It’s Time To Start Thinking About Net Zero Homes

It’s Time To Start Thinking About Net Zero Homes

An increasing number of cities, counties, and states around the U.S. are committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and are implementing mandatory “zero” policies or codes regulating new construction, according to New Buildings Institute (NBI).

There is a reasonable path for homeowners who want to shift to renewable energy, efficient heating and cooling, and sustainably built homes. NBI also writes that “gradually switching from fossil fuels to clean super-efficient electric heating and hot water, known as building electrification, is the most realistic and least-cost pathway to buildings than run on clean energy.”

“Zero energy homes are an irreversible market trend. They are the homes of the future — available today,” says Joe Emerson, founder of Zero Energy Project.

Property owners who have installed a renewable energy system such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, or geothermal energy, are able to generate electricity to power their homes. Residential systems operate under a two-way connection with a local utility grid. When averaged over the course of 12 months, if the home’s energy production is equal to the grid-supplied electricity, the effect is “net zero energy.”

Zero Energy Ready Homes, a certification program developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, is a very popular home building option. Homes are built with all the features of a net zero home — minus the renewable energy component. Pre-wiring technology enables a seamless and less costly installation in the future.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the specifications for the Energy Star Renewable Energy Ready Home, and provides a solar site assessment tool to assess energy potential.

“Positive energy” is the result of excess generation, which can be traded for financial rewards or used to power electric vehicles. “A home can be designed and built as a positive energy home from the start, or an existing zero energy home can be transformed into a positive energy home,” as explained by Zero Energy Project in its guide, Pathways to a Positive Energy Home.

Energy-Efficient Homes Are Healthier

Research completed by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University found that consumers are increasingly worried about the link between health and everyday environmental exposures. In its study, Healthy Home Remodeling: Consumer Trends and Contractor Preparedness, the Joint Center found that “indoor air quality” ranked as the leading source of concern.

Scientific advancements in ventilation systems are now able to capture far greater levels of bacteria, allergens, and airborne pollutants. Energy-efficient homes are constructed with built-in protections from mold and other environmental contaminants.

According to a report completed by the U.S. Department of Energy, Home RX: The Health Benefits of Home Performance, energy-efficient enhancements can change the physical environment of homes by stabilizing temperatures, enhancing indoor air quality, and improving environmental conditions.

Energy-Efficient Homes Cost Less to Own

No matter where you live geographically, if your home is “net zero,” your utility bills can potentially be zero. Today’s options for solar power and other types of renewable energy can effectively supply all the electrical, heating, and cooling systems for your house.

There are a number of ways net zero and highly efficient homes make homeownership more affordable. There are tax breaks, rebates, and other financial incentives for homeowners who install renewable energy or other energy-saving improvements. National mortgage agencies such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, and VA have “green mortgage” programs and have expanded qualifying criteria for borrowers who are purchasing or renovating an energy-efficient home. Energy-efficient homes have proven to increase in value faster than traditional homes — adding more dollars to your retirement nest egg.

Dvele Prefab Homes

Dvele is a California company that builds high-end prefabricated homes; it has redefined the market for homes that are smart, healthy, energy-efficient, and priced within reach for today’s homebuyer. All homes are equipped with solar energy and a battery backup system. Dvele’s seamless and manageable process enables families to move into their homes faster, and the firm also helps buyers with construction financing. Customers can choose from a wide range of house sizes, floor plans, and customization options. Pictured are interior and exterior photos of a completed Dvele home.

Photo courtesy: Dvele
Interior of a Dvele home
Photo courtesy: Dvele

Eco Estates Sustainable Homes

Eco Estates uses a fresh approach to the design and building of sustainable homes with sound structural integrity, durability, healthful environment, comfort plus, and advanced technology. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, Eco Estates offers a range of services for homeowners, including efficiency upgrades, solar power systems, and energy storage. President and CTO David Pham offers sound advice for homeowners, “Complete an efficiency upgrade before installing solar — then look at the new energy bill to help determine how much solar and/or batteries you will need.” Shown below is an Eco Estates high-performance, solar-ready home near Austin, Texas. Models of net zero and eco-friendly homes up to 9,000 square feet in size can be viewed at the Eco Estates Design Studio.

Exterior of Eco Estates International home
Photo courtesy: Eco Estates International

Homes of Log and Timber

Log and timber homes are a time-honored tradition. Those of us who cherish the rustic elegance of exposed timber will be pleased to learn that some of the latest energy-efficient materials and components can be hidden behind walls of authentic half logs and decorative finishes. Wood provides excellent thermal conductivity and is considered to be one of the most sustainable forms of construction. Since wood is a lighter building material, log and timber frame homes require less reinforcing steel and smaller footings, thereby reducing carbon emissions.

According to the North American Forest Products Industry, “In a wood building, the carbon is kept out of the atmosphere for the lifetime of the structure. Wood stores more carbon than is emitted during its harvest, production, transport, and installation — even when transported over great distances.“

Pictured below is the first log home to pass the stringent energy codes of Vail, Colorado. The remote mountaintop home is powered by a free-standing array of solar panels mounted on the ground nearby. Built with high-efficiency commercial-grade windows and other energy features, the house also has backup generators.

Log home
Photo courtesy: Heidi Long, Longviews Studios, Inc.

The Path to Net Zero

Just about any home has the potential to be net zero — even homes that are 100 years old. Frequently called a “deep retrofit,” homes undergo a series of efficiency measures, along with installation or upgrading of appliances. The path to zero can be taken in small steps, and a deep retrofit might not be feasible.

A good place to start is by ordering a home energy assessment. You can learn about the HERS Energy Score, and locate a HERS energy rater from the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). The U.S. Department of Energy offers a program called Home Energy Score, and provides detailed explanations about the testing process and assessor locator by zip code. Many utility companies offer free home energy assessments. And if there is a cost, it is often credited toward the purchase of recommended efficiency measures.

About the Author

Anna DeSimoneAnna DeSimone is the author of Live in a Home that Pays You Back: A Complete Guide to Net Zero and Energy-Efficient Homes, featuring programs and resources for the U.S. and Canada.


Editor’s Note: This article, originally published on October 21, 2021, was updated in June 2024.


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