Zero energy homeowners in Issaquah get checks, not bills, from electric company

Nov 19, 2015, 5:18 PM | Updated: Nov 20, 2015, 9:59 am
An energy monitor in Bryan Bell's home shows him how many watts he's using and how much it's costing him. As you can see, he's currently making money from Puget Sound Energy. (Rachel Belle/KIRO Radio)
(Rachel Belle/KIRO Radio)

Last year, Bryan Bell and his wife bought their first home in the Issaquah Highlands. It’s a zHome, one of 10 zero energy, carbon neutral townhouses that are some of the most energy efficient in the country. So energy efficient, in fact, that Puget Sound Energy sends Bryan checks instead of bills.

“We get a check at the end of the year,” Bell said. “This year we got $1,100 back. They pay 15 cents per kilowatt hour that we sell back to them.”

About nine months out of the year, the home relies almost completely on solar panels for energy. Bell says he pays PSE between $50 and $90 a month, in the winter months, but in the end he gets that money back.

The zHomes were built in 2011, and Built Green just released a new report on how well they are performing.

“These homes also use very little water compared to the average home,” Built Green program manager Leah Missik explains. “They use 70 percent less, in fact. That’s because they use rain water to flush the toilets and to do the laundry in these homes, which makes total sense.”

“In addition to that, the homes are extremely energy efficient to begin with,” she continues. “So they have really amazing insulation, all the appliances are Energy Star appliances. We have geothermal heat pumps that help heat the homes. We have radiant floor heating, which means that water circulates beneath the floors and warms up the homes. So it’s really comfortable and it also saves a lot of money.”

The house comes with two handheld monitors so the homeowner can see, in real time, how much water and energy they’re using throughout the day.

“So it shows how many watts we’re using at any given time,” Bell said. “And it also shows the cost of those watts we’re using. You’ll notice that, for instance, right now it’s at negative 1,100 watts. That’s because our solar panels are generating energy so we’re actually making 12 cents an hour right now.”

Missik says the City of Issaquah is devoted to building green and sustainable. In fact, every single building on the Issaquah Highlands, both businesses and homes, are either LEED or Green certified.

“The City of Issaquah actually brokered a deal where they would give land for free to a builder if they agreed to hit these certain environmental benchmarks when they’re building,” Missik said. “These homes are at the forefront of what homes will be in a few years, we hope. We’re seeing more and more deep green homes being built.”

The goal was to keep the zHomes pretty affordable. Bell and his wife bought their home for $400,000.

“The very cheapest, which was a studio, sold for $244,000,” Missik said. “And then the most expensive one, which was a three bedroom, sold for just under $600,000. We wanted these homes to be accessible to the average person and we wanted to make sure that this was a good example that anybody could live this way.”

Ninety percent of the wood in the zHouses are reclaimed, recycled, or grown in sustainable harvested forests. And the house is full of windows so lights aren’t needed during the day.

Missik says people need to change their mindset about building and buying.

“Solar panels cost money to put on a home. So people see that price tag and think, oh, never mind. They don’t consider that in a few years they’re going to already get that much money back and then after that they’re going to be earning even more money. So I think what we need to consider is the lens and how we view money. If we look at something as being a one time payment, that’s very different than saying, okay, if I look over the course of a couple years, I’ll actually be making money.”

  • listen to rachel belleTune in to KIRO Radio on weekdays to hear Rachel Belle.
Who is Rachel Belle?

Your Last Meal

Rachel Belle

Teenager toxic masculinity...
Rachel Belle

This teenage boy wants to help your teen be vulnerable and fight toxic masculinity

15-year-old Zach Gottlieb started an Instagram and TikTok page for teens to submit questions on topics like anxiety, breakups, and more.
12 days ago
Lab grown salmon...
Rachel Belle

Seattle CEO prepares to bring lab-grown salmon to sushi bars, grocery stores

The next generation of sustainable, environmentally sound proteins will come from actual meat and fish. Wildtype is growing cuts of Coho salmon using salmon cells.
1 month ago
Rachel Belle

No one is talking about menopause, not even your doctor

Let's Talk Menopause founder Donna Klassen says most women don't know the symptoms and most medical schools don't include menopause in the curriculum. 
2 months ago
Nadiya Hussain...
Rachel Belle

New ‘Your Last Meal’: British Bake Off winner, Spice Waala brings Indian street food to Seattle

As a child, Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, felt frustrated that her dad served watered down, westernized Indian food at his restaurants.
2 months ago
Toxic positivity...
Rachel Belle

Seattle psychotherapist on how to cope with ‘season of toxic positivity’

Telling your loved ones to look on the bright side when they're feeling down is toxic positivity, and no one likes to hear it. Not even you.
2 months ago
birthday cake...
Rachel Belle

‘Your Last Meal’ podcast explores history of why we eat cake and light candles for birthdays

We all eat birthday cake, but have you ever wondered why? Award-winning chef Christina Tosi dives in on the latest episode of "Your Last Meal."
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles


Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
Zero energy homeowners in Issaquah get checks, not bills, from electric company