We set out to demonstrate that it was possible to retrofit a leaky hundred-year-old house to net zero… and in our case to derive 100% of the power from solar panels. After one and a half years of research, and another eighteen months of demo and construction, the goal has been met. Ours is also the first net zero example in Canada of insulating on top of the existing stucco façade. The city believes what we are doing is scalable. For our efforts, the city of Victoria has named us climate champions.
“By switching away from an old fossil fuel heating system and by putting great effort into whole home energy efficiency upgrades, the Fernwood Net Zero retrofit project contributes to meeting our ambitious climate targets. The project has gone above and beyond and has redefined what the “home of the future” looks like. We hope it will inspire others in the community to take action and make their homes more climate-friendly.”
– John Ho, Community Energy Specialist, City of Victoria
We aren’t engineers, architects or builders – just well-intentioned generalists. We developed a website netzerovictoria.com to chronicle the journey to net zero to help others use what we have learned and build upon it with their own homes. Now that the house is complete, our aim is to network with municipal agencies, environmental interest groups and other influencers on Vancouver Island and across BC to hasten the pace of adoption of deep energy retrofits as an affordable alternative to demolition. We are working with allies to have them tell the story of the house. Two examples are:
I am a new member of Yale Blue Green having been introduced to the initiative by my classmate and friend, Becky Bunnell. I’m excited to be launching a Green Block here in Victoria and when in Chicago to support Margot and Judith in their efforts.
With a NetZero home we reduce our carbon footprint to reverse greenhouse effect and allow the earth to heal.
In Georgetown, one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods, Peter Reiquam has a combined storm and sanitary sewer as he describes, This project is scheduled for completion in May, 2021.”
“[Here] are a few pictures of my rain barrel collection,” writes Peter. “This is not a gray water system, we only use this water for irrigation of garden and potted plants and as a backup supply of water in the event of an earthquake or other disaster that might interrupt the supply of municipal water. As you can see, the barrels are elevated on galvanized steel pipe racks to improve head pressure, but we also use an electric pump to improve the flow when necessary.
Peter lives just blocks from the Duwamish River which feeds directly into Elliott Bay and Puget Sound a few miles to the north. King County is currently building a CSO (Combined Sewer Overflow) facility between us and the river which will hold and treat excess runoff during major rain events and discharge clean water into the river.”
What flows from the land affects ocean life. Each home has an impact and everyone’s consideration of our waste effects the global water cycles, improves ocean life, weather, and our sustainability.
NYC has an infrastructure problem but it’s not likely to make headlines. Chicago has it, too. So do Philadelphia and Atlanta as well as thousands of smaller cities. It goes by the decidedly unsexy and somewhat gross title of a Combined Sewer System or CSS.
Other cities have separate pipes for sewage and for storm water. In a CSS, they both go down one set of pipes. So when it rains, the pipes and treatment plants can’t handle the combined flow of sewage and storm water, and raw sewage ends up getting dumped into the nearest waterway.
The issue is exacerbated by the fact that stormwater in cities often has no place to go because so much surface area is covered in impermeable streets, sidewalks, parking lots and buildings. It’d cost way too much to rip up every street and rebuild the CSS system. So what’s a city – or its residents – to do?
Fortunately, there are a few ways to at least partially address the problem. And they tend to have multiple benefits.
One embraces trees. Their multiple benefits include global warming mitigation by absorbing CO2 and diminishing of the urban heat island effect (in which cities tend to be several degree armer than surrounding areas (Urban Heat Islands). Plus they’re just, well, nice to have in less green urban areas. But they also help with stormwater and runoff issues both by absorbing water themselves and being planted in soil, taking the place of paved areas so the water can be absorbed.
Among other plans to plant massive numbers of trees, NYC has its Million Trees program, which reached its goal a couple of years ago. Scotland has a 22 million tree plan. The Nature Conservancy has its Plant a Billion Trees campaign.
As an individual or small group, In NYC, you can request a street tree in front of your building. Or you can help maintain them. You can join a community garden.
Another approach replaces impermeable or impervious surfaces along streets and sidewalks with planted bioswales. Those are usually constructed by local governments, but on your own property, you can replace paved areas such as driveways or urban back yards with porous surfaces such as pervious paving. You can even plant an “edible estate”: a front yard (as unusual as they may be in dense cities) with fruits and vegetables.
