If you’ve never heard of a net-zero energy home, you aren’t alone. It’s just now starting to gain attention because it is now more affordable than ever and it makes a lot of sense.
What exactly is a net-zero energy home? Loosely, it is a home that produces as much power as the home uses, over the course of a year. The power in a net-zero energy home is produced with renewable energy sources such as wind or solar, the goal being to minimize or eliminate fossil fuel use. The effect is low (or no) utility bills.
Before we go any further, it is more likely that the utility bills for a net-zero energy home will be low, not “no”. The reason is that most net-zero energy homes are connected to the power grid. This has the benefit of keeping the lights on at night, but the utility company will charge you for the privilege of being connected. Usually it is a small fee, but it depends on where you live.
We have a 2 kW photovoltaic grid connected rooftop installation and we are almost net-zero on our electricity use. We also have gas, so our total energy use is not net-zero, yet. When we are making more electricity than we use, our average monthly electric bill is around $8.00 which is our fee for the privilege of being connected. Different utilities will charge differently so don’t get married to $8.00, just giving you a point of reference.
How To Build A Net Zero Energy Home
There are two ways to get to net-zero energy. One is to slap a bunch of solar panels on the roof, which is what we did. I recommend this approach as a cost effective way to get to net-zero on existing homes. It does take a lot of solar panels to meet the power needs of a conventionally built home so if you go this route, make sure you have enough roof space. Your local solar installer can help you figure out what you will need.
The other way is to build the savings into the shell of your home, thereby reducing the amount of renewable energy that’s needed in the first place. This is good because it saves space and reduces the cost of the photovoltaic equipment. I recommend this approach for new construction because of the added benefits that include comfort and fresh air.
If you are building a new home, the three reasons that net-zero might be right for you are:
- Save Money Every Month
- Fresh Air All The Time
1. Saving Money Every Month
The first and most obvious reason to consider building a modern net-zero energy home is the pleasure of receiving the monthly electric bill. Up until we had the PV, I can tell you that getting that bill WAS NEVER a pleasure. Now, it almost makes me giddy to see that crazy low bill and to think that the sun is providing our power.
A well insulated and air-tight home is significantly more comfortable than a conventionally built home. The insulation thing is fairly obvious, just think of the cooler that keeps your ice cold, it will also keep your coffee warm. The air-tight thing however is a little strange, because it’s not as intuitive. Basically, any air that is heated or cooled can escape through the leaks in the home. Since you pay to heat and cool that air, it makes sense to hang on to as much of it as you can. Making a home air-tight is kind of like putting the cap on the soda bottle. By insulating well and tightening up the building, comfort is dramatically improved.
3. Fresh Air
If you are wondering whether an air-tight home is stuffy or moldy, consider yourself in good company. It is the first question most people wonder about, and the answer is an air-tight home that is built correctly is NOT stuffy or moldy.
The difference between an air-tight home and a leaky one is the manner in which fresh air is brought into the home. In a leaky home, fresh air comes in through all the leaks and is filtered through all the building materials, which could actually be pretty gross. In an air-tight home, air is brought in via a duct to a piece of equipment that filters the air and exchanges the heat, saving a little energy along the way. The result is fresher air than you’ve ever probably ever experienced in a home.
The fourth and not so obvious reason is changing energy codes.
It might surprise you that building a net zero energy home is probably going to be what energy codes require in the future. I don’t have a crystal ball, but the chat among energy and code geeks is that is the direction it is headed. Already, with the 2012 edition of the code we’ve seen a big leap that requires buildings to be built with more insulation and tighter than before. It’s easy to build this way now, and if your home is built to meet the code of the future, it will be a lot easier to sell down the road if you decide to do that.
Building a net-zero energy home could be right for you if you want to:
- Save Money
- Feel Comfortable
- Enjoy Fresh Air
- Sell Your Home In The Future
Building a modern net-zero home isn’t for everybody, there are certainly other things you could spend your money on. But, if you are going to be smart about where your money goes, investing in strategies to get to net-zero energy actually can pay you back over time. Granite? Not so much.
Are you thinking about building a modern net-zero energy home? If so, what are the reasons for you? Let me know in the comments below.