Is a Net Zero Home Right for You?

REVIEW THE BENEFITS & CHALLENGES
by Tom Wilson 9/14/23
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What is a Net Zero Home?

Simply put, Net Zero energy efficient homes create as much energy as they use. This leaves home owners with “zero” energy bills and all but eliminates their carbon footprint. Net Zero homes offer onsite, renewable energy. It’s kind of like the nirvana of home energy dreams. But, while this is no easy undertaking, it is attainable. We’ll discuss what homeowners have to gain as well as reviewing the difficult challenges they face. All while pursuing the ultimate goal of energy independence.

Characteristics of a Net Zero Home

Net Zero Homes by far exceed building standards of average houses. They are also more solidly built than the majority high end homes. Net Zero builds have tighter envelopes, thicker walls with better insulation. In addition, they offer better inside air filtration systems. Let's review some of the key characteristics that make these homes so special.

Solar Energy

The installation of solar panels is the most expensive but also the most important element of a Net Zero home. The production of solar energy is renewable, sustainable and clean. It also is the single biggest factor in becoming energy independence. Installing solar panels have a variety of benefits, We'll break down the benefits.

Reduce your Energy Bills

While the initial price for installation is high, home solar energy systems more than offset the cost with monthly energy reductions.
Forbs reports savings of up to $25,500 to $33,000 on electricity over the 30 year life span of typical solar panels.

Maintain Power When Grid Goes Down

Gain energy independence from your local power company. Not having to rely on the grid safeguards against being left in the dark or out in the cold when bad weather strikes.

Solar Energy Works in Any Climate

whether you live in the sunny state of Florida or the more frigid climate of Minnesota, solar energy is a practical energy alternative. The reason being that solar energy utilizes the suns light, not heat. As long as panels are properly positioned to absorb this light, solar panels work regardless of the temperature.

Increase Your Homes Value

According the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, home buyers are wiling to pay an average of 15,000 more for homes with energy efficient solar panels. Of, course, this is more so the case when home buyers fully understand the benefits gained by having solar energy. Nationally, more realtors are understanding and stressing the importance of this asset. 

Energy Efficient Windows

Energy efficient windows are a key component to maintaining a consistent indoor temperature. As a general rule of thumb, look for windows that are ENERGY STAR certified.  We'll discuss what factors to consider when choosing the best windows for your home.

Low-E Glazing

Low-E glazing helps present infrared light from penetrating the glass on your window pain. Low-E aids energy efficiency and important for keeping both heating and cooling bills lower 

Multiple Panes of Glass

Energy efficient windows are a key component to maintaining a consistent indoor temperature. Double and triple panes are available, but for most double pain are the most appropriate option. To be clear, there is no disputing triple pane are more efficient than double pane. Yet, due to the high cost, it takes an exceptionally long period of time to see a positive return on your investment.

U-Factor

U-factor (or U-Value) determines the quality of your windows insulation properties. It is a measurement of the rate non-solar heat is transferred. 

SHGC (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient)

The SHGC rating calculates the amount of solar heat that penetrates the glass. The rating appropriate for your home will vary depending on your geographic location.   

Choosing the Right Energy Efficient Window 

Selecting the proper windows for your home depends on the climate where you live.  Warmer regions will benefit from a low SHGC, low-E coating and low U-factor. Thus,  allowing less heat is absorbed into your home.  Colder climates require a higher E-coating and low-E coating. Conversely, this will allow for more heat to penetrate your windows.

Superior Insulation Materials 

Spray Polyurethane Foams

Spray foams are ore the preferred choice of many Net Zero home builders. They are primarily chosen for their ability to expand within interior of walls, rafters and joist spaces. It’s ideal for filling small areas and reducing energy loss. There are currently two types of polyurethane foams currently in use...

Closed-cell Foam

Closed-cell foam has a higher R-value than open Cell foam. The "R" stands for "resistance" and pertains to a material's resistance to heat flow. Closed cell foam also substantially increases the structural integrity of the surrounding walls. This is highly beneficial in regions prone to high winds and wind damage. This foam is also water imperviable.

Open-cell Foam

Open-cell foam expands rapidly and dries quickly making it's usage efficient and convenient. Keep in mind, this foam has a lower R-value and is not water imperviable like closed-cell foam.

Ridgid Foams

Rigid foams have High R-Values. The "R" stands for "resistance" and pertains to a material's resistance to heat flow. The higher the number, the better the resistance. Rigid foams are typically applied to the roof and exterior walls.

