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How Energy Efficient Homes Save Homeowners Money with Bruce Sullivan of Base Zero, LLC

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House Talk Episode 34 – How Having an Energy Efficient Home Makes Fiscal as well as Environmental Sense with Bruce Sullivan of Base Zero, LLC.

Bruce Sullivan has been helping people improve the energy efficiency and reduce their environmental impact for more than three decades. His latest efforts involve zero-energy (ZE) homes. He consulted on the first ZE homes in Oregon and designed a ZE certification program for Earth Advantage. The thread that ties all this together is his passion for making sustainable building the norm for new construction. Build a better planet!

Karen Malanga: Hi, this is Karen Malanga with another edition of House Talk. I’m very excited today to welcome Bruce Sullivan with Base Zero, LLC.

Base Zero, LLC is a new company of his. He has an amazing background in energy and is involved with the Earth Advantage Institute. I know a little about that because I got certified to that as well.

So, Bruce, I’d love to just have you speak to our listeners about what you feel is important when it comes to maybe verifying certification in different residential projects and homes.

Bruce Sullivan: Well, thank you, Karen. It’s really nice to be here.

Karen: Yeah, it’s nice to have you.

Bruce: Over the years, I really worked a lot with certification programs, third-party certification like Earth Advantage and Energy Star. And those programs help people really know that they’re getting an efficient house. They’re getting a lot of features that will save them energy over time.

In fact, Energy Star kind of sets themselves up as being 15% better than code. And those features really pay for themselves. In fact, you can take a home all the way to zero energy where it generates as much energy as it uses, and still have that home pay for itself.

That’s a little surprising to people because they often think that they’re going to have to sacrifice a latte a day in order to pay for all these features, but in fact, it can really pay for itself.

Here’s how it works:

Everybody spends money to use energy every month. And we know that lenders are very focused on this calculation. They call it “principal interest, taxes and insurance,” PITI.

Well, energy is a part of that monthly expenditure just like all those other things. In fact, energy can often be higher than insurance or higher than taxes…

Karen:…especially in somewhere like the high desert where we get these fluctuations in temperature and the seasons, the four seasons.

Bruce: Oh, exactly! The winters can be very cold, and people are talking to me sometimes about energy bills in the winter of $300 or $400 depending on the size and age of their home.

So, if you take that money, and instead of giving it off to the utilities, sending it off to the utilities, you can actually use that to invest in your home.

So, think about this, if you saved even $10 a month, how much more mortgage can you afford to buy with that $10.

Karen: Yeah, it all adds up.

Bruce: It does! It’s about $1000 a month or $1000 on the purchase price of the house.

Karen: Yes!

Bruce: So, if you save $40 a month, that’s $4000, right? So, you can kind of use that figure.

So, imagine if you are considering buying a house that’s going to cost you $100 in energy, that’s $10,000 in extra house you can buy.

Karen: Yes. And then, you can also feel assured too though (because I take buyers out almost every day), if a home is Earth Advantage certified, you can feel confident that your energy bills will be less right of the bat and that it’s still built with a sense of principle in mind too I think on the side of the builder if they took those extra steps.

Bruce: They’re more careful.

Karen: Yes! And that might be reflected in other parts of the home as well.

Bruce: Yes… that’s true. Every builder thinks they build a really super house.

Karen: Yes, they do.

Bruce: And the ones that are really serious about it don’t mind inviting people like third-party inspectors in to say they’re going to check on those things.

When I was doing that work, I often found that the builders, they’re juggling a lot of things. They don’t have time to check every tiny, little detail in the house—for example, a water heater. If a plumber brings a water heater out, you don’t know whether that’s an efficient water heater or not an efficient water heater. You actually have to look up the model number on some list somewhere.

Well, if the plumber didn’t happen to have the one that was ordered…

Karen: He might just bring another one.

Bruce: He just might bring another one. He’s still going to charge you the extra $100 for the efficient one, but you didn’t get it.

Karen: I’ve seen that happen actually.

Bruce: I’ve seen houses that were ready to be turned over to the customer that had no attic insulation, none!

Karen: I’ve seen that as well, Bruce. And what I always recommend with new construction is that my buyers still get a professional home inspection because some of those things will get called out.

A lot of people go out and they think, “Well, it’s new construction. I don’t really need a home inspection,” but they do because things are missing.

Bruce: That’s right. And sometimes, with the best builder with the best intentions, they can’t keep track of every little detail and they need to rely a lot of times on subcontractors to do the right thing.

So, these inspectors can really help to find issues.

Karen: And then, when you go out to verify with your third-party certification, is there something that being a realtor or maybe being a buyer some sort of certificate somewhere in the home? How are we going to know that it’s third-party certified?

Bruce: A number of ways. There’s usually a sticker on the breaker box, on the service panel. There’s also going to be a place in multiple listing service (the Central Oregon multiple listing service) where you can identify whether it’s certified. Now, that’s only as reliable as the listing agents.

Karen: I know! Well, I was just smiling because I know where that box is on that form, and I have gone into homes and I’ve questioned that those homes were what was portrayed. So, the sticker, I hate to say this, but I like the sticker better than the…

Bruce: It is more reliable. It is more reliable.

Karen: Yeah.

Bruce: And if there is a question, you can always call up Earth Advantage and they’ll look it up for you.

Karen: Oh, that’d be a great resource.

Bruce: They are trying to find a way to put that data online or to link it dynamically to the multiple listing service, so that when you see it in MLS, you’ll know that it’s true. Now, that’s something that Earth Advantage have been working now for a couple of years. I hope to see that soon.

Karen: Yeah, that would be welcoming.

Well, so now, Bruce, how does someone reach you? It’s been great having you here. My mind is whirling in one of the most recent homes I visited, “Did they have the sticker? And did it say something in MLS?” I’m just kind of thinking this through. But how can someone reach you? What’s the best way?

Bruce: Well, my website is So, just spell out B-A-S-E-Z-E-R-O dot-biz. That’s the best way to get a hold of me. They can also try me on the phone. It’s 541-701-9883.

Karen: Thank you so much for being a part of House Talk.