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Las Casas Verdes – Update

Las CAsas Verdes HomesHere’s a short video I shot of the new green homes down on Longview Road in South Austin. Las Casas Verdes bill themselves as the first solar middle-income neighborhood in Austin, though I’m not sure if SOL Austin would agree.

That said, colour me impressed by the specifications:

  • 3kW Solar PV panels for each home
  • Passive solar design – overhangs, heat chimneys, optimal orientation
  • rainwater collection on a significant scale -not just a couple of rain barrels and a gutter
  • Unique designs for each of twenty 1800sqft homes
  • The Walkscore of 37 isn’t great, but the homes are on a bus route
  • Pending 5 star rating in the Austin Energy Green Building Program

The homes are available to be built right now, of the two in the MLS, one is under contract. You can see more details on the homes at these Las Casas Verdes listings, or give me a call if you want to check them out.

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker® with Keller Williams Realty.

Specializing in: Green Austin Real Estate and New Green Homes in Austin.

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Upgrade single pane windows in TexasDoes it make sense to replace single pane windows in your Texas home? I read a column written by Williamson County Association of REALTORs President J. Rene Ward which suggested that this was not typically cost effective, and I set about doing my own research.

Sure, most of us would love to live in a home with Low-U (well insulated), Low solar heat gain coefficient (sun doesn’t radiate through), High-R, Low-E, double pane windows. You may have read that an average home loses 25% -50% of it’s energy through the windows, and reason that this is a good place to start saving energy.

The ENERGY STAR site explains that here in Texas, the “average” home may save $273 in utility bills by replacing single pane windows with ENERGY STAR certified windows. So based on payback of window replacement looking at energy savings alone would imply it may take decades to recoup your expenditure.

My thoughts are that if you are considering upgrading your windows, you might not live in an “average” home, and there may be far more cost effective ways to reduce energy loss that could be identified with an inexpensive energy audit.

Assuming that you have all the gaping holes plugged, and you’re looking at window upgrades, does it make sense from a financial perspective to upgrade your windows?

Benefits:

So, if you’re getting up to a 30% tax credit to perform the project in 2010, recouping 75% on resale, and saving money each year, you may want to consider changing out those windows if you have the funds.

Just as in the loose financial model for increased home value after adding solar panels replacing windows can be beneficial if you take all the elements into account.

Alternatively, you could focus on shading the windows, window films and storm windows on a budget.

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker® with Keller Williams Realty.

Specializing in:  New Green Homes in Austin.

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Green is Unregulated was a post concerning the green-washing in the real estate world. With the green building market set to triple in size over the next four years, I feel it’s important that the people representing buyers and sellers of green homes in Austin have the opportunity to work with someone appropriately qualified. Hence, my EcoBroker certification!

What is an EcoBroker? EcoBroker is a certification undertaken by real estate professionals to give them additional expertise and training in the field of high performance homes. There are many aspects of the certification, and the aim is to make real estate agents more capable to serve their clients in marketing or buying their green homes.

Green homes in Austin are a larger share of the market than in other parts of the country – the City spawned the Austin Energy Green Building Program which begat LEED, and Central Texas is leading the country in the growth of LEED certified buildings.

As consumers become more demanding and more educated about aspects of home construction that will make their homes healthier and more efficient, some agents have started to differentiate themselves by seeking training. As an EcoBroker, I know what things to look for and have a network of like-minded people who can help my clients to achieve their green goals. Whether it’s improved indoor air-quality in a new home, lower utility bills, or the things to look out for in a home built in 1944 – I can point you in the right direction.

I’m not claiming to be an expert on which roof surface will support a solar PV array, but I know a man who is! And if you’ve invested in a 15 SEER HVAC system in a home you are selling, I know how to explain the benefits to a prospective buyer.

With many new homebuilders claiming their homes are green, it’s good to get a second opinion on such a large catch-all term. That’s where an EcoBroker comes in!

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker® with Keller Williams Realty.

Specializing in: Green Austin Real Estate and New Green Homes in Austin.

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Today I tried Car2Go for the first time, and despite a few glitches, I want more. More shared, one-way transport options. More cars. More uptake from the public and my local community.

Car2Go is one of two car-sharing schemes in Austin, the other being Austin CarShare. Of the two, Car2Go is less commitment – a $35 joining fee means you can borrow a car at a reasonable rate any time.

This evening, I got my Car2Go card in the mail, and despite the fact that we have two cars for two adults in our family, I thought I’d test the system, and pop along to HEB to get some supplies for our young son, Otto. My wife’s car is a little sick, and given the promise of me walking to work in Mueller Austin, I wanted to test the idea of a single car for our family, in addition to a Car2Go car.

Also, I wanted to ride in a Smart Car and see how fast it would go around a roundabout. Not exactly green? Well, maybe not, but if I’m going to be testing cars, they might as well be 60mpg+ ones.

