Tour helps homeowners go green

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Renewable Energy Society showcases sustainable technologies

By Laura Herrington Watson

Colorado residents flocked to Arapahoe Community College on Saturday, Sept. 29, to pick up a treasure map to 14 destinations teeming with information about green-housing upgrades.

The Sustainable Living Tour, hosted by the Colorado Renewable Energy Society, showcased vendors and houses dedicated to renewable-energy practices. The vendors offered seminars on design, financing and other aspects of renewable-energy upgrades.

The purpose of the tour was “to demonstrate in a real application setting that sustainable energy and energy efficiency is a viable option for houses in all locations, and of all incomes,” said Lorrie McAllister, executive director of the Renewable Energy Society.

This year the tour focused not just on high-tech upgrades but on sustainability and lifestyle: composting, xeric landscapes and proximity to public transit. Ranging from suburban to traditional, and from historic to new, homes on the tour displayed the various possibilities of sustainable energy designs.

In its 16th year, the tour focused for the first time mainly on neighborhoods southwest of Denver.

Homeowners led tours of their houses, accompanied by volunteers from the Renewable Energy Society and vendors of sustainable energy technology.

A chance to ‘dream big’

Rick Dahl of Lakewood is in the process of insulating his house, and wants to see what other energy-efficient upgrades he can make. Dahl said he attended the tour “to talk to homeowners, to see what works and how much everything costs.”

“This is a chance for people to get ideas for your current home, or dream big for your next home,” said McAllister. 

Scattered around the 14 energy-efficient homes along the tour, 150 to 200 locals wandered through rooms, scribbling furiously in notebooks.

Two new homes in Morrison offered a glimpse of what the near future could hold for energy-sustainable homes, featuring everything from solar hot water and new Energy Star appliances to electric vehicle charging stations and photovoltaic solar panels. Two Ken Caryl homes also had high-tech gear that included electric cars and charging stations.

Another stop along the tour was the Littleton home of 60-year-old Richard Noldes. Noldes bought his 1970s home with the intention of renovating it. He did six months worth of research on energy upgrades before making changes, then designed his new windows and performed much of the remodeling work himself.

Noldes is proud of his terraced xeric year-round garden and photovoltaic solar panels, which translate to extremely low water use and the ability to bank power with Xcel. Noldes said he saves two-thirds of the electric power collected by his solar panels and used only 4,000 gallons of water during the record summer heat. 

“This is not a tropical savanna, folks,” Noldes said. 

A computer programmer, Noldes diligently tracks the solar energy generation against his energy use. “I’m hoping for a net-zero energy use,” he said.

Noldes also urges his neighbors to upgrade.

“It’s a whole lot better for the environment to fix up your house than to tear it down and rebuild,” said Noldes. “My big theme would be, ‘Live light and save the Earth one room at a time.’ ”

Pairing homeowners with vendors, contractors

The Renewable Energy Society doesn’t expect everyone to go to the lengths that Noldes has. John McAllister, a volunteer with the energy society and husband of executive director Lorrie McAllister, recognizes many people looking to go green are couples or families.

“We don’t suggest this level of involvement for most people. Remodeling is very difficult, especially for families and marriages,” said John McAllister, who has done some small-scale upgrades with his wife.

Instead, the society hopes to pair ambitious homeowners first with those who have already been through the process of “greening” their homes, and then with appropriate vendors and contractors.

John, who has been in the energy business since the ‘70s, has seen the push for renewable energy come and go, only to come back again with greater force. “There was so little regulation … and a lot of failures that gave the industry a black eye.”

John said that although industries always undergo ups and downs, he believes “this up-turn will stick around.”

Mike Hall is a 20-something looking to buy a home in the Littleton/Englewood area, and he wants it to be energy efficient from the start, because “it’s going to become a standard to make homes more efficient,” he said.

Hall’s friend Zachary was on the tour to find upgrade ideas “to make my home Earth-integrated. It’s all about long-term thinking.”

Long-term thinking aside, John McAllister says a federal tax credit covering 30 percent of consumers’ energy-efficiency purchases probably has something to do with burgeoning homeowner interest in greening properties.