Yet another way to address stormwater runoff is with greenroofs. As with trees, greenroofs have multiple benefits such as relieving the urban heat island. But the one that’s relevant here is their ability to act like sponges. Both the plants and the soil absorb the rain and release it slowly so as to delay the runoff and spread out the flow in the pipes. As an amenity (another benefit), you can have an “extensive” roof which is covered by a shallow layer of soil for growing sedums and grasses, or, if your roof is strong enough, an ”intensive” version with deeper soil that allows planting of gardens, bushes and even, sometimes, trees.
(In the 100+ year old building I live in, the old wood joists weren’t strong enough to support either type. We looked into building a deck floating above the roof, but the cost for our small former tenement building was prohibitive. An alternative called “sistering” the joists – bolting new joists alongside the existing ones – might have been possible, but we’ve had had to rip up the roof first to get to the joists.)
NYC, by the way, also requires holding tanks, usually underground, for new buildings. A smaller scale version, more suitable for homes and more DIY, is a rainwater barrel connected to the roof gutters. The water is typically used for irrigation. Of course, there are few homes in NYC that can take that approach. But even something as low-tech as that can help alleviate the stormwater runoff problem. And for those of you where water supply is an issue, it makes more sense to use that water than using good potable water for your plants. (Or for that matter, flushing toilets, but that’s another story.)
One Drop at A Time, the award-winning work of Marcus de la Fleur a demonstration of the use of green roofs, porous pavement, rain barrels, swales, and controlled burn to mitigate runoff and properly value rainwater,” said Wendy Littlefield. “There is some arresting side by side footage which shows how much more effective his solution is than conventional yard and sidewalk treatment. DelaFleur did this work more than a decade ago.
The goal is to turn the building into a net zero home with a sustainable and resource-efficient landscape. He is chronicling this transformation – deeply nerdy and great.”
Marcus de la Fluer came to Chicago from Kew Gardens to build the green roof on the Betty Notebaert Museum in Lincoln Park. Now he is at work on a deep energy retrofit on a 100 plus year old masonry two flat house in the city.
Solar tax credits are available in 2021 for solar panels with a back up battery with free installation. 26% tax credit for next year’s IRS.
Margot’s family had twenty-five years in an 1890’s home with a new studio. Some of their energy saving projects coincided with the Obama-Biden administration’s home improvements that included tax credit incentives. The McMahon-Burke family followed the U.S. government program:
1. Insulate walls
2. install New Windows
3. Community purchase of Solar Panels
4. Collect Runoff Water in barrels with a neighborhood group buy
5. subsidized Energy Audit
6. subsidized Electric Cars
7. Rooftop Gardens
Twenty Solar World panels (Chicago area group purchase) were installed on the studio rooftop (each panel coverts to 120 on the panel) feeds through a smart meter to farm energy for the Com Ed community. The smart meter measures our farmed energy output and incoming household electrical needs. With SREC Trade our farmed solar energy is sold to offset our installation costs. Government subsidized programs like these encourage community solar purchases, insulation, social event energy audits, tax incentives by reducing upfront costs to farm and reduce energy use.
By reducing our electrical needs with Insulation, Environmentally Efficient Windows, retaining water-run off, reflective white roof tiles, electric car, rooftop garden and vertical vines, Energy Star hot-
water heater, furnace, refrigerator and electric washer-dryer, LED lightbulbs and removing carpeting our energy bills dropped from $130/month to less than $10. The farmed solar energy contributes more to Com Ed customers while we consume less in our home.
Chicago-area Energy Star appliance and contractors:
Solar Installation: Ailey Solar: Jack Ailey firstname.lastname@example.org 312.802.9004
Peerless MI-07 Boiler Goodberlet Electrical 866.355.7710
LED lightbulbs and fixtures Hortons of LaGrange 708.352.2110
Hot water heater (heat as you use) Navien NPE condensing heaters
Miele All-Electric clothes washer and dryer Appliance Connection 800.299.9470
“Nearly annually our home invited neighbors and the community for Garden Walks, Art Studio Tours, Block Party Visits, and Food Co-op Tours to view Espaliered Fruit Trees, Vines on pergolas, Maple Tree Sap Tapping, ,” Margot said. “Tours not only shared these installations, visitors taught me about policies and governmental structures.”
