going up on the first model home at the Grow Community is a weather resistant barrier system called Enviro-Dri, created by Tremco. We chose Enviro-Dri, as opposed to more familiar home sheaths like Tyvec, because the product is top in its class for weather resistant barriers and works for the life of your home to remove moisture and fight molds and mildew, an important aspect to home building in the Pacific Northwest.

Each of the three model homes will be constructed using slightly different wall systems and materials.  We will be testing and monitoring each combination for effectiveness and cost efficiency.  The next home will be coated with a similar product called StoGuard Gold Coat.

As we learn more through the application of each of these different products, we will be posting our thoughts and inviting your feedback.  Let us know in the comments if you have any questions or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest news and information on the Grow Community project.

The Grow Team.