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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  1. amck

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      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.

  2. Anonymous Coward


    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?

    1. Anonymous Coward


      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).

    2. Max Pritchard

      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.

      1. Oninoshiko
        Thumb Up

        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.

  3. Daniel Evans

    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!

  4. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    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....

  5. Robin

    Small Print to the Rescue!

    Hey, come and see our Zero Energy House!*

    * True for large values of zero.

  6. Arkasha
    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.

  7. Pete 2 Silver badge

    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).

    1. Ed Carter

      Sir tin of binrite

      Who cares? She's hot!

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        OMG, she drives a Prius

        Cliché much?

  8. breakfast
    Thumb Down

    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.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    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.

  10. Mike Watt

    "combined hydronic heating system"

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

  11. sandman

    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!

  12. John 62



  13. Anonymous Coward

    Wicked Euro Socialist Buildings

    Can *really* do without any energy consumption:

    (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.

    1. Paul 4

      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.

    2. ratfox Silver badge

      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.

    3. TeeCee Gold badge

      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.

  14. Nexox Enigma


    """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.)

  15. Eddy Ito Silver badge

    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.

  16. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge

    I've got Hydronics too!

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

  17. Scott 19
    Thumb Down

    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.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    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)

  19. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  20. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    They could go 'negative net energy'

    If they ran it on snake oil.

  21. JeffyPooh Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    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.

  22. John Dougald McCallum


    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

  23. Hud Dunlap

    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.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    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.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    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...

  26. DaWolf

    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?

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Correction: 78 MPG

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

  28. Paul

    horrible units kWh/month

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

  29. Anonymous Coward
    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

    1. mmiied

      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

  30. Magnus_Pym
    Thumb Down


    "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.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Local warming

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

  32. Ken Hagan Gold badge


    "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.

  33. Stratman


    Let me see if I understand this.

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

    Is that right?

  34. Anonymous Coward


    ""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...

  35. Anonymous Coward
    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!

    1. Chemist

      Re : We do not understand the word "zero"

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

  36. Valerion
    Thumb Up

    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.

  37. Richard 81
    Paris Hilton


    '"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?

  38. Luiz Abdala

    2491 kilowatt-hours!!!! per month!

    Geezus H. Christ!!! I must be a caveman of sorts, since my home runs on only 340 Kwh.

    Yes, that would be a refrigerator, a TV, a PC and an occasional (once per week, natch) washing machine (that would be cloth-washer right?), and dishwasher. Also, lights, air-con, etc... On natural gas, I got water heating, oven... etc.

    I am greenier than any yankee. Yet my home is totally conventional.

    If that is their "green" house I don´t want to know their "gas guzzler" or "oil rig" home.

    By the way, what is the point in having a 2-ton SUV converted to hidrogen? Just to call it "green"? You still have to lug around a 2-ton iron boulder on wheels, which is such a waste of natural resources. You have to change people habits, just technology won´t do.

    Some research found that one of the greatest pollution sources in 3rd world countries would be motorcycles, in proportion to how much stuff they carry around. Yes, the 250cc or less, air-cooled kind. These are built by Yamaha, Honda, etc.... Why not make them electric? Even small batteries on todays tech could give those great autonomy. Since a 11hp eletric engine is tiny, all the rest of the curb weight of these could be bike-shaped batteries. (A 250cc bike tips the scale to 136kg while heavier, sportier bikes weight some 300kg). The answer is cost, as usual.

    (Some nutjob built such 250cc-equivalent eletric bike which, pun intended, smoked the competition. It was faster, and wouldn´t need refueling for a whole day of racing or such).

    What a bunch of hypocrites.

  39. Brian D. Switzer 1

    wait a minute

    So if I install a natural gas powered electric generator, or even a diesel powered one, and run my house off that I can claim it to be zero energy?

    <head pounding on wall>

    I'm having some difficulty with that.

    1. Oninoshiko

      forced air

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

    2. Eddie Johnson


      "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.

    3. markp 1

      about the bikes

      One of the big, BIG emissions problems causing those bikes to be a major pollution source is that many of them are dirty, poorly serviced 2-strokes - and those which are 4-stroke are still carburettor based with no catalyser. They're emissions monsters despite not using that much fuel.

