A Green Building Tour in Truckee

This weekend I attended an inspiring, local event in the town of Truckee, where Sierra Business Council is headquartered.  It was the Sierra Green Buildings Association’s (better known as SiGBA) Annual Fall Green Building Tour.  The tour showcased five homes in Truckee that utilize green building practices and technologies.

COMM TPblog2 SiGBAtour2 2013 10SiGBA’s mission is to “educate and promote environmental building and business practices for a sustainable lifestyle in the Sierra Nevada communities.”  The tour featured a range of technologies from Solar Photovoltaic (PV) and Solar Thermal systems, geothermal heat pumps and hydronics, and even green roofs. The newly appointed Executive Director of SiGBA, Scott Terrell, told me, “I’m hoping that the Sierra Green Building Association can help bring back good green design to the forefront of the thinking, design and building here in the Sierra. There needs to be a lot more education for consumers planning their new home or commercial building and the building professionals who will be supporting them.”

That’s what the tour set out to do, with Scott — who has over 30 years in the Public Utility and Energy Conservation field — as our guide for the day.  A large ensemble of interested people met at Meadow Park, where a local resident filled up their Nissan Leaf at one of the area’s Electrical Vehicle charging stations before boarding a bus to visit local green homes within Truckee (looking for an EV charging station in your area?  Check out www.plugshare.com).

The tour included the house of Neal and Sue Mock who installed one of the first solar PV arrays in Truckee.  Here we learned about the components of a solar array and how you can literally watch your electric meter spin backwards as you “sell” energy back to the grid.  Another home featured a thermally efficient building envelope consisting of double pane and argon windows; specialized and reinforced, efficient foam insulation; even a geothermal heat pump system that utilizes seven wells, and in-floor hydronic heating.  Situated atop a high ridge overlooking the Sierra where winds can reach up to 120 mph and snow can be overwhelming, the homeowners told us it was the most comfortable house they have ever lived in.

We witnessed some other interesting green technologies on the tour including solar skylight tubes and solar thermal systems that heat up your hot water for showers or washing the dishes via the power of the sun.  There were other natural implementations that stood out on the tour: bamboo flooring, rooftop garden green roofs, and even greenhouses (speaking of greenhouses, be sure to check out Truckee’s Growing Dome!).

The only home on the tour that wasn’t a retrofitted building was the newly constructed green home of Scott and Suzanne Montgomery.  This home and barn had an impressive variety of technologies and design techniques. The owners pulled out all the stops when designing and building the home.  “Our overall strategy was to keep the house’s short-term impact during construction and long-term impact of its operation to a minimum. We knew that building a new home on an undeveloped lot carried a somewhat negative environmental impact from the get-go, so we wanted to go to the extra effort to create as many positives from the house’s construction,” says Mr. Montgomery.  And there are a lot of positives.  The house itself was designed for passive solar gain, has a solar thermal system, maximum insulation and sealing, a green roof, geothermal heat pumps, an energy management system the owners can access from a smartphone, and more.  Even most of the wood is reclaimed.  The barn is oriented to produce as much energy from its PV system as possible.  Besides the back-up generator for emergencies, it’s a fossil-fuel free house!

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One factor worth noting is that each of the homeowners on the tour made sure that their house was as efficient as possible before implementing the larger technologies.  By switching out all light bulbs to efficient CFLs and LEDs, or by upgrading the insulation or thermal efficiency of a home’s windows, you could be saving money within a short period of time.  Not only that, a more energy efficient home means you can use less energy from a renewable energy system, and that system can be designed smaller, and be made more economically viable.  “It appears that many people still feel integrating green features in a new building is costly; some are, some are not. Many features are very cost-effective and should be considered an excellent long-term investment,” comments Scott Terrell.

And yes, there are options out there.  Many local utilities have great rebates to offer on upgrading equipment in your home and could even cut you a check for the excess power your solar panels produce, via a program known as “net-metering.”  There’s even a federal tax credit of up to 30% to offset the cost of installing a new solar power system.  If your home or building is in Placer county, keep in mind that SBC is also working with Placer County to promote their PACE financing program, mPower Placer.

Sierra Business Council realizes the importance of Green Building, especially within the Sierra Nevada.  Green building epitomizes the Triple Bottom Line that SBC embraces – it’s good for our economy, our community, and our environment.  The green building movement is on!

If you haven’t already, read SBC’s Paul Ahrn’s latest blog on green buildings taken to the next level with the Living Building Challenge by clicking here.

For more information on SiGBA, or if you’re interested in attending the South Lake Tahoe Green Building Tour this November 16th, be sure to take a look at their website.