The system is delightfully simple. You pull out your phone or laptop, figure out where the nearest available car is, optionally reserve it, and toddle over on foot. I think the system works well if you’re near a bunch of other people who use them to drive to their homes, which I am. Mueller is full of forward thinking early adopters, and this presumably means people will drive cars here and then park them here much of the time. I see a bunch as I’m out and about, and tonight was no exception.

I had to walk 300 meters to get to my target vehicle, then I held up the card, entered a pin, retrieved the key and the monstrous engine roared to life. Actually, the car was quite fun to drive – what little of it there was. It accelerated passably with it’s jerry-rigged automatic gear shifting, and took a few moments to get used to.

Off to HEB. I had to park and keep the car key (and continue to rent it) as when I parked, I wasn’t apparently in the Car2Go service area. I thought I was, but heck, it ensured that my ride would be there when I got out, allbeit at 35 cents per shopping minute. I don’t think of the annualized cost of running my current car, and think I’m wasting money when it’s sitting in the garage, so a mental adjustment needs to be made.

I got back, avoided getting a speeding ticket as I passed two police cars on Airport Boulevard, and parked outside my home. Perfect, I thought. There was a little glitch when the car’s GPS thought I was very far away from the service area, and I was connected immediately by phone to a man from Belfast working in Holland for Car2Go. He asked me if I was under and large trees. Clearly he isn’t familiar with Mueller. I said I’d park 300 meters away (where I picked up the car) to see if the GPS could pick me up. It did. I parked and walked home.

A slight pain in the butt to be honest, but easily overcome by my wild enthusiasm for the idea of holding up a small device to locate a vehicle, walking to it and letting myself in with a plastic card. Seriously, the idea blows my mind. I want it to work.

I want people not to game the system (I’ve already had fantasies about getting a flash mob to collect a bunch of Car2Go vehicles and go out on a photo scavenger hunt, but realize this isn’t in the spirit of things). I want there to be more community cars, and less personal cars. And I don’t want to have to buy a Smart Car. The next step is more of the same for electric cars. Or even electric cars within the neighborhood. Can’t wait.

Car2Go Austin at Mueller

Car2Go Austin at Mueller

Looking at my trip, I could have driven another 20 minutes for no additional cost (though that certainly would have been a waste of energy). And there’s no way I managed to get to HEB and back and around the roundabout a few times in 1.9 miles. Until we get a walkable neighborhood here, I’m going to look very seriously at going down to 1 car.

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker® with Keller Williams Realty.

Specializing in: Green Austin Real Estate and New Green Homes in Austin.

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Your roof as power plantSolar Panels in Austin: Are they worth the money? I undertook my domestic solar plant  odyssey in 2009, and I think so.

Many people focus on just one element of the economics of installing a solar array on their home – payback period. They use a simple model of energy costs, energy production and derive a payoff period.

The major thing that is ignored in this approach is the actual value of the system on your roof. This is an asset which raises the resale value of your home. In my case it raised the estimated value of my home by more than the cost of the system.
I used a simple formula from the Appraisal Journal, which I talk about in the article “Do solar panels increase the value of your home?”. Now I’m not an appraiser, but I am an EcoBr0ker®, and I understand what it means to market your home as a high performance home with a lower cost of living.

In my opinion, the a solar installation with federal tax incentives and Austin Energy rebates can certainly be considered favorably alongside with the standard HGTV advice to tackle “kitchens and bathrooms”.

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker® with Keller Williams Realty.

Specializing in: Green Austin Real Estate and New Green Homes in Austin.

(512) 694 8873

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From time to time I get to meet some very detailed oriented people who understand how to make their older home a model of efficiency. I met the owners of this Northwest Austin Condo and they showed me their home.

Here are some of the energy efficiency upgrades and green improvements they made before putting it on the market:

  • Vented range hood. This drastically improves indoor air quality over the previous recirculating vent
  • 14+ SEER HVAC heat pump. The unit is rated up to 15.5 SEER, and has kept the utility bills much lower than the neighboring condos (even the interior units)
  • Radiant barrier in the attic to keep the ducts and the home cooler
  • Low-E double pane windows help keep the heat gain down – despite the extra windows that this end unit has.
  • They chose a great neighborhood with a walkscore of 83 / 100 – very walkable!

View from the deckIt’s great to see a 1982 condo given an energy loss makeover.

Their condo is available for sale (with some jaw-dropping views thrown in for free!) – see more information at my Austin home search site.

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker® with Keller Williams Realty.

Specializing in: Green Austin Real Estate and New Green Homes in Austin.

