Sept. 28, 2023
Darin Carei, a Colorado homebuilder, decided to forgo a natural gas hookup to his Brookfield South Residential subdivision after learning the cost to bring in gas lines would be equal to installing solar panels on each of the houses.
His company, Senergy Builders, has built energy-efficient Energy Star-certified homes since 2011. With the Brookfield subdivision, Senergy is taking the clean energy concept a step further by not adding fossil fuel to the home — instead, they're building all-electric, solar-powered net-zero homes. "We believe this is the future of housing," Carei says.
Colorado is promoting all-electric buildings to help the state achieve its emissions reduction targets of 26 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels. All-electric buildings can also reduce utility costs for residents and business owners.
Electrifying Colorado's new developments
Senergy Builders is working with EnergyWise Consultants and Atlasta Solar Center in Grand Junction to install 7-kilowatt solar panel systems to each rooftop in his Brookfield subdivision. Each system is designed to produce 100 percent of the homeowners' energy needs.
"The home produces as much energy as it consumes — that's the key," Carei says. "We're producing a net-zero, good quality product with energy-efficient appliances, energy-efficient mechanical systems (air pumps for heating and cooling), and solar panels on the roof to fuel those efficient items."
Carei isn't the only developer choosing to forgo gas to power the inside of buildings. Charlie Gechter, owner of BOA Builders, is currently building three houses in his Shadow Mesa subdivision, also in Grand Junction, and a five-unit townhome near Colorado Mesa University, all electric, without any gas lines.
Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley also decided to skip natural gas for its Basalt Vista project, a 27-unit affordable housing development in the town of Basalt. Powered 100 percent by solar panels, Basalt Vista is a collaboration between the Roaring Fork Habitat affiliate, Pitkin County, and the Roaring Fork School District, says Carolyn Meadowcroft, homeowner services director and volunteer coordinator.
There are other all-electric housing developments popping up in Colorado, as well.
"As the cost, environmental, and health benefits of all-electric homes and buildings become more widely known, developers are investing in new all-electric buildings and neighborhoods in several communities in Colorado," says Art Rosenblum, spokesperson for the Colorado Energy Office.
In addition to Grand Junction and Basalt, there are existing or planned all-electric housing developments in Arvada, Breckenridge, Denver, Fort Collins, and Pueblo.
Carei says he wanted to prove that not adding gas to a home can be done as a standard. It also improves indoor air quality and eliminates the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, he adds.
"There's a reason we're talking about efficient building — it's cost effective and helps us reach climate goals," says Kristen Hagerty, senior director of workforce development for Interstate Renewable Energy Council. "Our strategy is electrification to decarbonize. During new construction is the perfect opportunity to not bring in new natural gas infrastructure — you're not incurring that cost."
Carei says it's important for builders to evaluate front-end costs with back-end operational savings to produce a house that is not only safe and comfortable but also cost-effective for the homeowner.
Building codes plug into the effort
Colorado and some local jurisdictions across the country are prioritizing all-electric future development, according to the Colorado Energy Office. The town of Crested Butte became the first municipality in Colorado to require all new residential and commercial development be all-electric and not use gas for heating, hot water heating, or appliances — a policy that went into effect in January 2023.
"After we adopted the code, a lot of municipalities reached out to us about wanting to do the same," says Jessie Earley, Crested Butte senior planner.
Some jurisdictions have also adopted electric-ready building energy codes that require new buildings to be constructed to accommodate electric vehicle charging and electric heaters, water heaters, and appliances. Additionally, Colorado's Energy Code Board adopted a model electric-ready and solar-ready building code, which local jurisdictions are required to adopt and enforce, along with the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code, when updating any other building code, as of July 1. While electric-ready building energy codes still allow for gas hookups in new buildings, these requirements reduce the cost to switch to electric technologies in the future.
Governor Jared Polis in May signed Senate Bill 23-291, which eliminates incentives for installation of gas line extensions in new buildings and developments. Rosenblum adds that because utilities are no longer allowed to subsidize the expansion of the gas distribution system, all-electric homes and buildings will become more cost-effective, which could attract more developers and would save owners and tenants money on future energy costs.