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REALTOR. Pearl Real Estate Network member. Certified “EcoBroker,” NAR GREEN Designee, and Master Certification for High Performance Homes. All-around expert at marketing green homes. These are among Jan Green’s professional distinctions, so it’s fitting that her Phoenix metro area home is superlative in the following ways, as well:

  • Built in 1979 and purchased by her in 2015, Jan’s house went from what she called a dilapidated “gutterball” to a net-zero home, meaning its annual energy consumption is equal to the amount of renewable energy it creates, thanks to her efforts.

  • Those efforts also garnered her home a Gold Tier ranking for home energy performance from Pearl Certification, making it not only the first home to have such a ranking in the state of Arizona, but for a time, also the most energy-efficient home in the entire Copper State.

Here’s how she did it.

Getting Started: Termites, Wood Rot, and Worse

When you consider what Jan’s home looked like before her home performance remodel, it’s remarkable her journey took less than 10 years.

After all, when Jan walked through the door on move-in day she was faced with:

  • Wood rot

  • Termites

  • Asbestos

  • Expansive soil cracks throughout the house

  • Mold

“I think I was excited to try to turn around a home that I found myself calling ‘this gutterball’ when I moved in, right?” Jan says. “I mean, no one had done anything to improve or upgrade this house since 1989.”

But behind that was something deeper. “I wanted this house to stand as a model for what anyone can accomplish,” she says.

Today, less than a decade later, things look pretty different, but Jan insists that for most people, this accelerated journey should be attainable. “It just takes a little bit of time and planning,” she says.

To that end, Jan’s first move during the purchase process was arranging for an energy audit of the new home.

Related Post: What's a Home Energy Audit and When Do I Need One?

“The beauty of the energy audit is that it’s going to tell you exactly what you need to replace or fix in a systematic way — how much your ducts are leaking, for example,” she explains. “After I had my energy audit done, I was able to go through the report piece by piece and item by item and check things off.”

Jan Green Blower Door

Jan started her upgrades with air sealing, swapping out her home’s incandescent bulbs for LED lights, installing sun screens on windows to help absorb heat, and other similarly low-cost, minimal-effort, modest-impact home upgrades.

“Those are all quick fixes that can have an immediate payback,” Jan says. She urges cost-conscious homeowners who want to improve home performance and value to compare time-to-payback on an item-by-items basis — prioritizing improvements that will provide a return on investment (ROI) more quickly. For example, she estimates that air-duct sealing can pay back in two to three years while spray-foam insulation can take five to seven years, in which case it may make more sense to start with sealing the ducts.

It’s an especially effective approach if, like Jan, you’re interested in maximizing the benefits of a high-performing home, and going beyond basic measures.

Related Post: Second Step to a High-Performing Home: Air Sealing

Jan Green Blower Door Action

“Once you’ve taken care of the basics, then you can use the rest of the year to monitor and track your cost savings on, say, utility bills,” she explains. “After that, you can start accurately sizing your house for solar or mapping out what your energy needs might be in terms of EV charging.” She’s recently completed both these electrification projects.

On that note, it’s probably time to lay out Jan’s home improvements so far:

  • Sealing air ducts and registers

  • Adding spray foam insulation

  • Replacing her home’s outdated appliances (e.g., washer, dryer, dishwasher, etc.) with energy-efficient, modern ones

  • Replacing her home’s 21-year-old HVAC system with a two-cycle modern alternative (“I love the two-cycle system because once the compressor shuts off, it blows cold air past the coils and keeps the house cool for a lower cost,” Jan elaborated)

  • Installing solar panels, as well as an electric vehicle (EV) charging station

Jan Green EV Charger

Home upgrades like these will continue to yield value over time, of course, but Jan’s results so far are already pretty impressive. A few highlights:

  • Cutting her energy costs alone from around $3,339 to $386 annually — a nearly 90% reduction — following the implementation of home solar

  • Realizing year-over-year savings on energy costs of $2,305 compared to the average U.S. home

  • Improving her home’s HERS® Index Score, which measures overall home energy efficiency — the lower the score, the more energy efficient the home — from 174 to 10

  • Eliminating 80% of unwanted indoor heat gain, thereby curbing home cooling costs, by installing removable sunscreens in key windows

Related Post: What Is Home Electrification, and Is It for Me?

Jan Green Kitchen

Jan’s High-Impact Finance Tips for Home Upgrades

With such a major turnaround in home performance, you might be wondering: How much did the full suite of upgrades cost and how did Jan manage to afford all of it?

The answer to the first question might surprise you. Prior to installing her home’s solar panels and EV charging station, Jan estimates she was out of pocket only $17,070, which covered everything on the bullet-pointed list of home upgrades above.

Jan was able to offset some of the upfront costs of her solar panels through a 26% federal tax credit and a $1,000 incentive from the state of Arizona. But the real story of how she kept costs so low comes down to her deep real estate savvy, not to mention her training in finance. And she wants to pass her knowledge on to as many homeowners as possible. Here’s her cost-saving advice to those just getting started on their home performance journey.

Jan Green Laundry

1. Seek Additional Value from Energy Auditors

“Your auditor may have access to a credit card program that offers favorable terms for these kinds of home upgrade projects,” Jan says. “That was true in my case, and I’ve heard that it happens a lot. That’s how I was able to use a zero-down financing program for the remodel and all of the appliances and other items I initially purchased.”

2. Look for Energy Auditors Who Are Also Certified Contractors

Home energy audits — and home energy auditors specifically — can add value in other ways as well, as Jan explains.

“A lot of people probably don’t know this — I certainly didn’t — but if the contractor who does your energy audit is also a certified contractor with the capabilities to handle whatever fixes or

replacements the audit revealed, it’s fairly standard practice for them to wave the cost of the energy audit as long as you contract with them for services.”

Which is probably a point that’s worth jotting down, considering just how valuable the energy audit was to Jan’s plan of attack and overall journey. You can find vetted, qualified auditors and contractors in your area through Pearl Certification’s Green Door app.

3. Consider Leveraging Your Home Equity for Financing

“It often makes the most sense financially to use your home equity to fund these home performance investments,” Jan says, “because if you do it right, virtually all of those financial outlays should be recouped within a relatively short time horizon.” Plus, the ROI-based approach Jan mentioned earlier should help make step-by-step financial planning easier.

Jan also underscored the ways in which home performance improvements have shaped her own financial planning for the future: “I think of all this as my own version of ‘retirement planning’ because I’ll be mortgage free, debt free, and I’ll have zero electrical or gas bills in the future. So this makes a lot of financial sense for older people like me, for Baby Boomers who are starting to gear up for retirement.”

Related Post: The Green Door Guide to Solar and Energy Storage Rebates and Tax Credits

Next Steps

Jan’s story might sound unique among homeowners, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Even without a background in real estate or finance, it’s possible to turn a “gutterball” into a high-performing home in a relatively short period of time. It helps to have a partner like Jan in your corner and the services of an energy auditor and/or contractor whose work can be certified independently. Phoenix-area homeowners interested in maximizing the value of their homes can find and connect with Jan in Pearl’s Green Door app, along with customized Home Investment Plans and local Pearl Network contractors who can help make home performance dreams a reality.

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