What Builders Should Know About Net-Zero Homes
Celebrated for eliminating utility bills and reducing carbon footprints, net-zero homes are mostly viewed as niche products for affluent buyers. According to many experts, however, these energy-efficient properties are on the verge of becoming more mainstream. To better determine if these designs represent a cost-effective investment for your company, learn the basics, benefits and drawbacks associated with zero-energy homes.
The Basics of Net-Zero Design
Also known as zero-energy homes, net-zero energy building (ZNEB) and zero net energy (ZNE) building, net-zero homes are properties with zero net energy consumption. In other words, these houses create enough renewable energy to equal or surpass the amount of energy used on-site.
The most cost-effective techniques to reduce energy consumption typically occur in the design process, which departs from conventional construction. In most cases, this means natural ventilation, high-efficiency windows, added insulation and other measures such as thick, engineered wall structures.
Price is the chief issue that has prevented net-zero homes from gaining traction. It can cost a lot for a builder to create a home that achieves net-zero status, and many buyers are unwilling to wait years for their utility savings to cover the thousands of dollars required for features such as solar panels and energy-efficient doors, windows and appliances. That said, a growing number of builders are aiming to alter those perceptions by designing net-zero homes for the mass market.
Motivated by rising demand from buyers, as well as local regulators, a growing number of builders have begun showcasing net-zero designs in an attempt to attract more interest. In certain regions, demand does appear to be rising, thanks in part to less expensive renewable-energy equipment and energy-efficient materials. For instance, the average price of a solar-power system has fallen 50 percent since 2010, and experts predict even lower prices in the near future.
Despite cheaper equipment and materials, net-zero homes force builders and buyers to pay higher upfront costs. To achieve net-zero status, builders are usually required to seal the house of leaks with spray-on foam insulation. They must also install energy-efficient lighting, appliances, doors, windows and other features. These homes also need equipment to regulate humidity, air quality and air flow, along with high-performing heating and ventilation systems. In less sunny Northeast and Midwest regions, homeowners may also need to install more solar panels to generate enough electricity to equal consumption.
Right now, most people continue to view these homes as premium products for wealthy buyers. That said, experts estimate that builders can easily achieve net-zero status for as little as $200,000 in certain markets. With this in mind, more and more experts believe it is possible to cultivate mainstream acceptance by simply informing buyers of the long-term benefits versus the up-front costs. Whatever the immediate outlook, a growing number of builders continue to invest in the probability that rising demand will make net-zero homes a very profitable endeavor.
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