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Green is Unregulated

kermitI was fortunate enough to be on the Home Energy Solutions ESPN radio show yesterday, and a few points hit home to me:

  1. It’s not easy being green. With so much green-washing it’s hard to know what’s green, and what’s green-painted. There’s no Federal standard on the usage of “green” – it’s not like “organic” – it’s unregulated.
  2. Consumers don’t know what EcoBrokers are or what they do.
  3. Home owners are unaware of the rebates and subsidies they can take advantage of right now. This will allow them to enjoy cost savings, a healthy home and help them differentiate their home when they come to sell.
  4. Home owners aren’t sure who to trust when it comes to improving their homes.

I’m going to address these in coming posts, so stay tuned!

I know that most of the attention and marketing that consumers receive is from new green builders, such as those building homes at Mueller. They have great products, and a great story to tell with some builders offering 5 Star AEGBP rated homes (Streetman, Saldana, Muskin, and some custom builders), 4 Star AEGBP rated homes (Standard Pacific) and 3 Star AEGBP rated homes (David Weekley, Meritage).

The builders are ahead of the curve. As more and more highly educated Austin consumers become attuned to green homes, this is going to become more important to people wanting to sell their existing homes.

On the radio show I talked about sellers who had their ECAD audit and chose to fix the problems – 80% duct leakage. The HVAC fixes cost around $700, of which they get almost $450 back as rebates and incentives. Now I can market their home as having excellent duct work – 8% leakage – which is better than the requirement for some new home builders.

The only thing I wonder is, how much would they have saved in their utility bills if they had done this a year before selling, or two years before selling? I’ll bet they would have saved more than the $250 it ended up costing them, and would have given them better air quality.

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker® with Keller Williams Realty.

Specializing in: Green Austin Real Estate and New Green Homes in Austin.

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Shade is the Enemy of the Solar Power Producer

Shade is the Enemy of the Solar Power Producer

Around 40 Mueller Austin residents are in the process of getting PV solar panels installed on their roofs.  But how do trees affect the picture?

This Statesman article chronicles the progress of the Mueller Mega-Watt project – and talks of the substantial Austin Energy rebates. One comment on the article brings up a potential future challenge – trees and shade.

The first Mueller homes were completed at the very end of 2006, so trees have not yet had chance to grow to 40 feet tall, though my Monterey Oak is growing fiercely towards that goal, and I’ve already had to rein it back.

Most home-owners in more established neighborhoods consider large shade trees a boon – a shade tree over an older roof can cut HVAC bills by up to 40% in summer. The PV panels that Mueller residents are choosing perform dual  functions:

  • shading the sunniest part of the roof to reduce heat load on the home
  • generating electricity to offset HVAC bills

So as the trees grow up in front of the South and West facing roof surfaces, they bring the enemy of PV panels – shade. And just a little shade can make a huge difference.

Above is an excerpt from Celestial Power’s solar proposal for the array currently on our roof. It shows that a tiny bit of shade can halve the output of the panels.

So the challenge is to keep your tree growth from interfering with the sunlight. Maybe we should get solar trees like these in Vienna!

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker® with Keller Williams Realty.

Specializing in: Green Austin Real Estate and New Green Homes in Austin.

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Mueller Solar – First Bill

Electricity bills don’t typically excite me. After my solar array was turned on by my Austin solar contractor on July 13th, I was waiting with baited breath for the first new bill. I was eagerly watching my web monitoring solution each day to see how sunny it had been.

Here’s my first bill!

My First Bill With Solar

The usage is shown above – fairly consistent with last August’s bill (for July).

mypowerbillmeters3

The meter readings above show a clearer picture. My old meter was removed. I have a new “Net Meter” which shows the difference between my production and my usage. And I have a new “Solar Meter” which shows how much I’ve generated.
So I generated 241kWH in 18 days. This is more than Celestial Power had anticipated in their models, which is great news for me, and partly due to an assumption of the degradation of the panels over time.

Next steps: figure out how to unlandscape my yards and save on water too!

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker® with Keller Williams Realty.

Specializing in: Green Austin Real Estate and New Green Homes in Austin.

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Single family green homes at Las Casas Verdes are coming soon! They are available for purchase today. The first model homes are under construction right now, and here’s a run down of the homes.

The homes:

  • SIPS construction (modular construction means a better insulated fit and faster construction)
  • Solar power for each home
  • 5 star green building rating (AEGBP)
  • 1800 sqft
  • Priced in the $300,000s
  • Solar hot water
  • 3kW solar panels for each home
  • On demand gas fired water heaters

The location:

The twenty homes are being built in South Austin – 78745, near the junction of Longview and Cameron Loop, about a mile South of William Cannon and Brodie.  Check out this map of Las Casas Verdes.

Schools:

The homes are currently zoned as Boone, Covington, Crockett.

The Las Casas Verdes website has details of plans on the site. Each home is custom planned, and given the SIPS construction techniques, they should be ready in three months rather than the typical four to six of a production builder.

Get in touch if you’d like to see more of Las Casas Verdes!

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker® with Keller Williams Realty.

Specializing in: Green Austin Real Estate and New Green Homes in Austin.

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