One Home at a Time
Energy used and dissipated around homes burns more carbon, heats the immediate environment and reduces the comfort within our four-season home. By retaining heat and air conditioning, LED lighting and heat as you go hot water heaters, we burn less carbon -one home at a time.
Plastics is [NOT]the Future
Would you like to transition to a Zero Plastics Home or gift others to begin their journey? Here’s a few starter ideas:
EV: Computers on Wheels shows you what to consider in purchasing an EV, how to find pricing and how to take a Road Trip.
SOME EV ESSENTIALS
Wendy Greenhouse ‘77 and her husband, Mike Trenary, have owned a Chevy Volt since 2012 and a Chevy Bolt EV since 2019. They will never go back to driving an ICE (internal combustion engine car). For an upcoming family vacation, they have reserved a Nissan Leaf through Turo.
Q. Why drive an EV?
A. It only starts with never having to buy gas, and the environmental benefits of emissions-free driving. EVs are just fun to drive. Instant torque makes for super-quick acceleration and a zippy drive. They run super-quiet, with no vibrations or engine noise. Some, such as the Chevy Bolt EV, offer “one-pedal” driving, which means total control of both acceleration and deceleration using only the accelerator, for responsive and efficient driving–and only rare use of the brakes (for those who want their EV to drive like a conventional vehicle, the Bolt also offers a conventional drive mode). So-called regenerative braking captures unused energy from coasting or braking and returns it to the battery, for a buffer against depletion of the battery. Instantaneous feedback on energy depletion and recapture helps drivers modify their driving to maximize battery range. Large, heavy battery packs give the vehicles the greater stability of a low center of gravity, as well as structural strength in collisions. EVs have very few moving parts, meaning very little to maintain or to fail, so operating costs are low. In our years of owning the Volt and Bolt, maintenance has been limited to rotating and replacing tires, replacing wiper blades, and refilling washer fluid. Problems are more likely to be software-related rather than mechanical. Most EV owners want to never go back to driving an ICE.
Q: What do you need to know to buy an EV?
A: Dealers for traditional car manufacturers vary widely in their knowledge of and interest in selling EVs. It is up to purchasers to educate themselves. Often EV purchasers are converted before they enter the showroom, and early adopters tended to be people with technical training, especially engineers (until Tesla made their EVs the cool brand for rich young tech entrepreneurs). For the rest of us, online communities of owners can be a great resource. Multiple Facebook groups as well as forums dedicated to particular models let buyers listen to the experience of EV owners, some of whom have real technical expertise. Equally important are online news sites such as https://insideevs.com/ and https://electrek.co/ and the many Youtube channels such as E for Electric and Fully Charged.
Legacy manufacturers such as GM have long relied on sales of high-markup vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks, financing, and servicing for revenue. They’re not financially incentivized to sell EVs because the markup is minimal and these vehicles require very little regular servicing. But in larger metropolitan markets, buyers can locate dealers that do care about selling and servicing EVs (a Facebook group can help in this search). They will have specially trained techs and appropriate equipment. As with charging stations, this varies with region.
Q. What are the considerations for choosing a particular EV?
A. In addition to the usual car-purchase considerations of cost, size, styling, and features, EV buyers need to consider how they will drive the car, which affects their choice of driving range (battery capacity), and how they will charge it on a regular basis.
High battery capacity giving a long driving range is important for long-distance driving or those who drive for a living. Manufacturers are pushing typical range limits higher to make EVs more practical for such uses. However, with daily charging even smaller-range EVs can still be quite practical for daily use, considering that the average American’s daily commute is just 32 miles–within the range of even the smallest EV battery. Our 2013 Volt, which runs on a small-range electric battery before it switches seamlessly to a gas-powered engine, has an electric range of only 35-48 miles (depending on outside temperature, driving speed and style, and terrain), sufficient for all electric/gas-free driving for my husband’s daily commute of 20 miles. For EVs with the 250+-mile range of my Bolt, typically used for local errands, daily charging is quite unnecessary. For those with little tolerance for range anxiety, there are numerous hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models available, which allow driving on a combination of electric power and gas.
