Oldest Net-Zero House in America

  • Matt and Kelly Grocoff have taken the last major step to turn their 110-year-old home into the nation's oldest net-zero house, and Michigan's first. (Photo courtesy of Matt Grocoff)

The Environment Report has been following an effort to make a Michigan house the oldest net-zero house in America. That means in a year the home will produce as much energy or more than it uses. Lester Graham reports… the owners are at the point where they can reach that goal.

Matt and Kelly Grocoff bought an old house in a historic neighborhood in Ann Arbor a few years ago. Matt wanted to show that making an older home an energy efficient showcase made more sense than building new. He wanted to use it as an example for others. Kelly was just a little skeptical.

“When we first bought the house and Matt was talking about what he wanted to do and what some goals might be, part of me was sort of like yeah, yeah, you know. Matt’s a dreamer. He likes to think big. And it’s really happening.”

Assess your own home’s energy efficiency

Related Environment Report stories featuring Matt Grocoff


Matt has worked with new technologies, new approaches, struggling with bureaucrats getting permits, working through red tape of the utility company. There were some mistakes along the way in trying to make the old house really efficient and now producing energy. But showing how it could be done was part of the idea.

(sound of solar panel installation)

On the day we were visiting this fall, the final major element was being installed… solar panels.

Matt says this is going to take the house from being super energy efficient—to actually producing more electricity than it uses.

“I actually read the other day, Newsweek had a quote, that solar panels will return 15-percent every year. Now, last time I checked savings accounts were zero-percent, CDs were 2.9-percent which is actually zero-percent after inflation, and the S & P 500 stock was under 3-percent. Investing in your own home is the best thing you can do right now especially in this economy.”

He says he’ll get his money back on this system in eight years.

But… that wouldn’t have been possible without some incentives. His utility company offers incentives and government tax credits covered 30-percent of the cost. While tax credits for things like insulation and other efficiencies end on December 31st, tax credits for solar enegy systems, geothermal heat pumps, residential wind turbines and fuel cells will be in place until the end of 2016. In the end… he’ll have out-of pocket expenses amounting to about 19-thousand dollars for a 56-thousand dollar solar installation.

“If it weren’t for those incentives, the payback would be much, much longer, but would still be beneficial. I also want to make the point that the systems are coming down in cost every year. I’m paying less than someone who installed solar two years ago. “

And experts predict the cost of solar panels will continue to go down.

“Four years from now, they’re saying that solar will be on par with coal as far as a per-kilowatt cost. That’s when these incentives may not be as necessary going forward.”

Now that those solar panels are installed, on average, Matt’s electricity bill will be zero dollars. And he’s being paid by his utility for producing renewable energy. Score!

All it took was some determination, some creative financing, and a view to the future.
Kelly Grocoff says it’s been an interesting learning experience.

“There are more resources than people might think. It’s just hard to find them. But, if we can do it, anybody can do it, almost anyone.”

Matt is quick to note… much of what they’ve learned is now online at his website, Greenovation-dot-TV, where you can see the house and a lot of information about how to do it yourself.

The Grocoff’s say they’ve preserved an old home, honoring the past in a way that stops energy waste and contributing to global warming, their way of honoring the future.

For The Environment Report… I’m Lester Graham.