05 June 2012

Austin Energy's 10,000th Green-Rated Home

A few weeks ago Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB) celebrated their 10,000th green-rated home. Begun in 1991, the AEGB program now rates more than 500 green homes each year, with 77 homes earning the maximum five-star rating in 2011. The 10,000th home, a 1,300 square foot house with a detached 800 square foot studio, was among the 15% or so of rated homes that earn five stars.

What I love about this house -- and about it being celebrated as AEGB's 10,000th green home -- is that, while the studio is new construction, the main house isn't.  It was built in the 1920s and its renovation shows that even a nearly hundred-year-old house can be made energy-efficient, water wise, and sustainable -- and that this can be done without sacrificing any of its vintage charm.

The owners' green journey began when they decided to invest in solar panels, prompting them to explore ways to make the home more efficient and then to bring the entire home up to modern efficiency standards. With a variable-speed and ductless mini-split air conditioning system, spray foam insulation, fiber cement siding, ceiling fans, and seven kilowatts of solar power plus a solar hot water system, its owners expect that it will be net zero this summer.

Some highlights of the ceremony:
  • An AEGB representative noted that the 10,000th house was easy...it was the first 9,999 that were hard.

  • One of the homeowners noted that installing solar panels gave him a form of financial security (and therefore peace of mind) because his electricity is now paid for forever, so he is protected against increases in electric costs. (I had never thought of it that way...but yes.)

  • The contractor responsible for the renovations, Kristof Irwin of Blue Heron Builders, used this Ralph Washington Sockman quote to describe advances in building science: "The larger the continent of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder."

Kristof is a true building scientist worthy of an entire post of his own.  (To come.)

But back to the house. The studio was designed as a guest house with office space above.

And there's a huge vegetable garden out back...

(that's about half of it)

...with an industrial-strength compost system....

All in all, it was a great house to celebrate as Austin's 10,000th green-rated home. But ultimately, the event was really a celebration of everything that Austin's green building community has done over the last 20+ years -- which far exceeds the 10,000 homes that have been formally rated.

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