— by Avideh Haghighi

Part One in a Series:

It was a Saturday afternoon, with the sun shining and a light ocean breeze, as I pulled up to a cute little house sitting atop a grassy hill.  She was tiny and quite outdated, but still gracefully standing, 99 years after she was built.  I could picture myself living there with *just a few tweaks*.   

Fast forward a year and I’m on a mission to electrify existing single family homes.  How did I get here? The answer is the story of ZEROHOUZ. 

To start at the beginning, I knew that this was a house with huge potential. It was a classic little bungalow from the 1920s, sitting unassumingly on a corner lot.  And by little, I mean 587-square-feet-little!  Clad in tan-colored stucco, it had a simple gable roof, sheltered by two symmetrically placed ficus trees and a perfectly winding pathway leading from the street to the front porch. A carpet of green lawn draped the landscape.  On the side of the house was a patio with terracotta pavers and a white vinyl fence.

Have you ever had a vision so crystal clear that you were compelled to make it happen regardless of the challenges?  That day, I sat at the table on the patio and told the realtor about my vision for the house.  It wasn’t a question of IF, but a question of HOW and WHEN.

The house was far from perfect and it needed a lot of work.  The kitchen had a mismatched and makeshift counter and cabinets, broken tiles and outdated appliances in need of a major facelift.  Old halogen lighting fixtures, dark vinyl flooring, and textured drywall were all remnants of a remodel done in the 80s or 90s.  And don’t even get me started on the ancient gas wall heater or the rusty 19 year old gas water heater (which was probably leaking a good amount of methane).

And yet, this house had three very important things going for it: 

  1. It was sitting on a piece of land, prime for creating a lush garden
  2. It had good bones – a good foundation, no known structural issues, and no leaks
  3. It had a south-facing gable roof with full sun exposure, ideal for solar panels

What compelled me more than the house itself, was the history of Signal Hill.  I learned that Signal Hill was once the epicenter of oil production during the Long Beach oil boom of the 1920s.  At one point, Long Beach Oil Field had the highest oil production, per acre.  Thousands of oil derricks dotted the Signal Hill hilltop, making the city look like a prickly “porcupine hill”.  Discovery of oil moved the economy away from coal.  Oil caused less pollution and was relatively safer to mine than coal.  Signal Hill was at the helm of this new discovery, leading the way to a brighter future.  I thought of all places within Los Angeles, this was the perfect place to create a visionary zero emissions house. 

When Sarah Pilla, a Spectrum 1 News Reporter later asked me how I created ZEROHOUZ, my response was, “it created itself”.  The house had a story to tell.  As one of four tiny bungalows built for the oil workers in the 1920s oil boom, sitting on top of active oil fields, it could manifest its own future as a zero emissions house fueled by renewable energy.  How cool would that be?!

She was hooked.  The realtor, that is.  And that says a lot, because realtors aren’t usually excited about this “green stuff”.  Everyone else was excited, too – the neighbors, other realtors, the utility company, and the green building community at large.  So began my journey of retrofitting a 99-year old house to be zero emissions.

Watch for Part Two coming soon.

Tags: decarbonizationelectrificationgreen homeretrofitlong beachsignal hill

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