      My 125cc "starter bike" is a 3rd-world-spec Honda, whose sole nods towards modernity are electronic ignition, 4-stroke cycle and a 5-speed shift. It makes an awful smell if you are in even a mildly enclosed area, particularly when on the choke. Very obvious that it's chucking out more noxious crap than even my (14x larger engined) 5-seat car. Now multiply that engine by a few million, and you've got a problem, and maybe the reason that everyone converting to Tata Nanos in India may cause traffic meltdown, but probably NOT killer smog.

      However, I still ride it for eco reasons because, in the grand scheme of things, it's a whole lot more efficient as single-person transport. Like, to the tune of 3x better fuel economy. If I step up to a more powerful, easier-starting PGFI + cat model of the same or slightly higher displacement (125->150, say), then my conscience will be clearer still, as it should be nearly as clean - in terms of emissions as a percentage of total exhaust - as a modern car. Or at least, one of an age that I'd be able to afford for the same price as the bike (eg Euro 2 rather than Euro 4... either are better than just "spew whatever the hell you like into the air"). Whilst also putting out a third or less exhaust anyway (and saving me bags of cash at the pump).

      BTW if your 250cc motor is putting out 11hp, you need to get it tuned - that's what my 125 produces. It's just about right for scooting around the city, with the machine's modest kerb weight pegging the PWR about the same as an 80s city car, though the legal max (for learner class) of 14hp would be more comfortable and make it more viable for longer, rural runs also. I'd be quite interested to see how an electric one would perform, as I imagine it'd be like a CVT scooter with less rev lag - after almost a year of riding a geared bike I'm still occasionally stalling starts because of the difficulty of keeping it in the torque band off the line without thrashing it. It'd make things easier as well as cleaner.

      The problem would be one of range. For a tank-filling 11 litres of fuel (so, about 10kg), I can go 250 miles, and though the engine itself is a cast-iron lump it's still only maybe 25 kilos including transmission and oil. I can't see, say, 30kg of battery (and a 5kg, sprocketed motor) giving anywhere near that range, even on an efficient 2-wheeler. 300kg in an only 1/3rd as efficient car struggles to get over 100 miles, and I can easily exceed that in a day if there's a lot of things to be done (to & from work, go drop things off at my dad's place, pick up shopping from a couple of different spots, etc). Yes, you could make the battery a structural element, problem is that's not a new idea on bikes - the fuel tank often does similar anyway.

      I'd be interested to see that "250cc" electric race bike of yours, see how heavy it was, whether it was still within the same power class as its competition, and crucially how long those races were. I'll bet they weren't enduros. Any electric bikes I've seen offered for sale - at least, at prices that don't cause hysterical laughter - have terrible power outputs AND short range. Like, 2 horsepower, and 25 miles. I'd be late for work and then get stranded coming home. There are some which can do a perfectly acceptable 50-60mph and cover 45+ miles... but they're a touch heavy, still include crank-pedals for human boosting (or crawling home on a flat battery, as you can't exactly wheel it to a filling station and quickly dump in a few litres), and run to many thousands of pounds. That's superbike kind of money. Not going to be affordable by people who are either using it as a net money-saving venture (like myself), or because they simply haven't got enough ready cash to buy a car (like most of the heavily-polluted 3rd world places - they can't even afford modern fossil-powered bikes, for heaven's sake).

      Not really hypocrites, you know. Just limited by funds and technology. It will get better, but you have to give these things time. Consider the history of ICEs themselves - they were rubbish for about the first 30-40 years.

  40. Anonymous Coward

    gushing terms

    Yes, something is gushing here. glad i've got my coat on to keep it off me.

    Yes, that's my rain slicker. thanks.

  41. Cliff


    Implying it is low-energy just to sell fossil-fuel burners is sickening. And the fact that the state and newspapers endorse and celebrate it, even moreso.

    Thanks to The Register for using actual counting before awarding a badge.

  42. Martin Usher

    Where in LA?

    You energy needs vary greatly depending on how close you live to the coast -- a matter of a few miles makes a huge difference. If this house is to the west of the 405 --likely -- then it can probably get by with little heating and no A/C.

    This sort of thing is giving environmentally friendly stuff a bad name. The typical Los Angeles tract home is a nasty piece of work, its a wooden shack that has minimal insulation in the walls and roof space and single pane windows. You can do a lot by changing the windows and venting the roof space, adding some insulation improves things more. You'll get tax breaks on this, of course. Airflow management helps as well and if you've got a pool it makes a nice heat sink.

