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Comfort and Joy

Pop Quiz: What stays warm all winter, cool all summer, and won’t break the family utility budget?

Answer: Green New Deal Housing’s Net Zero homes!

We know from experience, because our family has been living net-zero since 2014.

When we set out to build our new home, working with designer Rachel Wagner (about 7 years before she co-founded Green New Deal Housing), we knew we wanted it to be as energy-efficient as possible, and that we wanted to “live with the sun.” With a well-planned green design, an excellent builder, and the habits we have formed while living in the house, we have made it to “net zero” every year we’ve lived in the house.

My partner and I are both environmentalists and we are very concerned about climate change. We know that solving the climate crisis will require big changes in how our homes are built: using renewable energy, greener (healthier) building techniques and solutions ready for the weather extremes coming our way. We were excited to pilot this kind of design and construction in our cold climate.

Our house is attractive and looks mostly like a traditional modern home on the outside. What visitors notice immediately at our place are the solar panels, which are placed on a roof pitched and oriented to harvest sunlight and convert it to electricity to power the home.

Indoors, the next thing guests notice are the deep window sills. We have thick walls with extra insulation that keeps us cozy even during extreme cold. Our windowsills offer a place to sit for a bit and contemplate the outdoors, set a cup of coffee while reading or place house plants looking for light. The attic is also ultra-insulated, as is the “slab,” the foundation of our home.

Not immediately obvious, but with great importance for our lifestyle, are the triple-paned windows. This is one of the most important features of our net-zero home. We wanted a variety of well-lit spaces in our home, and that meant a lot of windows. But windows can be an energy problem if not done right. We have never regretted that choice and it’s what keeps us so snug in the winter while allowing for plenty of light. It can be 20-below outside and we’re cozy—no drafts, very little frost, just pure enjoyment of the wintry scene outside.

In summer, we live pretty actively in our home, meaning we like to open windows wide to usher in the cool night air and close them during the hottest part of the day to keep the warm air from flowing in. Not everyone will want to stay on top of it like that, but it’s one reason we almost never need air conditioning, even during the hottest days and nights.

Another feature is the deep overhang of the roof. It keeps direct sunlight from heating us up in summer, while giving us a lot of natural light. And in winter, spring and fall, the sun’s energy enters the house—what my grandfather used to marvel over as “free heat.”

We did not want to include any fossil fuels in our home. It took a while to adjust to the idea of not cooking over a flame. But when we considered the indoor health implications from cooking with gas and the fact that society needs to transition away from fossil fuels, we chose not to have a gas stove. Now we run all Energy Star electric appliances, and that includes our Kenmore Induction stove, which we love. We will never go back. It boils a kettle of water in around one minute! Super-fast and great control.

The extremes of Minnesota’s winters and summers are growing ever more intense under climate change. Transitioning to housing that is more energy efficient, more comfortable and affordable seems too good to be true. But that’s exactly what Green New Deal Housing (GNDH) offers.

Imagine this: eagerly awaiting your electricity bill every month to see how much money you are saving on energy! This is our experience and it’s what GNDH homeowners can expect in the years to come. In our case, we pay a $40.00 monthly electric service fee (Lake Country Power). Other than that, we generally use a little less electricity than we produce, so year-round we essentially don’t have an energy bill.

We were fortunate. We had the means to hire an architect and a builder to design and construct our zero energy house. While our neighbors complain about the price of propane or how their electric bill is about the size of their mortgage payment, we live without the worry of monthly energy costs. The benefits our home has brought us are endless, but they are not yet available for everybody. We can’t wait for Green New Deal Housing to bring them to our neighbors, too.

Meredith Cornett is a climate expert with a PhD in Forestry and more than 20 years of experience in the field of conservation. She is an adjunct member of the graduate faculty in the University of Minnesota’ Forest Resources and Conservation Sciences programs, and is the Climate Change Director for The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota/North Dakota/South Dakota. She lives with her family in a zero energy home nestled in Minnesota’s Northwoods.

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