Is solar power a good option?

rooftop_solar

For homeowners concerned about energy bills and their impact on the environment, solar power has long been a tempting option. And if you’re starting a major remodel or addition, you can reduce many of the up front costs of installing a solar power system by rolling it into one big project.

While costs have steadily decreased over the last decade, solar panels and inverters remain expensive. How can you judge whether solar power system is a good investment for your home?

A recent study released by the NC Clean Energy Technology Center has good news: according to their estimates, rooftop solar now costs the same or even less than grid power in 42 American cities. And contrary to popular perception, insolation (the amount of sunshine reaching a given area) is not always the determining factor in the cost-effectiveness of solar power – the two cheapest cities for solar are relatively cloudy New York and Boston. Both cities offer tax credits and other incentives that offset relatively low insolation. Albuquerque, which does not have as many incentives but much more sunshine, comes in third place. You can check what incentives are available in your area with the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

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But these results come with important caveats.  First, the study assumes that homeowners install a 5 kilowatt system, either paid for upfront or financed with a 25-year loan at 5%. If we assume that a typical solar panel produces 0.75kWh per square meter, a 5 kilowatt system would require at least 70 square feet of south-facing rooftop. If you’re building a small accessory dwelling, your roof may not have that kind of space.

Second, the cost of solar only beats grid power if you use the system for 25 years. Although installing solar panels can increase your property value, if you move before 25 years have passed, your investment in solar may not pay off.

Still, the economics of solar power will only improve with time. Utility rates across the country are predicted to increase in the near future, and the cost of solar panels continues to fall. And for many homeowners, cost-benefit analysis is only one part of their decision to go solar – their impact on the environment is often just as important.

You can sign up and use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

Have any questions? We are available to discuss your goals & ideas. There’s no fee or commitment. To request a time for a call, just click here and tell us when to call you.

In-Law Studios: A Creative Housing Solution for San Francisco

In-Law Unit
In-Law Unit

Grappling with their affordable housing crisis, the City of San Francisco is evaluating this pressing issue from many different angles. One unique solution is encouraging the development of accessory dwelling units (also commonly known as secondary dwelling or in-law units).   Recently, the Board of Supervisors passed two pieces of legislation that now supports this type of housing:

First, Supervisor David Chiu’s ordinance grants legal status to existing illegal units built before January 2013. The ordinance also prohibits the costs of legalization from being passed through to the tenant.  Recognizing the existing illegal units can potentially add anywhere between 30,000 to 50,000 units to the City’s housing stock.

The second recently passed ordinance was Supervisor Scott Wiener’s legislation that legalizes the new construction of accessory dwelling units in District 8, primarily the Castro neighborhood. Density and other planning code requirements are waived to support the development of in-law units. To ensure these accessory dwellings meet the City’s goals of offering these units as additional affordable housing options, the Planning Department will monitor the rents and publish a report evaluating the effectiveness of the ordinance.  Other requirements  include:

  •  limiting the maximum square footage to 750 square feet
  • the units must be built within the existing building envelope
  • for buildings that have less than 10 existing dwelling units, only one in-law unit is permitted
  • buildings with 10 or more units are permitted to have up to two in-law units

Now, Wiener is proposing yet another piece of creative legislation to spur the increase of in-law units. His legislation would allow property owners who are mandated to do seismic work on their buildings to add in-law units within their soft-story buildings. This provides an opportunity for the property owners to earn additional rental income that will make the necessary retrofits viable.

As stated in San Francisco’s Housing Element, the housing market continues to be tight and housing costs are beyond the reach of many households. In-law units in existing residential buildings represent a simple and cost-effective method of expanding the City’s housing supply. Click here to learn more about San Francisco’s planning code for accessory dwelling units.

If you are interested in pursing your own accessory dwelling units, reach out to New Avenue at 855-5NewAve or email info@newavenuehomes.com.

You can sign up and use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

Have any questions? We are available to discuss your goals & ideas. There’s no fee or commitment. To request a time for a call, just click here and tell us when to call you.

