Cities, counties, and states around the U.S. are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and are implementing mandatory “zero” policies or codes regulating new construction, according to New Buildings Institute(NBI).
This 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, is the most realistic pathway to run buildings 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, is a very popular home building certification program developed by the U.S. Department of Energy. Homes are built with all the features of a net zero home — minus the renewable energy component. Pre-wiring for the 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 for a particular location.
“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
The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University found that consumers increasingly worry 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 among consumers.
Scientific advancements in ventilation systems are now able to capture far greater levels of bacteria, allergens, and airborne pollutants. In addition, energy-efficient homes can be constructed with built-in protections from mold and other environmental contaminants.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s report, 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, 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. Tax breaks, rebates, and other financial incentives are available to 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.
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.