The electric meter at Jim Smith’s Colorado brokerage runs backwards.
Golden Real Estate is based, as its name suggests, about 15 miles from downtown Denver in the picturesque mountain town of Golden. The 10-agent brokerage operates out of an old restaurant building that Smith — the owner of Golden Real Estate — bought in 2007, and on which he has spent roughly $100,000 retrofitting so that it is as environmentally friendly as possible.
“I’ve always been an environmentalist,” he told Inman.
Today, Golden Real Estate’s building produces more energy than it consumes, Smith said, giving it “net-zero” status. The emphasis on environmental friendliness also plays a major role in the brokerage’s marketing, and is a draw for agents who might consider working there. And most importantly, Smith hopes his business’s environmental gains will inspire others.
“This is a model,” he said. “It’s a sustainability model for others. We as Realtors need to learn about it because this also applies to homes.”
Smith’s path to creating a net-zero office building began decades ago. In 1991, he bought an office building in Denver that had formerly been an apartment, then began the retrofitting process: He installed swamp coolers on the roof, replaced the old boiler, put in carpet made from recycled soda bottles, and insulated all the old fire places.
That building proved to be a kind of early draft for Smith, and when he purchased his current office in Golden one of the first things he did was install a 5-kilowatt hour solar panel system on the roof. Over time, Smith added another 15 kilowatt hours of solar capacity to the building.
The system is hooked into the region’s electrical grid, which Smith said functions like a “battery”; when the building is drawing electricity out of the grid, such as at night when there’s no sun, the electric meter runs forward like it would for any other structure. But when the solar panels are generating electricity, the meter actually runs in the opposite direction — or “backwards,” as Smith described it.
The building also uses high-efficiency electric heating and cooling systems, and no longer relies on any natural gas. As a result, utilities cost $11.26 per month (not counting water and other non-energy related costs). It’s a startlingly low price considering the region has cold winters and hot summers that both typically require significant energy consumption.
Golden Real Estate’s building achieved net-zero status in December 2017.
That savings on utilities is one of the more obvious benefits to Smith’s environmentally-minded approach to buildings. But he said there are others as well. Both he and a number of his agents drive Teslas, for example, and all of them are able to charge their cars for free at the office. He described it as a unique perk that other companies can’t match.
“It’s a recruiting tool,” Smith added.
Smith doesn’t think that his green values alone have won clients for the brokerage, but he also said that isn’t the point. Instead, he said the objective is to “promote environmental responsibility” and to set an example. The company foregrounds that message in marketing materials and even on its for-sale signs.
It’s also something that matters deeply to everyone who works there.
“This is just a part of our mission,” Smith said. “It’s part of our brand.”