By Kaitlin Krull
The need for homeowners to reconsider energy use is greater than many of us realize. If we change nothing about our regular energy consumption, the effects of global warming will make our world unlivable. World leaders have come together to discuss solutions for the environmental issues currently facing our earth and have determined that we should focus on renewable energy to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and decrease our carbon footprint. Net zero energy buildings are the ultimate goal for renewable energy use for businesses and homes all around the world. At Home Improvement Leads, we believe that this change is possible. If we want to save our planet, net zero energy homes are the only possible future of energy consumption. Here are some facts about net zero energy homes and how we can make a positive change to our energy use now.
What is a net zero energy building?
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average American home consumes 10,812 kilowatt-hours of energy per year in electricity. To help put this into perspective, a clothes dryer used for six loads per week consumes around 1,080 kilowatt-hours of energy per year. In a home that relies solely on grid-based non-renewable power, this energy use is both expensive and damaging to the environment. Net zero energy buildings promise to provide the same power to while giving back to the environment exactly what it takes.
If you haven’t come across this term before, net zero energy might sound ultra high-tech and complicated. But the basic principles behind net zero energy buildings are straightforward and simple. On average, net zero buildings consume roughly as much energy (or less) than they produce. These sustainable buildings produce their own energy through renewable technologies such as solar, hydro, wind, or geothermal power sources. For most industrial and residential buildings, the renewable energy source of choice is solar power.
How to build a net zero home
The simplest way to achieve net zero energy in the home is to start from the ground up. While the same kinds of practices can—and should—be applied to existing buildings to maximize efficiency, new builds can be more easily manipulated in order to comply with energy efficient and sustainable building principles. If you’re starting from scratch, this 12 step guide from the Zero Energy Project will answer all your net zero building queries.
As far as the construction process is concerned, considering the placement of your home (including direction and shade) can help your home achieve a degree of natural heating and cooling known as passive energy design. Choosing locally sourced, well insulated, and environmentally friendly materials will also help to keep your household costs down and further decrease your energy use. Finally, sustainable building practices such as using low impact and emission construction and hiring local tradespeople will cement your home’s eco-friendly status.
Once your home is built, there are several ways you can minimize your regular energy use and increase your chances of net zero energy status. Whenever possible, opt for efficient HVAC products and ultra-efficient insulation; we recommend investing in a smart thermostat for instant and up-to-date readings and recordings of your usage. Energy Star rated appliances, smart lighting, and home automation technology will help you decrease your home’s electricity use as much as possible to lower bills and your carbon footprint at the same time. Double or triple paned windows with insulating gases and low-E films, as well as reflective roof coatings, will also add to your home’s efficiency. A solar water heater and ultra-efficient pumps and taps will further decrease your energy bills and allow you to consume less water on a regular basis.
Possibly the most important feature of a net zero building is its renewable power source. For residential homes, this source is usually roof-mounted photovoltaics (or solar PVs, for short). However, it is also worth considering solar home batteries and integrated solar roofing tiles like those produced by energy pioneer Elon Musk of Tesla.
The future of energy consumption (change this title!)
Renewable energy as the future of energy use worldwide first began with the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015 and continued with a series of agreements made by international bodies such as the UNFCCC (the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) to make all buildings net zero by 2050 in order to minimize global warming to a maximum of 2º Celsius.
While these agreements initially focused on industrial energy use, it makes sense to expand these goals to residential buildings, as well, to give our planet the best possible chance in the fight against global warming.
There are many homes already on the path to net zero energy use and some that are already 100% sustainable. The U.S. Department of Energy currently recognizes and awards construction businesses and homes that have embraced net zero energy use through their Better Buildings initiative. These homes become official DOE Zero Energy Ready Homes and pave the way for energy efficiency in America and beyond.