Energy “Smart Home” a Reality with Passive House

posted in: Usage Awareness | 0

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has a remarkable new exhibit. Coined the future of green building technology, the museum has sponsored a “smart home” that has been designed to meet Passive House standards and will seek Passive House certification when placed in it’s permanent location.

The museum had over a hundred partners participate in the design, build, financing and furnishing of the home and garden that is now open to the public to tour on the museum campus. As typical to Passive House specifications it is extremely air tight, super insulated, contains no thermal bridges, and does not need a conventional furnace. The home instead is heated and cooled with a small ductless air source heat pump.

Though the home was not seeking well known LEED certification, it was designed with LEED criteria in mind and has many features that address the overall environmental impact of the building, besides energy usage. It is also seeking “Green Communities” certification which was developed by Enterprise Community Partners, a national funder of neighborhood redevelopment.

Alexander (Zandy) Sievers, SBS Project Technician
RESNET Home Energy Rater
NorthWest Energy Star Homes Verifier
NAHB Green Building Verifier

Green Blocks

SBS has had a wonderful and successful time on the side-order list for the City of Missoula’s Green Blocks energy saving program. We began work back in the Fall of 2010 by getting 2-inters from the University of Montana’s COT Energy Program and got them fully trained on doing a basic solar site assessment. Our Team ended up doing over 120 assessments over the course of 3-months last fall. They braved blazing sun, side-ways rain and blowing snow from October – December. But, it was well worth it. This spring 2011 marked the final phase of this project. The City added about 60-90 participants to get to their total count of 300. We got ourselves another COT Energy intern for this past Spring and he went out and did about 48 more solar site assessments. Half way through this phase we saw an 18% REDUCTION in the cost to install solar, plus the state and feds decided to KEEP the tax credits in place for renewable, Northwestern Energy gave us a dozen more $6k grants to hand out to customers in good standing, and the MT DEQ revolving loan fund keeps on chugging along (although they are 8-10 weeks out on funding). To top it off, SBS starting taking credit cards for deposits. The wet cold spring made for a slow start, and with the unseasonably cool summer, folks were not thinking about solar. But with the aforementioned incentives, and a little 90 degree weather, we are in full swing. Over half of the installs we’re doing in July and August came from Green Blocks leads and SBS is now booked out until September. Thanks to the City of Missoula for this great opportunity! We’d love to do it again. If you’re interested in information about solar – get in touch: or

SBS Summer Reading Heating Up: Solar? Conservation? Efficiency

While there certainly has been a lot of talk lately about the weather, and whether global warming is real or not, the concept of climate change is certainly on our minds (or should be). It seems that catastrophic weather events are more prevalent than ever: from tornadoes to floods to tsunamis, earthquakes, mudslides and volcanic eruptions.

In response to these major weather events, and in an effort to gain some knowledge, I have been doing some summer reading.

First on the list is a behemoth of a book – and worth the hundreds of pages – Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman. Simply put: We are getting hotter as a globe from fossil fuel energy dependence. We are getting flatter as a world through wireless technology. We are getting more crowded as a world through population growth. This book points out, more than ever, the mounting global energy crisis with the advent of a larger-than-life working-class in major cities around the world, namely China and India. It also details some very viable ways we could remedy the current situation and prevent total global melt-down – like applying the idea of a smart grid to our utility use and billing, efficiency and renewable now (not later), government mandates and crackdown for laziness in getting on board, and even suggesting that the USA needs to getting into a race w/ China to “out green” one another – akin to the space race with former USSR that put a man on the moon in short order.

Another great read, and a bit shorter, is an article in Rolling Stones: “Al Gore: Climate of Denial: Can science and the truth withstand the merchants of poison?“ This article addresses the question of whether we are all in denial about climate change or not. Former Vice-President Al Gore emphatically says “Yes, we are in denial.” The final paragraph states:

The climate crisis, in reality, is a struggle for the soul of America. It is about whether or not we are still capable — given the ill health of our democracy and the current dominance of wealth over reason — of perceiving important and complex realities clearly enough to promote and protect the sustainable well-being of the many. What hangs in the balance is the future of civilization as we know it.