  43. John Savard Silver badge

    Not Totally Useless

    The technology could be applied to using natural gas to power an emergency generator during power failures - it does make sense to be able to use heating fuel for electricity. But most of the time, one wishes to do it the other way around, provided one's electricity is generated through carbon-free hydroelectric dams or nuclear reactors.

  44. Rippy

    NET Zero is reasonably attainable

    in Edmonton (lat 53degrees, just short of Edinburgh but in the Canadian prairies where it gets seriously cold in the winter) it's a reasonable goal to do NET zero ENERGY, but not off-grid: during the summer, generate enough solar and pump it back onto the electric grid to make up for what you draw for appliances and winter heating.

    Mind you, it's not for the faint of heart. It takes serious insulation and attention to all efficiencies, and depends on local regulations allowing you to sell electricity back on to the grid.

    See and follow the links to the engineers that can actually deliver the goods.


  45. Rattus Rattus

    Three bed, three bath?

    What? Why on earth does each bedroom need it's own individual bathroom? With only three bedrooms there should only be one bathroom. If they had five or six bedrooms, I could understand the need to *maybe* have two bathrooms. As others have pointed out, it's the wasteful attitudes of people that need changing more than the building technologies.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @Rattus Rattus

      Not lived in a shared house much have you?

      With multiple people getting ready for work in the morning (pretty common these days) at least a pair of bathrooms makes a *big* difference in how people fast people can get ready. The desire of developers to save space by combining the toilet and bathroom proper makes things worse, unless your happy with an audience should you be caught short.

      Mines the one with "Building tract homes for fun and profit" in the pocket.

    2. Herby Silver badge

      Yes, three bedroom, three bath

      If you don't understand this then it is obvious that you live in a household with parity in X and Y chromosomes. With a household with a surplus of X chromosomes it is VERY necessary to have a bathroom for each bedroom. Sharing a bathroom with someone else (unless you are intimate with them) is a real bummer!

      I know this from experience, many years of experience!

      On the other hand if you want a "green" house, look to AlGore for a nicely wild consumption. His electricity meter spins like a top!!

      1. Rattus Rattus

        @ John Smith 19 and Herby

        I don't mean to be rude, but I still don't get it, I'm sorry. I've lived for years in share houses that had:

        A) 2 Males, 1 Female (3 bed, 1 bath)

        B) 2 Males, 2 Females (3 bed, 1 bath)

        C) 3 Males, 2 Females (3 bed, 1 bath)

        D) 5 Males, 3 Females (5 bed, 2 bath)

        and none of those configurations had any problems with sharing the bathrooms. It's just courtesy, really, to do what you need to in there and get out. If several people need to get showered and ready for work, it's incredibly rude to hog the bathroom, and in my experience would result in hot taps in the rest of the house being turned on so the offender gets an ice-cold shower until he/she vacates the room to let in the next person.

        If it's a question of (assumedly) a lady spending way too long inside doing hair/makeup, again I see that as incredibly rude and selfish. People have mirrors in their bedrooms where this sort of thing can be done without inconveniencing the rest of the house.

        I must admit, though, I haven't lived in a house where females outnumbered males. If bathroom time in that situation is really that much of an issue, what do they do in there?

        1. Anonymous Coward

          I agree with you Rattus

          We have a house now with 2 1/2 bathrooms.

          As a family, we only ever had one bathroom before, and it was perfectly adequate.

          Equally true when I shared a house with 3 other people. It just wasn't a problem.

          We just didn't hog the bathroom and considered others.

          The big problem with lots of bathrooms is the cleaning :(

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            I think I'm clear

            If you think matching bedrooms and baths doesn't make sense, I can only guess you've never had a trio of teenage daughters. Bathrooms are a lot like phones, you never realize how few you have until puberty appears on the horizon.

    3. Saigua

      One bed, one entourage.

      The Zen here is I expect in the service to housing people by facebook (Jamendo?) cliques, all of whom can stare into the fireplaces until they can see the nothingness beginning. Ostensibly Warren Ellis moving in would get a 5x5 room with smoothed, engraved walls and the Suicide Girls next door. Not so bad at that usage for all that hot water, is it not?

