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back to article California's 'Zero Energy House' is actually massive fossil hog

In startling enviro-technology news, it has been reported that an ordinary 1950s house in California has been given a "green renovation" which has apparently made it a "Zero Energy House" and won its builders an award from the state government. Zenergy Prototype House exterior. Credit: REAS Not some nasty cold, dark hut for …

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Heating in LA ?

Thats three times the power needed for (our) house in Galway, Ireland. Purely heated electrically !

(with wind power contract). The house is well insulated, though.

They need to heat the place in LA in winter ? The outside temps average13 C in January ... you could keep the house toasty with just proper glazing to absorb the heat (we do!). The house is nowhere near the German Passive standards that are becoming the housing regulations across Europe. Far from being particularly impressive, it would be unsaleably wasteful in Europe in the next decade.

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Unsellably wasteful?

Not in a market where the mouldier the property the more valuable it is. In other words in that one particular country in EU which considers itself special in anything and everything.

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WTF?

Weird

Couldn't the house have been heated entirely by ground and air source heat pumps? I would have thought that the climate there would have made that the ideal solution, and with a little modification the pool would have made a great thermal mass to store up the heat.

I'm pretty sure that the same system could even be used to cool the house in summer instead of air-con.

Does that the company pushing this house actually have no idea of the technologies available?

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No

Most of California is one big landslide zone.

The part that is not landslide prone is earthquake zone. It is not a place where you can drill for a heat pump without facing your friendly neighhborhood lynch mob next morning. At least I would not (even if the state regs allow for it which IIRC they do not).

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Bad targets => bad behaviour

The house could have used GSHP or air-sourced heat pumps as you suggest. However they rely on electricity. If they are basing their claim to fame on zero net electricity usage, conveniently ignoring natural gas in their calculations - then it 'makes sense' to use gas to heat the house and for DHW. One or two simple omissions from the calculations and plenty of public ignorance and lack of curiosity makes sure they receive their award and the press attention.

Eco-renovations of old housing stock that are useful tend to be extremely unsexy - lots of insulation, draught-proofing, replacement glass/windows where necessary, sensible point-deployment of little bits of technology (like TRVs and energy monitors) that can regulate energy use somewhat and a whole heap of turning stuff off when it's not being used. That kind of project does not compete with new build eco-houses or apparently magical "zenergy" houses for column inches.

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not sexy, but smart if you are going to be their for the long haul...

Spot on. I've been slowly "greening" an older home, with the primary consideration being fuel and electrictiy costs, rather then carbon emissions. Sensible choices, taking into consideration all types of energy used in a change is the key. (note: it's quite easy for me to track what I get billed, carbon emissons are a tad more difficult. Frankly I'm really not sure it is even resonably possible. The only numbers I've seen are guesses, based on useage and that have assumptions I could drive a ISO cargo ship through.)

What I have found is the changes are not sexy, and won't win you any kind of recognison. They also tend to involve relitively high capital costs, but are long lasting. Things like new windows, new appliences, LED lighting (1/2 the power usage of the CF bulbs, longer life, and no quicksilver). I'm trying to get a GSHP, but I just cant get the capital, (although the current system isn't too bad).

Insulation was the first thing I did.. and they over-billed me for heating all winter. So that really is the cheapest, and most valuble thing you can do.

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Incorrect Figures.

On the linked "77 million btu in kilowatt hours / 12" search, one comparison given is that this is "1/6 the average yearly US single-family hoome electricity use" - implying that the energy use is half the quoted government figure - so closer to 940kWh per month.

Which basically places the Zenergy house at 3 times a similarly-sized house, rather than the 1-and-a-half that the govt figures show. Depends on whether you trust Wolfram Alpha or the US Government more, and quite how much you want to bash the Zenergy house!

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No, really, this reporter is good...

Her Bio says she was ".. program manager for Public Architecture in San Francisco, CA,"

Must be good, right?

Aha, but it goes on..." where she oversaw all aspects of their 1% Program, encouraging architects to give 1% of their time to the public good, pro bono. "

So, she was given an important-sounding job title, but what it meant was that she was kept well clear of doing any architecture work. She was probably in charge of the spread sheet which people reported their charity work to....

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Happy

Sir tin of binrite

Who cares? She's hot!

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OMG, she drives a Prius

Cliché much?

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Small Print to the Rescue!

Hey, come and see our Zero Energy House!*

* True for large values of zero.

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Paris Hilton

Awww bless!

At least the Americans are *trying* to be seen to be having a go at being green... Bet there's a Hummer parked in the garage too.

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There's only one valid test

Cut off their utilities and see what stays running.

While not forgetting that water takes energy to be pumped to the house, more energy to be made safe to drink and yet more energy to take the sewage away afterwards (always supposing they don't manage to dispose or recycle their own waste products).

