This Rochester couple wants their 'Net Zero' home to inspire more affordable, eco-friendly living
Jasmin Singer and her wife, Moore Rhys, had long wanted to align their lifestyle with their environmental values.
They found their opportunity with a decision to move across the country.
At the start of the pandemic, the couple had been working from home in their Los Angeles apartment. They decided to move to Rochester, though, to escape the smog and wildfires in California.
“We studied the New York Times climate change map, which actually pointed to Rochester as one of the one of the best cities to move to for long-term climate projections,” Singer said.
The self-proclaimed “climate refugees” knew they wanted an eco-friendly and affordable home in their new city. They purchased an old house in the Highland Park neighborhood and quickly got to work renovating it to a “net zero” property that produces as much renewable energy as it consumes over the course of a year.
Solar panels are the most common way to achieve net zero, and the couple installed panels on the roof and garage. They also replaced all the old windows and added insulation in some areas.
Their biggest investment: a geothermal heating and cooling system.
Geothermal uses a pump to access energy from the Earth and convert it into warm air. A drill is used to install the pump underground, and it exchanges heat from the ground or water source. They documented the process on their YouTube channel.
The cost to install a geothermal system can range between $30,000 to $40,000, which could make it cost-prohibitive for a lot of homeowners.
But Rhys said the investment will protect them from increasing energy costs in the future.
“I'm thinking ahead to my fixed income. With my fixed income, I want to know that I'll have no energy bills,” Rhys said.
For people who can’t install solar panels and a geothermal system, there are alternatives for reducing their home’s carbon footprint.
According to Ryan Puckett, a building analyst with Wise Home Energy, looking at a home’s energy efficiency and how much insulation it has is the first step. He suggests sealing air pockets and installing an air heat pump if you are able to afford one.
Puckett said not every structure will be net zero ready, so it's important to get an assessment.
“A lot of houses in Rochester unfortunately need to just have structural improvements done to the home before they can even start to look at making their house net zero or super insulated,” Puckett said.
The costs of making any changes are often offset by tax incentives and rebates.
New Yorkers get a 22% tax credit for solar panels. The federal solar tax credit is 26%. There are also dozens of state rebate and incentive programs for homeowners of all incomes for insulation and heat pumps.
Puckett said most low- to moderate-income homeowners can access free or low-cost energy assessments.
He said it’s currently difficult for renters to achieve net zero living because many of the incentive programs are exclusive to homeowners. But advocates are lobbying state legislators to create programs for landlords who adapt their properties.
The couple recognizes that not everyone can do what they did, but they wanted to do their part in preserving the world.
“Our neighbors a few doors down have a baby who was born the day we closed on this house,” Rhys said. “And we want her to have a world to grow up in.”