Despite record breaking cold winter our MI GreenStar Certified home saved 50% Energy!

Despite the extreme record breaking cold this winter, we still saved nearly 50% energy compared to the home prior to the remodel and about the same compared to conventional homes in West Michigan.
Home Energy Rating System Index (HERS) for the home was 63 after upgrades. A Standard built to code home is 85. See our certificate here. This shows the home is estimated to use 21,000 kilowatt hours over energy (kWH) a year for both gas and electric combined.
The Residential Energy Performance Score on it was 46 out of 70 which also correlates for about 24,000 kWH per year. These scores completed home performance professionals represent an asset rating per home, actual mileage may very. Because we operate our house more efficiently than the average homeowner we actually show above that we used less, only at 15,000 a year. The average home in MI uses about 39k with average in the Midwest at 37K/.
How did we get here? What did it cost? 
Insulation + Air sealing + New Door $7,587
  • Spray Foamed Attic with 20% beat and cane sugar product. 
  • Blow in Cellulose Walls 
  • Foam Rim Band Join 
  • Foam + Ecocell Basement Walls 
  • Caulk Base boards + Windows 
  • Air seal, tighten and install fiberglass door 
  • Storm Windows  -  $1,000 
Total - Heat Loss Mitigation Improvements $8,587.00 
Trane Furnace (+ better filter)  $4,225 
Trane A/C $3,626 
AO Smith Water Heater $2,872
Comfort Link II Thermostat $1,200
Panasonic Whisper Welcome Bath Fan $330.00 
Shipping $525.00
Total Heating, Ventilation & Cooling $12,778  (not counting  Ultimate Air ERV)
Total Appliance - Condensing Washer + Dryer $2,500
LED Lighting Upgrade - 16 Lights - $160.00 (with warranty)
Total $24,025.00 or $16.00 a square foot. 
Payback is roughly 15 to 20 years with projected energy cost inflation.
How do we recoup the long ROI if we don't stay in the house? 
Your home will be valued higher if you can show your have a better energy score and/or a green home certification. You don't have to stay in your home that long to recoup your investment, green homes and energy efficient homes sell for 2 to 9% more and don't sit on the market as long if they are appraised by a green appraiser and put on a green MLS (Main home sale listing site).  West Michigan just recently greened theirs and so did all of MN and part of WI! 
Summary & Lessons Learned

You don't need to by the top of the line energy efficiency products to achieve these same goals or near them. With a little more research, time and avoiding the need to get the most efficient HVAC we could have achieved these goals just the same. 
What would we have done different? 
#1 - Purchase a conventional energy star 30 or 40 gallon tank water heater with seal combustion. Tankless water heaters have a lot of maintenance to them and are expense, especially in retrofits and they often require extensive piping changes for water and gas.
The AO Smith on demand water heater NEXT was very expensive to buy, has had frequent and expensive failures and poor customer service with their company. We went without water for a week! Thanks to our plumber Deweerd VanDyk  for being awesome during these frustrating time and dealing with this product and us. I'll admit it is very efficient but not worth the up keep
#2 Furnace & A/C do not have to be this efficient. Try a SEER 13 or 14 and use a 2 stage furnace with an ECM blower still at 95%. Make sure it is sealed Consider mini splits in your existing duct work if you can make your house super tight. 
#3 DYI - Caulking, blowing in insulation, air sealing the attic and rim band joist with a can of great stuff can knock thousands off the cost! Take a little time, watch youtube for ideas and seal it yourself! Still make sure you call in your energy auditor to ensure everything is tightened up. Using conventional spray foam is for trained professionals, can be very expensive and can decrease indoor air qualifity, dry blow in cellulose in your attic and eco cell cellulose batt insulation in your rim band joist! 
#4 - Avoid Startrek Thermostats - Just go with the nest or even a low cost thermostat. You don't need a computer screen on your wall and you don't need a weather channel report either with radar in your thermostat. What a scam!
#5 - Use the GreenStar remodeling program and make sure your rater and your HVAC, Plumber, Electrician, Insulators are on board early and have at least 1 or 2 meetings to discuss the plans and the project. Lack of communication equals time wasted, errors and problems down the road that could be fixed in the start. This program also generate easy scopes of works for the team to follow and accountability forms for them to sign off on once completed. 
#6 - Utilize your consumers energy smart meter to understand how electricity is being used. It compares you to other homes in the area of similar size and can give you a day by day energy reading. This helps you understand how much power is being used while everyone is gone or sleeping and seeing what simple things you can uplug or shut down, that are wasting you money. DTE energy can also provide good data on your gas usage comparison as well.
I challenge you to take me on!  I know this jerk in Ann Arbor Matt Grocoff is kicking our A$$ with his 110 year old home remodel that puts more energy back on the grid than it takes, even when driving his electric volt and charging it at his house.
Curse you Matt Grocoff! I will build the Mission Positive house some day and we will see whose greener.

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Tags: Efficiency, Energy, Green, GreenStar, MIGS, ROI, Remodel, Retrofit


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Comment by Ron Biffinger on June 3, 2014 at 11:36am

Brett, nice analysis and job well done.  Calculating your cost of electricity in Michigan at .16 / kWh ? and savings of 11,892 kWh/year - the savings are about $1,900/year or a simple payback of 12.6 years.  A payback of 12.6 years doesn't seem that great until you consider the ROI of 7.9% - much better than a bank or pretty much anywhere else.  This will improve when your cost of electricity goes up.  Plus you identified where you could have reduced the cost and improved the ROI. 

Comment by Brett Little on June 3, 2014 at 8:46am

Haha @ Robert. 

Sandra - The data is from Portland, Seattle, California, Atlanta. The Midwest is far behind the rest of the country in valuing green homes. This is my house and so I will track it. Even I decide to sell it will be a good time to put a 10% mark up on it and see what happens. 

Comment by Robert DV on June 3, 2014 at 8:36am

The lessons learned are the most interesting.  Looks like the KISS method works again!!

Great stuff (the article not the foam)!

Comment by Sandra K. Adomatis, SRA on June 3, 2014 at 8:33am

Bret, Thank you for this case study that will go far in educating real estate professionals and homeowners.  I especially appreciate the lessons learned section.  Where did you get the 2% to 9% premium for green homes?  It would be good to know your source and realize that each market does not mirror the same premiums.  The actual sales data in the given market must be the main source of premiums.  Thanks again for sharing!  I hope you'll do some tracking on this property and report back in a year or two.

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