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Thumb Up


        You're going to have to work a *lot* harder to be as incomprehensible as amanfrommars.

        But a good start.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Having a bathroom attached to every bedroom is great.

      Thanks for showing why you're nasty ideas are doomed, nobody wants them.

  46. Mips
    Jobs Horns

    Got a pool it helps?

    Yes it also helps with the water supply when you need to put a fire out.

  47. Mips
    Jobs Horns

    Zero Carbon - UK

    Well if you are not going to count gas as energy that's easy. Now where did I put that gas fired generator?

  48. scatter

    "This sort of thing has always been possible...

    ...of course, but it generally means a dwelling without heating, hot water, cooking or air conditioning (the latter often seen as essential to life in much of California) and not a lot in the way of electrical appliances either."

    Now that's not quite true.

    The Passivhaus design standard ( ) allows for a building with no traditional heating system - solar water heating and perhaps a small wood burning stove would be more than enough.

    And a decent sized (2-3kW) PV array could easily generate sufficient net electricity for an efficiently lit and equipped house over the course of a year.

    It's definitely possible (although not cheap) to have the trappings of modern life with zero net energy. Indeed a Passivhaus designed dwelling would be a lot more comfortable to live in than anything else.

    1. Charley 1

      Especially with a wood burning stove

      that you can use to heat your house, cook on and, with a wet-back installed, even heat your hot water.

      Of course, if the goal is to be energy neutral it's a pity about the energy inputs required to supply the wood. Having just brought in a couple of tractor loads that we chainsawed up and split to keep us going over a couple of months of winter, I can state from experience that you can't create energy that way.

  49. Anonymous Coward

    Combi Boilers are a con too...

    All this talk of Combi Boilers reminds me just how bad they are too! Don't fall for the hype!

    When you turn on the tap you initially run just warm water from the boiler until the combi gets up to speed a few seconds later but that can be 3 litres of wasted water (and energy to make it warm). Where-as if you had a hot water tank, you get hot water without a 'warmup'. Now everyone goes but hot water tanks lose heat! Yes, this is true, but where does that heat go? my Modern (very well insulated mains pressure) hot water tank is in the middle of the house (not near external walls and on floor 2 of 3) so the 'wasted' heat is actually just heating my house, meaning less radiator heat is required! So by using a traditional boiler and tank arrangement I get hot water instantly without any wasted warmup.

  50. Parax

    Evil-Lyn spreading nasty rumors...

    Skeletor will be pleased.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      flawed arguement.

      Regardless of your hot water means, be it combie or a hot water tank (hop you have a condensing boiler!), you still have to run the taps, releative to the length of the pipes from the source to the outlet. If you have hot water in your pipes, you have a leak somewhere or a dripping tap!

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        keeping hot water in pipes

        "If you have hot water in your pipes, you have a leak somewhere or a dripping tap!"

        Not necessarily. Hot water supply pipes can be fitted with small return lines that run from near taps back to the heater. If the taps are higher than the heater, gravity is usually sufficient to keep a small flow through the returns, and thus through the supplies; if not, there are kits available with small electric pumps.

        These systems keep hot water in the supply lines. Obviously it's a trade-off of additional energy consumption against wasting the water that you'd otherwise flush out of the supply waiting for the hot to arrive.

        In theory, you could put valves on gravity-feed returns and switches on pumped ones, and use some kind of home automation tech to determine when people were likely to want hot water, eliminating most of the energy waste. Though unless you're recouping other efficiencies with your automation setup you'd no doubt waste the savings there.

        1. Bela Lubkin

          hot water return

          No home automation needed. Put a valve on a pressure-feed return. User turns on the valve to rotate the cold water in the pipe back to the heater, switches it over to the outflow tap when it's hot enough (user will know from experience how long that takes, after the first couple of days; or can probably feel the heat in the fixtures).

          There's a bit of cost in running the pressure to cycle the cold water back, but it's less than the cost of continually cycling. You also come out ahead thermodynamically. Continuous circulation means you're always exposing the hottest water to the coldest environment, offering a steep slope for heat to escape.

          Also design-in cost to have the valves, pressure system & return pipes from each hot water tap.

