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What Is a Net Zero Home?

By Tiffany Miller:

A Net Zero home is a building with a net energy consumption of zero. This means that the total amount of energy used is equal to the amount of energy created by the home. This can be achieved one of two ways, one being much “greener” and more true to nature than the other. The first way is to slap so many solar panels on a roof that the amount of energy produced by the panels far outweighs the energy expenditure of the home. However, while this is technically “Net Zero,” it is far from efficient. The second and far wiser method is to build a home that is able to keep energy expenditures at a minimum and offset the rest with a small batch of solar panels.

While efficient homes are gaining in popularity, Net Zero homes have been held back by high costs of

Image from http://www.jetsongreen.com
Image from http://www.jetsongreen.com

renewable energy equipment and the need for specialty building materials. In the past, the addition of solar panels alone has added as much as $10,000 to $20,000 to the purchase price of homes. Still, most Net Zero homeowners who bit the bullet and paid those costs argue that the initial high purchase prices promise to be offset over the long term because of the reduction — and in some cases outright elimination — of utility costs.

Fortunately, Net Zero building costs have been driven down in recent years to the point that average home buyers will now be able have it both ways — energy efficient homes at affordable purchase prices. In fact, The Solar Energies Industries Association says the cost of an installed solar electric energy system has fallen by 50 percent since 2010.

The important word to understand here is “Net.” Net Zero homes are not “off the grid,” but rather achieve a net of zero by generating a power surplus during those intensely sunny periods of the day, so the excess is fed back into the public power grid. Net Zero homeowners receive credit (the amount varies depending on the state and the utility company) that typically shows up on their monthly or annual bill. Efficient homes that use very little power may actually end the month at a surplus, with the power company owing the owners money.

What are the basic structural features?Net zero home

Efficient Net Zero homes have reinforced roof structures capable of supporting solar panels. Ideally, roof pitches should face south and/or west, and there should be nothing obstructing light exposure. Rooftop solar electric systems generate all the electricity needed to power everyday life in the home, but the homes are still connected to the public power grid for the times, such as nights, when the system doesn’t generate all the electricity needed.

Other features include spray-on foam insulation, which is installed to seal the house of air leaks, while energy-efficient doors, windows, appliances and lighting; high-performance heating and ventilation systems; and other equipment to regulate humidity, air quality and air flow complete the Net Zero package.

Can I achieve Net Zero?

As I stated before, you could simply cover your entire roof and backyard with solar panels, and produce enough energy to bring you to Net Zero, but this would cost far more than you would ever gain. Unfortunately, remodeling a home to bring it to Net Zero is also out of the question, as this will also cost much more than you would ever see in savings.

Despite the fact that achieving Net Zero in your current home may not be feasible, drastically lowering your power bill is definitely achievable. Here are a few easy tips:

  1. Purchase LED lighting for all your fixtures. LED bulbs use 6 times less energy and have become very affordable. Furthermore, power companies will often offer credits or rebates to those who purchase LED lighting, as it saves them money as well.
  2. New Efficient Appliances. If you already have aging products, and are in the market for new appliances, then always purchase appliances which are Energy Star approved. They can save you hundreds of dollars a year in power and water costs.
  3. One of the easiest things you can do is replace your air filter often. I know that replacing your air filter is that thing you remember to do once a year, but it’s vitally important. Replacing your filter every 1-3 months can save you up to 5% on your heating/ac bill, keep your furnace running longer, and drastically improve your home air quality as well (get rid of allergies at home).
  4. Add window and door weather stripping. Homes lose a lot of heat through bad seals.
  5. Replace or add more insulation in your roof. Much of a home’s heat is lost through its roof in the winter.
  6. Get a smart thermostat. I recommend the Nest, as it is extremely easy to program, learns your habits by itself, and is very reliable. A smart thermostat can save you hundreds of dollars a year on your heating and cooling.

Tiffany Miller’s life goal is to help others achieve peace and stability in their lives and relationships. She does this through writing. Tiffany is a follower and advocate of essential oils, holistic wellness, and green living.

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