Why, Elon Musk, Why?!

Why does Elon Musk have to come out with such appetizing products?

I already desperately want a Tesla car, but Elon made quite a few people scream, “Take my money!” when he recently showed off some pretty amazing designs for solar shingles in conjunction with an upgraded Powerwall to store extra energy.

While building a green home is not the most important goal of this project– we’re not willing to use a technology just because it is green if it doesn’t make fiscal sense or ruins the look or function of the home– we would love to be able to incorporate it as much as possible.  If we had more land, I would totally consider installing a solar array away from the house, but we don’t have that option.  And the previously available roof panels don’t give the look we like and would very possibly not be approved by the design review committee of our neighborhood anyway.

But the new shingles shown off at Tesla’s press event on Wisteria Lane (yes, they are only available for Desperate Housewives for now) look like normal high-end shingles from the street.  It’s only from more direct angles, like the angle the sunlight would hit them, that the underlying panels become apparent.  Quite an awesome design that they report loses very little energy.

Of course, this was just a preview and who knows how they will actually look or perform in mass production.

And there’s that little issue of price.  Really no details were shared on this issue other than to say that they expect (or maybe hope) that the added cost of these solar shingles will be offset by the savings in electricity.  Unfortunately, that’s way too vague.  If it is 5 years to break even, then it probably would make sense.  After all, normal roofs are expected to last upwards of 30 or more years.  Of course, since they will have electronic components– and we all know how quickly electronics makes leaps and bounds– owners of these roofs may need and/or want to “upgrade” them much sooner.  But if I’m expected to front a big cost that I wouldn’t recoup for a decade or more, it would be a lot harder to bite.

It will be very interesting to see more of the details as these get closer to production to see how many people they really make sense for and how they actually perform.  I imagine it will be like Tesla cars: very high-end and almost a novelty to begin with and trickling down to more average consumers over a few years.

In our case, they won’t really be an option, though, because they likely won’t be available till late 2017 and we better have a roof on our project before that.  Plus I don’t think I would want to be a day 1 adopter of something like this that will definitely command a premium price.  It will be very appealing as an upgrade down the road, however.

Now, about that Powerwall…

Why We Moved Off the Lake

I (Brett) have been thinking about different iterations of this project for nearly 10 years now.  That was way before I even met Stephanie, much less being in a spot to make such big plans together.

For some reason, I have wanted to build, rather than buy, a house for as long as I can remember.  Maybe it’s because, as an 8-year-old, I was fascinated with watching and helping out with the gut job and addition my parents did on my childhood home.  Maybe it’s because I can be very particular about what I do and don’t like.  Maybe I just like new things.

As a result, I’ve been looking through house plans since I was a medical resident.  Sometime during residency as well, I was driving home from Chicago after spending a few days with my family during which we did some boating/waterskiing and I decided that I really wanted to live on a lake.  I started picturing the houses I was seeing online combined with a lakefront lot and I was sold.

When I finished my residency, Stephanie and I were not yet engaged, so I was more or less acting as a bachelor when I decided to buy a small little cottage on a nice lake with ultimate plans to build a new house on that lot someday.

“Someday” in my mind meant 5 years or so and– since I was a bachelor– I could overlook the fact that there was no dishwasher and the kitchen was smaller than the one in my previous condo, the ceilings were no more than 7 feet high, and there was really only 1 bedroom that barely fit my bed.  Oh, and I’m not entirely convinced there was even any insulation in the walls.

The house itself wasn’t much, but I really purchased it for the location and lake.  I couldn’t get over these views:

lake-view-daytime sunrise-over-lake

Well, we had a lot of fun on that lake.  And I would like to think that a lake home will still be part of our future.  But, once we got married and then had a baby, 2 working parents in the healthcare field meant we didn’t have much time to enjoy the lake.  Plus, all the shortcomings of the house I previously mentioned were much tougher to ignore as our family expanded.

More importantly, though, that “someday” I had previously been estimating kept fading off toward the horizon.  I don’t know exactly what I was thinking when I had my original dreams for that lot, but I wasn’t fully understanding construction financing.  Or I was just choosing to ignore it.  No bank is going to let you knock down a house without paying off the mortgage first.  And the house wasn’t in any condition to allow a remodel, not even a total gut job: the ceilings would have to be raised and the foundation completely redone so it made no sense to keep any of it other than the detached garage.

What that meant in practicality was that we had to completely pay off a house we were going to demolish and then would be left with a pretty expensive piece of land to start over on.  Once that reality really sunk in, and our growing family made the house less and less functional, it became clear we needed to look elsewhere.

We briefly entertained the idea of buying another house but didn’t find anything that really fit what we wanted so the search for land began.  I’ll try to discuss that elsewhere.