September 30th, 2010
09:30 AM ET

One Simple Thing: Getting to zero

Jim Spellman
CNN All Platform Journalist

Ward, Colorado (CNN)–What if the power company sent you a check every month instead of a bill? Sounds pretty good, but is it possible? For about 100 households in America, the answer is yes. They call them “net-zero houses,” and they produce more energy than they use and they could be the way we all live in the future.

I drove from Denver up to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to visit net-zero homeowner Jeff Hohensee. I expected to see some sort of futuristic space pod or at least a geodesic dome but instead I found a 1970s split-level. Did I have the address wrong? Nope. This is the place.

Hohensee bought his house back in 2007. That first Rocky Mountain winter was a shock.

“Our first winter our energy bill was through the roof. January was knocking on the door of something like a thousand bucks a month out the door,” he says.

A thousand bucks a month? Yikes.

He knew something had to change. He began with small steps. He went to Home Depot and bought a caulk gun and started plugging gaps around windows and doors and then blew insulation into the attic. He saw positive results and kept on going - new doors, new windows and new energy efficient appliances. He started drying his clothes on a rack he calls a “solar clothes dryer.”

This is not the futuristic, high-tech home of tomorrow I had expected to find.

“It’s not very sexy, it’s not very fun,” he says with a laugh, “It’s easy to make fun of, but it makes a huge difference.”

Before he knew it, he had cut his energy use by 80 percent. “Net-zero” was in sight, but it would cost a bundle now to save a bundle down the road. He decided to take the plunge and invest in an array of solar panels. The panels heat his hot water and create electricity. The excess energy is sent back onto the energy grid.

“After two and a half years, we’ve put more energy back onto the grid than we’ve used,” he says.

After a number of rebates and government incentives, he says he’s spent about $50,000 getting to net-zero. He expects to break even after about 8 years, but even today he gets small checks from the power company for the excess energy he produces.

Not a bad deal.

Filed under: Jim Spellman • One Simple Thing
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Kim

    Wow ! What are the insurance companies saying about it and how's it going for insurance ? What happens if there is wind damage with a solar roof ? Any cost adjustmens with insurance companies ?

    September 30, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
  2. Boomer in Mo

    And Republicans say this is impossible and have lots of Americans believing it. Shame on them.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  3. ambria

    This is a good thing. Jeff should also plant a garden and perhaps invest in a solar powered car. The circulation of money in this country makes me sick. No I take that back where it stops is what makes me sick. The people that we so easily give our money away to care only about their own agenda,and comming up with another way to conn us big time. Jeff on the other hand apparently realizes it's his money he has control of it. He does not have to give it away so easily. That realization can take him much further if he keeps on going (hope he does).

    September 30, 2010 at 2:53 pm |