And finally, the shortest of all the reads, an article from Newsweek: “It’s still the Economy, Stupid. 14 Ways to put America back to Work” by 42nd President Bill Clinton. In June 2011 in Chicago, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) focused on America for the first time, inviting business and political leaders to make specific commitments in support of the former president’s jobs blueprint, which he details in this article. Here Clinton outlines his plans for economic stimulation. Interestingly enough, the first half circled around energy efficiency and the funding there of. Namely, #2 Cash for Startups, #3 Jobs Galore in Energy, #4 Copy the Empire State Building, #5 Get the Utilities in on the Action, #6 State-by-State Solutions, and #8 Paint ‘Em White. And, really, all fourteen talk about energy conservation relating to economic stimulus in one way or another.

So sit back, try to relax and enjoy the reading. (Then change out all your light bulbs to CFLs and LEDs, install a solar array and fix that leaky faucet.)

SBS Intalls Solar for Ravalli Co Habitat for Humanity

According to the Bitterroot Star, last week the the fifth home by Ravalli County Habitat for Humanity was completed and keys handed over to the owners. The new home is on Cherry Street in Hamilton and now belongs to Travis Sanderson and his family.

Much of the materials for the home were donating, including a Solar PV system – made possible through the work of Sustainable Building Systems (SBS) and Northwestern Energy’s Solar PV grant. This system will reduce the family’s prior heating bill of $350/month in winter to around $80/month.

Read the entire coverage from the Bitterroot Star here.

Solar Prices drop up to 25%!

After a PV module industry wide cost reduction, sourcing a lower cost mount system and dealers giving better pricing on all balance of system components, SBS has new numbers for potential Solar PV customers in MT that represent up to a 25% reduction in installed costs for PV systems!

If you couple the new lower prices with a $6000 Northwestern Energy PV grant, the 30% Federal Tax credit for renewable energy and the $500/$1000 (single/couple) State Tax credit, the costs are lower than every before.

And here in Montana, we can add to that a 10-year, 4% financing option (oac) from the MT DEQ revolving loan fund for renewable energy.

For a 2kw, 9 module system, total cost to the customer is in the $12,000.00 range.

After incentives this is roughly 3,200.00 out of pocket.

This on average powers about 25-40% of the average Montana home.

Here is an example of plausible breakdown for that $12,000 system

$12,000 GROSS
- $1000 (deposit to SBS to begin work)
=$11,000 NET
-$6,000 (NWenergy PV grant)
=$5,000 – Financed w/ MT DEQ loan

Yes, that is correct, for at little at $51/month for a 10-year period, you can cover up to 40% of your energy bill. Awesome. Check out this PV for more information: SolarPVFinancing-Basics-final.

And, when you file your taxes at the end of the year on that system, you’ll still get the $1800 Federal credit and the $500/$1000 state credit back. You can keep these to use however you’d like, or put that money into your DEQ loan for early pay off (there is not penalty for early pay).

For a free solar site assessment, or to learn more, contact us at SBS today:,, 406-541-8410.

To get a general estimate of your solar or other renewable energy needs, try our Solar Calculator here.

SBS sponsors Selway-Bitterroot Foundation Fundraiser

posted in: wilderness | 0

SBS is proud to sponsor the Selway-Bitterroot-Frank Church Froundation fundraiser next week in Missoula. They are bringing the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival next Thursday, April 7, 2011. We love this Foundation, as they are the primary stewards and protectors of this largest wilderness in the lower-48 states. Please join us on April 7th for this great event.