Energy Efficient Appliances

ENERGY STAR appliances are recommended by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These products are 3rd party certified and must adhere to strict energy efficient standards. *See list of energy Efficient appliances:
  • Heat Pumps
  • Refrigerators
  • Clothes dryer
  • Dehumidifier
  • Air purifier
  • Washing machine
  • Microwave oven
  • Dishwasher
  • Water Heater

Rainwater Collection systems

Collected rainwater can be safely stored and reused for irrigating your lawn and garden or washing clothing. That said, there is a popular misconception that rainwater is pure. Collected rain water is NOT safe to drink. Boiling rainwater may kill bacteria but does not take chemicals, dirt or sand deposits out of the water. To address this issue, onsite filtration systems are necessary to make potable water suitable for drinking or showering. This allows a Net Zero home to be fully non dependent on public water or energy.

Net Zero vs Other Energy Efficient Homes

It’s very important to distinguish between Net Zero energy homes, Off Grid and Passive Homes have some similarities. But, there are also some distinct differences to discuss. Let's explore what’s different….

Net Zero Homes vs Off Grid Homes

Off Grid homes are, as the name implies, completely disconnected from the power grid. While Net Zero and Off Grid are both energy independent, Net Zero homes remain connected to the grid. This allows Net Zero homes to export back to the grid any unused energy. This contributes to the community energy supply and makes homeowners eligible for tax rebates.

Net Zero Homes vs Passive Homes

Both Passive and Net Zero Homes adhere to a strict set of energy efficient building standards that exceed average households. However, unlike Net Zero homes, Passive homes do not produce any of their own renewable energy.

Benefits of Net Zero Homes

Off Grid homes are, as the name implies, completely disconnected from the power grid. While Net Zero and Off Grid are both energy independent, Net Zero homes remain connected to the grid. This allows Net Zero homes to export back to the grid any unused energy. This contributes to the community energy supply and makes homeowners eligible for tax rebates.

Financial Benefits

While Net Zero homes cost more than standard houses, they can actually cost less to own. This may sound a bit like fuzzy math, but there is a very easy explanation for this assessment. Energy.gov calculates that the monthly savings on energy exceeds the additional mortgage cost to own a Net Zero home.Thus, making them the more economical option.

Environmental Benefits

Net Zero Energy houses reduce fossil fuel consumption and lower the amount of co2 released in the air.This shrinks your home's carbon footprint while making it a safer place to live. On a larger scale, it also lessens the need for natural resource procurement. This results in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combates climate change.

Comfortable Living Conditions

Net Zero home owners enjoy year round temperature, humidity and air quality consistency. This creates an overall more comfortable living environment.

Challenges of Building a Net Zero Home

Higher Startup Cost

The initial cost is considerably higher than standard homes. Features like solar panels, energy efficient windows and appliances add up quickly. It should be noted though that the additional cost can be easily recouped with long term energy savings and tax breaks.

Geographic Location

The geographic location of your home significantly affects building design. Both extreme heat or cold require larger HVAC systems to maintain comfortable temperatures. Also, natural ventilation systems may not be as effective in areas where high humidity is common. Each Net Zero home must be designed to accommodate the unique weather conditions of your home's location.

Construction Quality Issues

Even the best laid plans can sometimes go awry. Net Zero homes have complicated structures that require skilled, experienced builders. Lack of proper training or attention to detail can derail even the best home designs. These issues can cause your new home to fall short of its anticipated quality. This disparity is referred to as the performance gap. Seek out established builders with proven history of customer satisfaction.

Grid Integration

Grid integration allows Net Zero homes to export energy back to the local electricity grid.This affords home owners the ability to apply for additional tax credits. Fair compensation may need to be worked out with your local power company. Be prepared to negotiate.

Final Thoughts on Net Zero Homes

Building costs for a Net Zero home range between 5 - 10% higher than standard houses. Yet, when factoring in the energy savings and tax incentives, the actual cost of ownership is less than a standard home. Furthermore, Net Zero homes have thicker walls, better insulation and tighter than average building envelopes. This allows for consistent inside temperature and humidity levels along with better air quality. On a global level, your home's smaller carbon footprint contributes to a reduction in climate change. While complex designs and building challenges make this process a bit more daunting, there are many good reasons to consider a Net Zero Home.

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