Net-Zero Electric



Acting as their own general contractor and key laborers for their new home has been very time consuming, but happily for Chuck and Laura Shifflett, their sustainable home under construction is less consuming in other aspects. All the electricity needed to complete construction is being powered by the sun, generated by a new 6.75-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on their roof.

The Shiffletts are entering the home stretch to complete their energy efficient “modern barn” home situated on the edge of an existing wooded lot in the Fairview neighborhood in Steamboat Springs.

“We’ve always wanted a smaller home with good finishes, but we put more money into the solar system,” said Laura, a retired IT analyst.

The couple, who moved out of an older townhome in Steamboat, were at the max of their budget constructing their 1,700-square-foot sustainable home, so they took advantage of the state-sponsored RENU loan program, or Colorado Residential Energy Upgrade Loan, to add solar. They said RENU was an easy and simple process. The RENU loan origination fees are about $44, and loan rates start at 2.75 percent for a three-year loan. The program requires opening an account with Elevations Credit Union in Colorado with a $100 minimum deposit.

The statewide RENU program sponsored by the Colorado Energy Office is available to finance residential energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements. Notably, the loan can used for efficiency projects as low as $500 with no-money down. RENU can be used for: space heating and cooling, insulation and air sealing, water heating, energy analysis and monitoring, windows and doors, Energy Star rated appliances, lighting, and solar PV or solar thermal systems.

Homeowners can work with two Routt County pre-approved RENU contractors — Brightside Solar and Sunwise Solar — or ask their energy efficiency-minded contractors to complete the relatively simple process to become an authorized RENU vendor. Other contractors who work regularly in the Yampa Valley are also RENU pre-authorized vendors, such as Accurate Insulation based in Grand Junction. A list of preapproved vendors is available on the RENU website (

At the Shifflett home, the couple is paring their solar investment with energy smart features to reduce their energy consumption and ensure comfort. They used efficient structural insulated panels (SIPS) for the home’s walls and roof, installed better sealing commercial grade garage doors, selected more efficient triple-pane tilt-and-turn windows from Alpen Window, used beetle-kill pine wood for trim and soffits and reclaimed barn wood for cabinet doors, installed a 95 percent efficient hot water radiant heat system for in-floor heat, and used a tankless on-demand hot water heater powered by the same natural gas boiler.

Common sense measures such as all LED lighting, Energy Star rated appliances and efficient induction cooking stoves in the main home and rental unit also reduce electricity use. Efficient EPA WaterSense rated fixtures save on water and thus save on energy, as the more water used the greater energy required to heat the water.

They also have been careful to ensure good indoor air quality by choosing 100 percent low-VOC (volatile organic compound) finishes including for harder to locate products such as a water-based sealant for the concrete floors. Using cork and concrete flooring as well as installing HRVs, or heat recovery ventilation systems, also aid in healthy indoor air.

Downstairs in the main home, the couple incorporated an indoor greenhouse and winter solarium with a concrete floor and stone wall to retain heat.

An electrical engineer who worked 21 years in the U.S. Air Force, Chuck Shifflett is well equipped to serve as his own general contractor and designer for a sustainable home. He is a LEED Accredited Professional and earned a master’s degree in architecture and urban design. Chuck said some of the inspirations for the new home came from attending sustainable or green home tours such as the annual fall tour organized by Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.

The engineer used the ArchiCAD program to perform a sun study for the home design. As a result, in late June the wider roof overhangs block the summer sun but let in the lower angle winter sun fully in late December. Window specifications were tuned to the different sides of the home, so on the west side, the higher performance windows filter the summer late day heat and insulate from cold winter winds.

Chuck designed the home under 2015 building and energy codes in Routt County using a modernized A-frame barn profile with a taller garage bay in the middle to store an RV. An attached rental apartment on the north side will assist with the local housing stock and serves as the couple’s home base during construction. The outside of the home uses durable finishes such as metal roofing, stone veneer siding and recycled plastic decking.

Installing a solar electric system in 2019 captures the added benefit of a federal tax incentive of 30 percent of project installation costs. That investment tax credit will be 26 percent throughout 2020. With the healthy tax credits as well as the inception of the nonprofit Solar United Neighbors (SUN) co-op in the Yampa Valley, solar is hot in the valley.

Installer Matt Piva, owner of Brightside Solar, confirms an increase in solar interest calls and installations.

“We’ve seen a marked increase in demand due to the federal tax credit availability and a general understanding that the technology truly works,” said Piva, who has worked in solar nine years.

Piva said the RENU loan is “accessible to everyone” and has no prepayment penalties. So far, Brightside has worked with five clients who used the RENU loan in 2018 or 2019 for solar installs on a mix of new home builds or systems for existing homes in Routt County. Piva noted federal tariffs on solar panels has not impacted his end user clients as the tariffs have been absorbed by distributors and installers.

SUN’s Colorado Director Bryce Carter said the co-op in 2019 signed up 135 local members interested in solar. SUN is a vendor-neutral nonprofit with members free to choose their own financing options, including a RENU loan.

Since it kicked off in December 2017, the RENU program has financed 388 loans for a total of $6.1 million, said Jeffrey King at the Colorado Energy Office. Of those loans, 286 were for solar and 102 were for energy efficiency projects.

The Shiffletts do not plan to stop with their new 18 solar panels that are modeled to create enough power for their home to be net-zero for electricity use. They hope to add up to 11 panels in the future to also power the attached rental apartment that is prewired for solar, and they may add a battery storage system to go off-grid.

The couple is keeping an eye on the electric vehicle market to purchase a plug-in pickup truck, which will start hitting the market in 2020 and beyond from Ford, General Motors, Rivian, Bollinger and Tesla. That way, their drive time can be solar powered too.

The couple said many neighbors and acquaintances have inquired about their solar installation, which cost $15,000 after federal tax credits. The ecologically minded couple readily share what they are learning about sun-powered upgrades for a lower consumption lifestyle.

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