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Tough to get right, even if you're not a total charlatan

These guys are basically charlatans. But the trouble for people trying to build in a low energy/low carbon/world friendly way is that green building is still in its infancy and its something of a minefield finding materials ( this one is a bit dodgy, that one doesn't last very well, this other one works great but takes loads of energy to produce and transport ) let alone finding people with the expertise to use them and design for them.

So even if you're trying honestly to build something like that it's very hard to get right and you end up having to become an expert in a whole lot of fields because there just aren't the people who know about them in circulation yet.

Which means when you get Green Building organisations endorsing people like this, it *really* doesn't help.

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Maths teaching in the US isn't that great

On average - there are obviously some very good schools. California does relatively poorly overall, despite its wealth.

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"combined hydronic heating system"

So it's a bog-standard combi boiler then. Brilliant.

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Use coal

Taken to a logical conclusion, if I had a coal-fired (preferably really dirty lignite) or oil fired boiler (make it a big hot one to produce steam to run a turbine as well) and therefore generated all my own power I'd be super-green - at least by LA standards. Also my Humvee would be clean and green - it doesn't use leccie either - result!

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Onward!

indeed

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Wicked Euro Socialist Buildings

Can *really* do without any energy consumption:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-energy_building

(Averaged over a period of 12 years).

This story reminds me of General Motors "Energy Saving Breakthrough" of using Aluminum instead of Steel for their V8 (yes, that's EIGHT-Cylinder) motor. Which are needed for these Road Ships they call "SUVs".

Companies like VW use a tiny two-cylinder engine and light metals to build a small car frame and the result is a consumption of less than 3 litres per 100km. That's 124 miles/Gallon in Yank units.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VW_Lupo

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3 not 2 cylinder

But thats just an excuse to tell the story of why they built it again. VW heard talk of Renault building a 3 litre clio and thought is was 3l/100km... Turns out it was the clio V6 3.0.

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Boffin

Not quite

124 miles/Gallon would be about 1.897 litres per 100km.

The proper Yank unit for 3 litres per 100km is 78.4 miles/Gallon

Even if you mean the ol' Imperial Gallon instead of the Yank one,

it would still mean 2.278 litres per 100km, not 3.

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Ah yes.

The Lupo 3L.

The automotive equivalent of self flagellation whilst wearing a hair shirt. That's not a car, it's a lifestyle choice for po-faced leafmunchers. The only purpose it serves as far as I can see is to make the G-Wiz look like a viable mode of transport.

Call me when they do this with something that seats five with luggage, doesn't do a passable impression of a mobile chicane and where you still have all your fillings when you arrive at your destination.

The icon was relevant though.

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Nah

"""air conditioning (the latter often seen as essential to life in much of California) """

If you need aircon in California, that means you're living too far from the ocean, which means you're actually in Nevada or Arizona (They clearly drew the lines wrong.)

I've lived without heating or aircon in CA for ~5 years. I mean I had a heater, but I never lit the pilot light or nudged the thermostat above minimum. Occasionally I need to throw on a sweat shirt (Which is hard, since none of us Californians like to wear shirts, natch.)

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Stop

Holy leeping frogs of light!

How is it possible? For two years in my New Hampshire house, I'll miss it, the total energy use averaged 2130 kilowatt hours per month (yes I keep a spreadsheet, why do you ask?) but that was the whole thing including heat and hot water. Damn, just where do they set the thermostat to use that much heat? Oh, let me guess, heated pool. Time for those kids to fit up some solar hot water panels. I can tell you where I won't be living when I get out to LA in a few months. Damn, just what have I gotten myself into.

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I've got Hydronics too!

Until now I thought I just had a combi boiler and some radiators.

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And i bet

They got large sum's of money from Green groups/quangos to help build this zero energy house.

How you don't include gas as an energy is stupid.

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California Facts

"air conditioning (the latter often seen as essential to life in much of California)"

Such a general statement - Do you have any idea how big California is? Socal and Norcal have very different climates as well as the difference between the inland valleys and coast.

Along the coast here in socal, the ocean acts as a giant heat sink - Its not too hot in the summer and not too cold in the winter. No air conditioning and minimal heat in the winter.

California -

- Total 163,696 sq mi (423,970 km2)

- Width 250 miles (400 km)

- Length 770 miles (1,240 km)

UK -

- Total 94,060 sq mi (243,610 km2)

- Width 300 miles (500 km)

- Length 700 miles (1,100 km)

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Big Brother

Al Gore

... must be an investor in this company. No one but Al himself makes more money off this "Greening" junk, this companies service is obviously junk.

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Joke

They could go 'negative net energy'

If they ran it on snake oil.

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Comparison with my house

"...averaged 85 Therms a month from December '09 through march 2010 (our heating season in LA). ... ...same as 2491 kilowatt-hours per month."

My house uses about 30% more energy (my *total* energy consumption during the heating season, compared to 2491 kwh/month). But my house is, I believe, larger. And located in Canada (where's it is quite a bit colder during winter than SoCal). And occupied by five people, several of whom are home all day. Make the necessary adjustments, and I believe my 20-year-old house is more energy efficient per any reasonable unit of comparison.