Owners without their own garages with convenient outlets will need to plan to charge periodically at public stations (free or at various price-points), possibly by leaving their vehicle overnight. Those with garages can charge their cars overnight at a low rate at a standard 120-volt outlet (with no equipment apart from the cable that comes with the vehicle) or install a faster Level 2 charger. For those who drive to work, EV charging is available at more and more public garages and workplace parking lots where drivers leave their cars for their work day. And opportunities are increasing for drivers to pick up a little charge while shopping, dining, or spending time in a theater. On the road, fast chargers that can take a battery from a 10% to 80% state of charge within an hour are distributed along interstate highways, with more being installed all the time. Distribution nationwide is uneven, with California uniquely saturated with charging stations—and EVs to use them. Apps help drivers locate charging stations along their route and plan to coordinate charging with stops for meals and activities, so that the net loss of time for charging is minimal. Tesla has blanketed the continental US with their exclusive fast-charging stations (soon to be usable also by other EVs) and greatly reduced the “range anxiety” associated with EV driving. Public chargers can be free or more costly per mile of energy than buying gas. Currently, however, many are free (sometimes for the cost of parking) or charge only a modest fee. The cost of home charging is quite low (much lower than gas), especially for those on a variable pricing plan who set charging for nighttime hours when rates are lowest.
Greater driving range and faster charging speeds tend to be found in the pricier EVs, but with the technology improving rapidly, these features will soon be found in more affordable models.
In the summer of 2019, we drove our new Bolt EV round-trip to Denver. With fast chargers along the interstate, we timed our stops with our own needs and weren’t greatly inconvenienced: a fast charger can take our battery from 10% state of charge to 80% in a lunchtime. On our overnight stops in Lincoln, NE, we were able to leave the Bolt charging overnight in a public garage near our hotel—one reason we chose to stay there. There were some hiccups with charging, but we found the trip manageable, and our zippy, quiet Bolt was a pleasure on the road. What was an experiment a couple of years ago would be simply a long drive now, given how much the charging network has grown in just this short time.
Q. What about the cost of buying an EV?
A. EVs in general are priced higher than conventional cars, but the cost of the most expensive component, the battery, is falling due to economies of scale and improved technology even as range and charging speed are increasing. More EV models priced for average consumers will be released in the next couple of years.
Rebates and tax credits lower the cost of many EV models when purchased new. The federal government offers a tax credit of up to $7500 for the purchase of a new EV made by a manufacturer that has sold fewer than 200,000 units of any EV model (a threshold that GM and Tesla already passed). Some states, including California and Illinois, offer their own rebates. These incentive programs saved us around $11,000 for our Volt and $7,500 on our Bolt, bringing them within range of the price of a new Prius. Some states penalize EV owners by charging them higher registration fees to offset missed gas taxes that fund road maintenance. The Biden administration is also offering rebates on the installation of charging stations, including Level 2 chargers for home use, and some states such as Illinois are doing the same.
Plenty of previously owned EVs are available as well. Higher-range used EVs hold their value impressively, and a second-hand Tesla can cost even more than the same model new. These prices reflect not only the overall shortage of new cars currently but the higher values of vehicles with few components to break, malfunction, or age. The upside of these higher prices is the greater confidence a buyer can have in the value of a used EV. The degradation of a battery’s energy storage capacity is the biggest potential concern in a used EV, but experience has shown that most battery technologies realize less degradation than once anticipated—a good thing, as they are an EV’s single most expensive component to replace.
Buyers should consider that the higher purchase price for an EV will be offset by lower maintenance costs as well as savings on gas purchases.
Q: What about those battery fires?
Fires have occurred in Teslas, Hyundai Konas, Chevy Bolts, and other EVs. (They also occur in ICE vehicles!) These have been terrible events for individual owners, but statistically they are very rare and they have not noticeably affected sales of or interest in EVs. And they have led to improvements in technology and manufacturing. Few drivers of models affected by fires have returned to driving ICEs, even if they have lost confidence in that particular model. Challenges and set-backs are bound to occur with any new technology.