Here’s some quick points:

  • Telluride Mountainfilm Festival – Showcasing the very best films from the 2010 festival.
  • Presented by the Selway-Bitterroot Foundation
  • April 7th at the Roxy Theatre, south Higgins – in Missoula
  • Doors open at 6pm,. films start at 7pm
  • Beer from Blacksmith Brewery
  • Crazy amount of raffle prizes including; whitewater rafting trips, guided fly fishing trips, patagonia and cloudveil prizes, backpacks, cooking stoves and much more
  • Sponsored by Sustainable Building Systems, The Independent, Montana Headwall, Grizzly Hackle, Kent Bros. First Security Bank, NRS, REI, Missoula Federal Credit Union and Kuhl Clothing.
  • All proceeds benefit wilderness stewardship and trails maintenance in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
  • Tickets are $12, students are $10

We hope to see you there!

SBS Team

The Northwestern Energy Solar PV Grant

posted in: solar PV | 0

As a company with a NABCEP Certified Solar Installer, we are one a few companies in the state that qualifies for special $6,000 grants from Northwestern Energy for Solar PV installs. We’ve been granted access to 11 such grants and have already allocated a few of them.  Our goal it to have them all in install mode by Halloween.  If you have been considering Solar PV, this sort of assistance really starts to make it affordable, especially coupled with State and Federal Tax Credits.

Consider that the average US home uses 9000 kWh (kilowatt hours) of power per year.  This is roughly 26.5 kWh per day. For example’s sake, we’ll say 25 kWh, which would be easy to obtain with minor energy retrofits).  If you figure that we have, on a annual average in Western Montana, 5-hours of sun per day to make energy from, that would mean we’d need to produce 5 kW of energy from that system, per hour, to get to 25 kWh.
5 kW x 5 h = 25 kWh

Now consider that the average panel produces 185 W.  This would mean the 5.5 panels would be needed to produce 1 kW.
185 W x 5.5 panels = 1000 W
1000 W = 1 kW = 5.5 panels

So, to get to the 5 kW system we’re looking for, the average system would require 27 panels.
5.5 panels = 1 kW
27 panels = 5 kW

Now, most folks are not interested in offsetting 100% of their energy quite yet.  Here in Missoula we have annual net metering.  This means that you are assessed a bill each month depending on how much energy your system will put back in the grid (i.e. in January that might only be 10% and in July it could be 120%).  At the end of the year your total usage and production are assessed.  If you produced a deficit of energy, you will already have paid that amount through your monthly billing.  If you produced a surplus, well, you’re neighbor thanks you for putting clean, solar energy back into the grid.  But, at this point, Northwestern Energy doesn’t pay you back.  That’s not to say they won’t someday, with energy rates increasing at 4.4% on average.   However, since they currently do not pay you for your surplus, we usually design and install systems that cover 90% or less of your annual energy needs.

So, back to the example above.  Take the 5 kW system.  Let’s say we only want to go with 75% coverage.  We’re now at 3.75 kW (or 3750 watt system).  At an average rate of $5-$8, per watt, installed, we’ll use $6 in this example.
3750 W x $6/W = $22,500

Now, apply the $6000 Northwestern Energy Solar PV Grant, 30% Federal Tax credit, and $500 per MT tax payer credit (so, $1000 for most households):

$22,500 (gross)
- $6,000 (NW Energy)
- $4,950 (30% Federal Tax Credit)
- $1,000 ($500/person MT Tax Credit)
=$10,550 (net)

This is, of course, just an example.  But is a good indicator of what’s out there today.  If you don’t have tax liability this year, the tax credits can be carried forward for up to 5 years.  There are also other incentives and tax deductions out there, as well as some forms of revolving loan financing that can be applied to either the net or gross amount.

IECC 2009 Energy Code Compliance – Are you Ready? SBS is.

posted in: federal rebates | 0

By designing and/or building above and beyond the new IECC 2009 energy code you will set yourself and your business apart.  And in the process, your high-performance buildings also improves the comfort, safety, health, durability, and affordability of your projects.

Anyone building a new home after June 2010 will have to meet the requirements of the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code® (2009 IECC) for residential buildings. Not only does SBS know WHAT the code requires, we also specialize in HOW to meet it and how to go BEYOND with energy conservation.

Bring yourself up to speed on the significant changes with help from this document on the City of Missoula’s website.  And take a look at our flier on MEETING THE CODE.

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