Little Atherton’s Big Housing Market – How Small Homes Strike a Balance

An unincorporated area of San Mateo County, the tiny town of Atherton has a major market for mansions.  In fact, Atherton is Atherton, CAreportedly the most affluent zip code in the nation and is home to Silicon Valley’s tech darlings like Facbook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Google’s Eric Schmidt.  For this reason,  Planning for the required number of housing units has proved especially difficult for this Peninsula community with their limited space for new construction.  By utilizing the expansive lots and existing infrastructure of their single family homes, these accessory dwellings are a practical solution.  Other benefits of these small homes include the valuable opportunity for multigenerational living, supplemental income for owners and affordable housing for renters. Here are a few of the requirements related to accessory dwelling units in Atherton, though you’ll have to  review the municipal code for the most accurate definition, requirements, variances and exceptions:

  • The second unit shall not exceed 1,200 sq ft (doubled in 2010 from previous maximum of 600 sq ft)
  • May enroach into the side and rear yard setbacks by not more than twenty percent of the required setback
  • Maximum height is thirty feet
  • Parking requirements are 1 space per number of bedrooms in second unit

In addition, the owner must occupy either (or both) the main house or second unit.  Verify with the Planning Division to confirm your requirements in your zoning district. Learn more about accessory dwellings by learning about our process, read our client stories or contact us today if you are interested in building your own backyard cottage.

You can sign up and use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

Have any questions? We are available to discuss your goals & ideas. There’s no fee or commitment. To request a time for a call, just click here and tell us when to call you.

Menlo Park addresses Housing by making it easier to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

  Menlo Park took this opportunity to meet their RHNA of 655 dwelling units by concurrently amending their ADU ordinance. Now it’s easier for residents to build a backyard cottage!  Some of the adopted regulations include:

  • Reducing the required interior side setback to five feet
  • A maximum size of 640 square feet but may be built up to 700 square feet to allow access for disabled residents
  • Increasing the maximum height to 17 feet
  • Allowing parking in required front and interior side yards
The ordinance was adopted on May 13, 2014 and became effective on June 13, 2014.  Visit the City of Menlo more information on the revised zoning code, and for a copy of the amendment, click here.  We look forward to seeing more backyard cottages, in-law studios, private home spas, guest houses, music rooms, art studios and more!
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Erin’s In-Law Studio photo credit: Scott Kline
New Avenue did a project in Menlo Park not too long ago. Check out Erin’s story.

You can sign up and use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

Have any questions? We are available to discuss your goals & ideas. There’s no fee or commitment. To request a time for a call, just click here and tell us when to call you.

Santa Cruz Open House of Mid-Construction Backyard Cottage, Saturday July 19th, 12-2pm

Santa Cruz ADU
Cedar custom 1×4″ fabricated and rabbited on site

Tour a 1,000 sq.ft. accessory dwelling under construction on Saturday, July 19th from 12-2pm in Santa Cruz.  The drywall just went up, so it’s a perfect time to get a sense of the size and flow of a beautiful ADU, with all the finishes still up to your imagination! Kathleen and John are building this home for Kathleen’s father.  The space has a 2-car garage, loft, full kitchen and lots of storage space for this active couple’s paddle boards, surf boards and bicycles!

New Avenue representatives will beElevations on hand answering any questions you have about our process and how projects like this work.  Feel free to invite your friends and family. Simply click here to RSVP and get the address.

Stay tuned for invitations to more open houses and events like this one. Please call us at 855.563.9283 or email info@newavenuehomes.com with any questions about this project or one you might have in mind for yourself.

You can sign up and use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

Have any questions? We are available to discuss your goals & ideas. There’s no fee or commitment. To request a time for a call, just click here and tell us when to call you.

Portland Accessory Dwelling Tour


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We’re just back from a great trip to Portland where, we learned that Portlandia is, in fact, a documentary.  They all work 20 hours a week at Starbucks, have chicken coops, ride their bikes all day, everyday.  Or at least, the east side of Portland fits that description.  The west side, we are told, is different.  There are rumoured to be Republicans on that side of town.  It seems doubtful, but none the less, this is about the East Side and more particularly, this great little Accessory Dwelling we visited – Susan’s PDX Cottage.

It’s a beautiful city (in the summer, at least) packed with 100 year old craftsman homes and they are really making accessory dwellings happen.

Susan’s PDX Cottage is a converted garage. Here are several pictures of her little cottage.

That’s owner storage for mostly gardening equipment on the right.

Interestingly,  edgy modern furniture can make a classic old garage exterior really work.

It’s official, SMEG refrigerators are the best looking appliances around: http://www.smegusa.com

You see that little hanging spice rack – that’s a $10 IKEA accessory.

Open shelving really works in small spaces.

One of the squares of Ladd’s Addition – the Portland neighborhood with such a unique layout that it is noticeable from space.

DIY landscaping can save thousands and thousands or even tens of thousands.  

You can sign up and use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started

Have any questions? We are available to discuss your goals & ideas. There’s no fee or commitment. To request a time for a call, just click here and tell us when to call you.