Fires in the Chevy Bolt prompted a recent recall of all 140,000+ units (110,000 in the US), a sales stoppage for unsold vehicles, and a temporary shut-down of production as the battery manufacturer, LG Energy, corrected the manufacturing defect that predisposed certain batteries to catch on fire. Production of batteries as well as vehicles has resumed and GM has committed to replacing entire battery packs in the 2017-2019 model year cars and defective modules in 2020-2022s. Our 2019 Bolt with its South Korea-made battery was in the group of Bolts most affected by fires, which did bring some anxiety with it. For several months we put up with reduced range to follow GM’s guidance for minimizing the chance of a fire, and we paid to park it in an unheated local municipal garage rather than in our condo building’s garage to reduce risk to our neighbors’ property. We also pursued a repurchase from GM and eventually received a generous offer. However, we decided to wait for the replacement battery because we so enjoy the car and because we could not find even a preowned EV that gave us the Bolt’s combination of generous range, zippy one-pedal driving, and small size at no net cost to us. Because our car was in the high-risk group it was among the first to get a battery replacement. The new battery has the enhanced range and faster charging of the 2022 model year, as well as a new 100,000-mile/8-year warranty, effectively giving us a new car in the body of a 2019. We are very glad to be able to keep our Bolt. Not every manufacturer has handled fires in their models in this way. EV buyers should consider the history and statistical likelihood of a battery fire and weigh the rare chance of one with the many upsides to EV ownership.
Q: What are some exciting new things happening with EVs?
A: This is the moment for EVs: an ad for the new Polestar (made by a bespoke EV manufacturer owned by Volvo) was shown on Fox Sports’ broadcast of this year’s World’s Series. Exciting new things are happening all the time, in addition to announcements of new and improved models. For example:
Hertz just announced its plan to buy 100,000 Teslas, which will make EVs one-fifth of its rental fleet. This chance to drive a Tesla could convert a lot of drivers to EV ownership.
Tesla is planning to make its huge network of charging stations accessible to all other EV models by the end of this year, while GM and the federal government are also planning to expand this essential infrastructure. With manufacturers working on technology for faster-charging batteries, public confidence in the feasibility of EV driving, especially long-distance travel, will follow.
Recycling of lithium-ion batteries (currently the standard for EVs) is essential to making EVs an even greener alternative to ICE vehicles. This recycling is currently the focus of much research and entrepreneurship. GM claims to recycle 100% of its EVs’ discarded batteries, and researchers just announced that the recycled cathodes from old batteries can even outperform new material.
https://www.myev.com/ : resources and used EV marketplace
https://insideevs.com/ : EV news and reviews
https://electrek.co/ : News, reviews, and analysis of the electric vehicle market
Hertz to buy Teslas for their rental fleet: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2021/10/25/hertz-tesla-electric-vehicles-ev-rental-car/6171433001/
Recycled EV batteries are fine! : https://spectrum.ieee.org/recycled-batteries-good-as-newly-mined?utm_source=Nature+Briefing&utm_campaign=3899bbb037-briefing-dy-20211019&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c9dfd39373-3899bbb037-45916490
Battery Recycling industry taking off : https://spectrum.ieee.org/lithiumion-battery-recycling-finally-takes-off-in-north-america-and-europe
EV Road Trip from Chicago to New York City (7 minutes)
Margot McMahon ‘84 has owned her Tesla 3 since 2018. She shared her First EV Road Trip on social media travelogue: (Round Trip 1600 miles at .28/min of supercharging) with charging an Tesla 3 Electric Vehicle. Costs: less than $100. plus, tolls, meals and hotel. The travel time calculation was for 15 hours (including charging.) Each charging station was guided by the Tesla GPS program for recharging her EV’s regular size battery (about every 180 miles.)
Planning my Road Trip, I checked charging stations maps with Plugshare app. (Plugshare gives specific consumer advice on which floor of a parking garage to find a charger.)
Chargepoint service network offered many choices! I decided to charge at 4 Tesla super chargers (soon available for all EVs). Tesla’s GPS for charging stations is available on my phone or car screen. I could also choose a different charging station.
Tesla app designed my trip with four supercharging stations.