          The low-tech equivalent: keep a bucket at each tap. Run the hot water tap into it until it's as hot as you want. Set bucket aside, make merry with hot water. Eventually carry the bucket back to the hot water tank, pour it in through some sort of manual valve. But: you lose more heat that way unless you have a slave to take the bucket back immediately; and heck, we know that modern humans are too lazy to do something like that...

  51. The First Dave Silver badge


    So, exactly how useful is it to pump electricity _into_ the grid when no-one needs it, and pull electricity _out_ when everyone else is doing the same?

    I presume that everyone here is aware that there is only one method (pumped-storage) of effectively storing mains electricity, and that has VERY limited capacity.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      or... buildings with a UPS and that gets charged up, then gets drawn upon when required....

    2. Aaron 10

      Electricity Demand

      Because of businesses, electricity demand is highest during the day. By putting solar panels on your house and feeding the excess energy into the grid, you're making up for the energy you're using at night -- no expensive batteries or UPS needed.

      The downside of these systems is that, if the power is not flowing to your house, ironically you cannot run your house from your solar cells unless you install a special switch. This is a safety measure so you're not energizing power lines when workers are working on them.

    3. Rippy

      @ The 1st Dave

      "So, exactly how useful is it to pump electricity _into_ the grid when no-one needs it, and pull electricity _out_ when everyone else is doing the same?"

      I can't speak for England, but in Canada the times when solar power generation is possible are also the times of maximum consumption for industrial and office needs. We haven't seen a Solar Surplus yet in Alberta, so it's pure virtue.


  52. Eddie Edwards

    Pedant alert

    "Eighty-five therms is the same as 2491 kilowatt-hours per month"

    No it isn't. 85 therms is the same as 2491 kilowatt-hours. 85 therms per month is the same as 2491 kilowatt-hours per month.

    BTW, I survived in Santa Monica for 2 years without spending anything on heating.

  53. Doc Spock

    85 therms per month!!

    "We averaged 85 therms a month from December '09 through march 10 ... The "zero energy" refers to electrical use only ... 85 therms is the same as 2491 kilowatt-hours"

    Bloody hell!

    For the four month period Nov '09 - Feb '10 inclusive (the UK "heating season") my energy usage was:

    Electricity: 120 kWh per month

    Gas: 794 kWh per month

    So - ignoring gas usage, obviously - my house is over 20 times "greener". Even counting gas, it is two and a half times better. And lest you think it's some new-fangled modern building, it's a tenement block built in 1896. Amazing what a combi boiler, central heating (sorry, hydronic heating) and double glazing can do, isn't it!

    And I'll bet it got a lot colder where I live that it did in California....

  54. Anonymous Coward

    It's all a sham.

    Just another excuse for the politically well-connected to slap each others' backs and congratulate each other on what a good job they've done shafting the common man.

    How about a cold one over at the pub and we can commiserate about the rest of their shenanigans?

  55. Spotfist


    So living in the uk means about 80% of our house are "zero energy"? Well, well, well I never! Time to lower car tax then.

  56. fred #257

    Hey I've got a Zero Energy car!

    That's right, it uses NO net electricity. Anything it drains out of the battery to start its hot-cammed Weber-carburetted motor is promptly replaced by the generator when it bursts into fuel-slurping life.

    Gosh I can feel so superior and green as I blast past those silly little electricity-guzzling battery cars...

  57. Alan Lewis 1

    REAS took language lessons from the ASA

    ...after all, if "unlimited" means limited, throttled, and capped.. then it's a simple step to redefining "zero"... which marketeers have already done in the UK anyway!

  58. Anonymous Coward

    Ermmm... B*UGHHH*OLLOCKS

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

    In other words... it has central heating..?

  59. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Gas is not an energy source?

    Icon says it all.

  60. Richard Jukes

    Energy != Electric

    Obviously if we just abolished electric and ran everything off gas it would save the world and clearly Stephen Hawking would be cured.


  61. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Builders *hate* increased insulation standards

    Puts up their costs (*very* slightly given the bulk of their cost is the land it sits on) and *only* helps their customer (and everyone else the house is ultimately sold to) save money.

    Minimal loft insulation, no mandatory double glazing, poor window designs with lumps of metal between indoors and outdoors (check what links the inside and outside door handles sometime) and council installed units with virtually *no* rubber gasket.

    Construction companies whine about how tough it is but I've never seen a large one which hasn't taken *every* opportunity to shaft customers and block improving standards.