Credit to Mr. Page for spotting a phoney. Good work.

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Phoney

this could not be more phoney if it was printed on $9 bills talk about a scam this would make that mythical Nigerian Prince blush

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WTF?

Al Gore would be proud.

I have been trying to make my house more Energy efficient and found that it is almost impossible to get straight answers about energy savings.

This sounds so familiar to what I have run into.

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Boffin

Most California eco-ratings

Are just green-wash. I learned tat when working in the lighting industry in California, dealing with the California Lighting technology Center (CLTC) a few years back.

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Anonymous Coward

2,5 MWh/month

Well, thats a little less than I use for my home. Granted, I have two bathrooms *less*.

But also one IBM 7040-41R (aka P670) *more* in the basement, so I got potential for optimization...

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awful maths

"Eighty-five therms is the same as 2491 kilowatt-hours per month. A normal household in the Western USA, according to the US government, uses 77 million British Thermal Units annually - which is the same as 1881 kilowatt-hours per month. The Zenergy house uses a third more energy than the regional household average, and one may note that by American standards it is by no means large (3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms)."

85 Therms in 4 months is 34 million BTU, and that's their heating season. You do know the difference between annual and monthly measurements, don't you Lewis?

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Correction: 78 MPG

Sorry for confusing kilometers and miles. Its's 78 miles/Gallon (mile==1600m, Gallon==3.78 liter) with the VW Lupo.

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Headmaster

horrible units kWh/month

arghh, kilowatt-hours per month. can you please uses joules per month maybe?

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it is a standard

you may not like it (personley I think it is the spawn of satan) but killowatt-hours are a standard for energy in the energy industry so it is corect to use it in this sotry

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Anonymous Coward

no way

Someone had to make a math mistake somewhere.

Michigan, 3600 sq ft from 1950, leaky single pane windows. Hot water heat with 4 elec circulatory pumps. 65" DLP that is on 24 hours per day (really). 50" plasma on 6 hours per day. 2 PCs, one on 24 hours per day. Many lights left on for hours at a time.

I waste so much energy it's sick. I don't even try. Hell, I left a window half open all winter so that the house wouldn't smell of cigarette smoke.

Jan 2010 1964 kwh, Feb 2010 2168 kwh

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WTF?

"We are not including the use of natural gas or water into our "Zero Energy" calculations. "

They might as well go the whole hog and just say; "We are not including the use of energy into our "Zero Energy" calculations. " Asshats.

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Local warming

Judging from the photograph, the heat from the zero energy gas fireplace is going right out the open window.

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Onward!

"We are not including the use of natural gas or water into our "Zero Energy" calculations. The "Zero Energy" refers to electrical use only."

Rather sad, given that electrical energy *can* be generated without a CO2 footprint and gas-fueled systems can't.

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WTF?

title

Let me see if I understand this.

If they don't count the energy it uses, it uses no energy.

Is that right?

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Amazing

""Hydronic" simply means the use of water to transmit heat generated in some other way - in this case by burning fossil fuel, specifically natural gas."

Gas central heating then...

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Anonymous Coward

We do not understand the word "zero"

Over many years engineering work in the US I came to realize that far too many people simply do not comprehend the concept of "zero". It is after all an abstract idea, merely a symbol to express the idea of "nothingness". However many (if not most) engineers and other scientists will insist

on using zero (0) as a cardinal. Even in binary where there are only two symbols, these are not actually numbers but merely a way of representing the difference between "something" the 1, and "nothing" the 0.

It is completely invalid to count physical things starting with the zero, typically this is used with hard-disks where the first one is called HDD0 and the second one HDD1 and so on. Try working with a site technician over the phone and ask him to pull out card 4. He will go around the back of the rack and counting from the RHS will pull card number 4. Oh dear he just took out a full OC3 because the slots on the front are numbered 0-1-2-3-4 so physical card 4 corresponds to card 3 in the system......

By the way have you met my "zero'th" wife? or did I hear your "zero'th" child has just graduated high-school?

Glad to have got this off my chest!

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Re : We do not understand the word "zero"

So approx. how many years old where you when just born ?

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Combined hydronic heating system

"Hydronic" simply means the use of water to transmit heat generated in some other way - in this case by burning fossil fuel, specifically natural gas.

Genius! When I sell my house I'm going to say it's got a combined hydronic heating system instead of a combi boiler.

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Paris Hilton

Huh?

'"Hydronic" simply means the use of water to transmit heat generated in some other way'

So... that would be a boiler and central heating system then?

How do yanks circulate heat in their homes, if not by water pipes?

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forced air

Forced air is the most common, from what I have seen in the USofA.

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Air

"How do yanks circulate heat in their homes, if not by water pipes?"

Newer home built since the mid 70s typically use air ducts as its more conducive to air conditioning and heat pumps. Steam and hot water circulation systems are rare outside the most northern areas.

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