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Local zero energy homes prove successful; homeowners share money saving tips

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ISSAQUAH -- The country’s first net-zero energy townhomes, zHomes, have been in full use for two years. And time has told, they are a big success.

A new report, released by Master Builders Association reported water consumption was reduced by 70% and most homeowners are making money off the energy they produce from their solar panels.

Homeowners say they are mostly satisfied with their living standards. They say the methods of living are teaching valuable money saving skills, that any person can use in their own home.

For energy savings, Built Green of Master Builders Association suggests:

  • Replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs or LED lights
  • Turn down the thermostat to 68 degrees during the day, 65 degrees at night
  • Caulk or weather strip home
  • Upgrade attic insulation or ventilation system
  • Install more efficient (Energy Star) appliances

Although some of these changes are more costly, Leah Missik, Built Green program manager for Master Builders Association, says it is worth the initial cost.

“Most of these bigger ticket items have a payback of a handful of years, so if you intend on being in your home for quite some time, it’s definitely worth it in the long run. Not just money-wise, but comfort-wise.”

For water savings, Master Builders Association recommends:

  • Cut down shower time by 3 minutes
  • Only wash full loads of clothes
  • Install more efficient (Energy Star, WaterSense) appliances (toilets, washing machines)
  • Do not water lawn
  • Water with a rain harvesting system

“If somebody wants to install a rain barrel or even a rain garden outside,” said Missik. “That would be a huge step in reducing runoff, but also to save them money, for example, instead of paying a water bill to water your garden outside, your using what nature already provides.”

Bryan Bell and his wife have been living in their zHome for more than a year and they say they have easily adapted to their energy saving lifestyle. Bell also recommends homeowners may want to consider installing energy and water monitoring systems, like a TED Energy Detective or an Orion digital monitor. They track the amount of energy being used at any given time or the overall water used throughout the day. Bell says it turns energy savings into a game.

“Before I go to bed at night, I check this display and I see, is it between 2-3 hundred watts and if it’s not, I must have left something on somewhere, a computer, and I go and I shut that off, so all night we’re not burning unneeded electricity.”

When building or remodeling and making some of these larger changes, homeowners may want to consider getting Built Green certified. Missik says the official certification can mean even larger savings.

“They’re going to be able to sell it at likely a mark up, because it does have this certification,” said Missik. “On the other hand, as you’re living in the home, you’re going to get all kinds of financial savings.”