  62. Anonymous Coward

    Tut Tut - You commentards just don't understand...

    It's California, STUPIDS!

    What ever led you to believe its emanations in the first place? Lala Land, Disneyland, Hollywood, the Terminator etc etc. It's all the same. We're nuts and we have state balance sheet to prove it.

    1. jake Silver badge

      @AC 00:06

      You forgot earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, wildfires, tsunamis, huge dry deserts, avalanches, rockfalls, and the Pacific Ocean eating the very ground our houses are sitting on out from under us. And guns and knives. Don't forget guns and knives ... People are actually allowed to openly carry guns and knives. The horror!

      PLEASE, people, stay away from California! Here be worse than dragons! Really, you do NOT want to live here! It's a job just staying alive day to day! If you do visit, please spend your money quickly & then go home before you get hurt! Ta in advance :-)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Paris Hilton

        Well, almost

        Alas, all true but the gun part. Law abiding citizens may not carry guns in CA and it's all but impossible to get a permit to carry one here. The rights you speak of are reserved for gang members who, at last count, controlled a substantial part of the urban landscape.

        As for the environmental matters you mention, we prefer to think of having four seasons just like every other temperate clime - Earthquake, fire, drought, and flood. :)

        But - we have Paris

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge


        "People are actually allowed to openly carry guns and knives."

        California is an "Open carry" state?

        Who knew.

  63. chris 130

    US green as my big hairy arse

    Message to the Yankees:

    **** Kyoto ******

    1. jake Silver badge

      @chris 130

      Your big, hairy arse is GREEN? As in no carbon emissions? Might want to get that seen to ... you probably have a problem. On the bright side, a simple diet change will likely help shift things.

      "**** Kyoto ******"

      As I thought ... unbalanced.

  64. jake Silver badge

    @AC 09:57

    "Law abiding citizens may not carry guns in CA and it's all but impossible to get a permit to carry one here."

    Incorrect. Anybody who hasn't been convicted of a felony can openly carry an unloaded weapon pretty much anywhere they want in California. With several full clips on the same belt, I might ad ... and a concealed carry permit isn't all that hard to get, if you are sane.

    "The rights you speak of are reserved for gang members who, at last count, controlled a substantial part of the urban landscape."

    Maybe in your town, but not in mine ... We target shoot on a regular basis here at the ranch, and the crack/meth-heads in the Springs District know it. The druggies leave us alone, despite several million dollars worth of tools and equipment lying around in unlocked barns & sheds. The dawgs help, no doubt ;-)

    "As for the environmental matters you mention, we prefer to think of having four seasons just like every other temperate clime - Earthquake, fire, drought, and flood. :)"

    Why pretty it up? Do you actually LIKE tourists? Yes, I know, it's tourist season[1], and tourist season means an increase in income for the boutiques & tasting rooms ... but most of said boutiques & tasting rooms are run by non-locals, so the money doesn't stay local. We get the hassle, and someone else gets the tax revenue ...

    "But - we have Paris"

    No. "We" don't. It's unwelcome here, as are most other useless wastes of time & money. If you identify with that kind of thing, I recommend you try New York or Florida.

    [1] If it's tourist season, why is it illegal to shoot them?

  65. John Smith 19 Gold badge


    "Incorrect. Anybody who hasn't been convicted of a felony can openly carry an unloaded weapon pretty much anywhere they want in California. With several full clips on the same belt, I might ad ... and a concealed carry permit isn't all that hard to get, if you are sane."

    An interesting trade off between the legal and the illegal.

  66. markp 1

    I'm already living in an almost-eco home then!

    Hey - we have an electricity meter which means we're nagged into using relatively little of the grid stuff... and of course, we have a Hydronic heating system (no need for cooling in the UK, past opening the windows of course).

    IE, gas fired central heating.

    We're allowed to discount the huge amount of methane that sucks over the winter, yes? All we need now are some solar panels, a roof turbine and some generator-equipped exercise bikes to offset the electrical consumption and we're golden. Sucks to be anyone living in flats where gas is not allowed...

    What an epic dodge. They must have balls so big that they can't sit down properly to try and get away with something like that.

  67. MostlyHarmless

    The Ultimate Zero-Energy Dwelling

    Our ancestors got there first - it's called a CAVE.

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