Interested in a Net Zero Home? Here’s What You Need to Know

Interested in a Net Zero Home? Here's What You Need to Know.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Interested in a Net Zero Home? Here’s What You Need to Know. Image Unsplash.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Interested in a Net Zero Home? Here’s What You Need to Know

A net-zero house is every eco-warrior’s dream home. It’s the greenest home you can build after a zero-carbon house. It’s worth considering if you want to reduce your household’s environmental impact dramatically. 

The question is — can you build one?

What Makes a House Net-Zero?

A house is net-zero when it can generate the same amount of electricity it consumes in a year. “Net zero” is short for “net-zero energy bill.” Some also call net-zero homes zero-energy or carbon-free homes.

Like other energy-efficient homes, net-zero houses combine excellent insulation, airtight construction, natural light, advanced ventilation and environmentally friendly appliances to operate while keeping their energy consumption minimal.

Net-zero homes harness forms of renewable energy — like solar, wind or hydro — to power themselves. Unlike many off-grid dwellings, net-zero ones are grid-tied for various reasons.

The public-utility electric grid serves as a backup power source in case it’s too cloudy to catch sunlight, the wind doesn’t blow hard enough or there’s a drought. Dealing with energy demand fluctuations at home is more convenient when grid power is on tap since it’s more reliable than renewables.

If your utility company offers net metering, you can feed your surplus electricity into the grid and get credits on your bill.

Is Net-Zero the Same as a Passive House?

Net-zero and passive houses have more similarities than differences.

Both green properties generally have complete enclosure systems to ensure tight building envelopes. They maximize shading to minimize unwanted heat gain and eliminate thermal bridges. These energy-efficient homes use mechanical ventilators to filter out pollutants, prevent mold growth, and keep indoor air fresh and healthy.

Renewable energy generation separates net-zero from passive houses. A net-zero house produces its electricity to offset your carbon footprint. On the other hand, a passive house focuses on minimal heat loss and regulates its indoor climate passively to consume as little energy as possible.

Passive houses are subject to more stringent standards for insulation, air sealing and passive solar design. Although their net energy consumption is above zero, they can maintain desirable comfort levels while keeping utility bills low and mitigating their environmental impact. They’re sustainable but not self-sustaining.

Conversely, net-zero houses are self-sustaining by design. They follow less rigorous building standards, though. They rely more on on-site renewable energy production to be green.

Why Are Net-Zero Homes Better?

A net-zero home is better than conventional houses on most metrics. A negative energy bill is the only thing better than net zero. A net-zero property can become net-negative when it produces more electricity than it needs.

Net-zero homes aim to be sustainable but become healthy, weather-resistant, smart and secure in the process. They generally use electric appliances instead of gas-, oil- and propane-powered ones to keep indoor air safe around the clock.

Net-zero houses have enough insulation where it counts. They trap heat in conditioned areas, insulating floors above unfinished rooms and filling joist space with material to block airflows. All exterior walls have insulating qualities, including the finished attic’s rafters, studs, roof and ceiling. Interior walls normally don’t need a high R-value, except when shared with the garage. A well insulated garage door is an asset to net-zero homes because it prevents cold air seepage and increases energy efficiency

A net-zero home offers numerous environmental and economic benefits, but it’s also essential to consider how to protect home from pest intrusions. Maintaining a well-sealed building envelope improves energy efficiency and acts as a barrier against pests. Ensure all potential entry points, such as windows, doors, and utility openings, are properly sealed. Additionally, using natural landscaping techniques can help deter pests. Integrating pest management strategies into your net-zero home design allows you to enjoy a comfortable and eco-friendly living environment free from unwanted intruders.

Smart home tech allows you to identify and address energy consumption inefficiencies quickly. Airtight exterior doors and windows are more challenging to jimmy, reinforcing home security.

Homeowners value net-zero houses more than traditionally designed residential properties. Real estate professionals can attest that they sell at a premium of 3%-5%. They will command higher resale values when the green home movement goes mainstream.

4 Things to Know When Building a Net-Zero Home

Excited about your net-zero home construction? Know what you’re getting yourself into with these four truths.

  1. It’s Feasible Only in Some Places

A net-zero house needs an appropriate location to generate electricity and counterbalance your energy consumption. The place must have easy access to at least one renewable energy source. A stellar candidate is:

  • An area that gets abundant sunshine every year for solar power.
  • A mountainous or hilly site close to ample flowing water falling at a high vertical distance for hydropower.
  • A breezy environment that frequently receives high wind speeds for wind power.

A net-zero house project can limit your location options because only some livable places can support home renewable energy production.

  1. It Can Be Expensive

Net-zero home construction is specialized work. Only some building professionals are up to the task. Assembling the right team for the job means spending more on labor.

Expect above-average material expenses, too. You need high-quality insulation, state-of-the-art water fixtures, high-performance fenestration units, top-rated electric appliances, etc. This way, you can minimize energy waste and help keep power usage low enough to offset and zero out.

If you factor in the price of solar panels, a micro hydropower system or small wind turbines, your project cost will skyrocket. You must also spend extra on lithium-ion batteries or an electric thermal storage system to save your surplus power for later instead of selling it to your utility.

The more expensive your construction project gets, the higher the building permit fee you may have to pay and the larger contingency budget you must set aside.

  1. Financing Can Be Tricky

Funding a construction project comes with more risks than financing the purchase of an existing house. That’s why only a few lenders are willing to do it.

The ones keen on extending credit to you have strict qualifications to ensure they can get their money back whether or not your project pans out. Having a low debt-to-income ratio, good credit, stable employment, decent income and adequate cash reserves is a given. You must also work with a reputable construction company and solid blueprints to successfully borrow the funds you need.

The benefits of building your net-zero home from the ground up can justify the greater number of hoops you have to jump through. Still, extra demanding criteria increase the likelihood of rejection. Don’t fret if things don’t go your way. If a construction loan lender denies you, consider building a zero-energy-ready home or buying a net-zero home instead.

A zero-energy-ready home is a net-zero home fitted for renewable energy production but doesn’t have the equipment yet. It’s cheaper to build and lets you add the solar, hydro or wind power system when you’re financially ready.

Alternatively, buy an existing net-zero home and take out an energy-efficient mortgage. Tangible collateral greases the wheels of loan approval.

  1. It Requires a Certification

A green home earns a net-zero or a zero-energy-ready designation after a certification. Its sustainability benefits are just a claim without withstanding a third-party certifying body’s scrutiny. Some of the most reputable certifiers include:

  • Building Science Institute
  • International Living Future Institute
  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
  • Residential Energy Savings Network

Such organizations can operate nationwide or statewide. All have unique home energy rating systems, but each one’s opinion carries weight. Getting your net-zero or zero-energy-ready home certified is the key to getting relevant incentives — such as tax credits and utility rebates.

Move to a Net-Zero Home — Be It Built or Bought

Living in a net-zero house is one of the tangible ways to reduce your household’s carbon footprint. This route to sustainability can have obstacles, but overcome whatever hurdle in your way to have a net-positive impact on the environment.

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