The Beeler Pathway to Zero Net Energy

A net-zero energy building (NZEB) is a building with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building annually is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site.  Under California’s Building code, Title 24, all new residential construction is to be Zero Net Energy by 2020 with all new commercial buildings achieving this goal by 2030.  In a sense, all California building owners are already somewhere on the path to Net Zero Energy, even if they are only at the beginning.

This series follows inspired Sonoma County residents on their journey toward Net Zero Energy.  Many of the technologies discussed can be financed by the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP).  Contact the SCEIP office at 707-565-6470 or visit for more details.

BeelersAs part of the Thousand Home Challenge, Petaluma residents George and Ellen Beeler have done a deep energy retrofit on their house, reducing their energy use about 90 percent and moving them ever closer to a Zero Net Energy home.  The purpose of the Thousand Home Challenge (THC) is to help citizens find solutions that address housing affordability and durability, climate change, and environmental sustainability.  The main criterion for success is at least a 75 percent reduction in annual net energy consumption, but water use and carbon emissions are also considered.  The THC also supports local green collar jobs.

George and Ellen’s energy use reductions are stunning.  George is adamant that a very large portion of the gains in energy efficiency in their home are due to behavioral changes.

What the Beelers did:

Energy and Water Conservation

  • Changed all incandescent lights to fluorescent or CFL
  • Changed to laptop computer and LCD displays
  • Replaced conventional water heater with on-demand hot water circulation pump
  • Installed high-efficiency, drip irrigation, using shallow well
  • Replaced old toilet with 0.8 gallon flush
  • Upgraded to water-efficient fixtures and appliances, shower/tub gray water system
  • Used ACEEE appliance guide to find the most efficient appliances (top 10% of those qualifying for Energy Star)
  • Paid $100 more for the refrigerator and saved $1,000 when the PV system was installed
  • Added R-50 blown-in cellulose attic insulation, R-13 dense-pack cellulose wall insulation (2×4 studs), and R-20 dense-pack cellulose wall insulation (2×6 studs) with non-corrosive/toxic borax fire retardant/insecticide.
  • Replaced aluminum windows with Low-E2 glass in fiberglass frames
  • Replaced existing furnace with a 96%-efficient condensing natural gas furnace that includes a two-level gas burner and high-efficiency variable speed blower
  • Added zone control for heating rooms independently
  • Installed a large roof top turbine ventilator for passive night cooling

Resource Conservation

  • Recycled 100% of cardboard, metal, and paper construction waste
  • Reused 75% of wood, plywood, and siding construction waste
  • Gave old windows to a friend for reuse in a greenhouse
  • Salvaged bricks used for permeable paving (brick on sand bed and sand joints)
  • Used FSC-certified lumber, trusses, and plywood for new roof framing

Transportation-Related Emissions Reductions

  • Selected house within walking distance of grocery store, post office, and bank
  • Bought electric vehicle

Energy-Usage-graphWhat the Beelers do (behavior):

  • Pay attention to all resource use
  • Frequently adjust thermostat and close dampers to rooms not being used
  • Carefully open and close shades and windows for solar gain or passive cooling
  • Turn off lights, computers and entertainment devices when not using
  • Wait for full loads for dishwasher and clothes washer

George and Ellen enjoy a high quality of life while having a minimal impact on climate change.  They also enjoy low energy bills and great comfort in their home.  George says of their experience, “We experience great joy while continually improving our green lifestyle which has gradually reduced our carbon footprint to one tenth that of the average American. We hope to leave our dear planet earth a little greener than it would have been without us.”

The Sonoma County Energy Independence Office (, part of the County’s Energy and Sustainability Division, acts as a one-stop shop for residential and commercial property owners to find resources to help them go solar and to save energy and water.  It provides a variety of services including Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing for energy and water upgrades.  To start on your path to Net Zero Energy, contact the SCEIP office at 707-565-6470 or visit

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Sonoma County Energy Independence Program
2300 County Center Dr.,
Suite A105
Santa Rosa, California

Phone: (707) 565-6470
Fax: (707) 565-6474