By now, most green-minded folks have at least been a passenger in a hybrid automobile. These cars run on renewable, battery-powered electricity in city driving and stop-and-go traffic, then turn to their small but efficient gasoline engines for cruising down the highway ñ and when the car’s batteries need to be charged.
With that concept now mainstream, houses are beginning to follow suit and operate on a somewhat similar principle. Net-zero homes, in theory at least, produce as much energy as they use by taking advantage of solar and geothermal power. They are more expensive than standard stick-built homes, but the lure of generous tax credits, along with a drastic decrease in recent years in the cost of solar panels, make net-zero homes a viable financial option for many people.
The concept is certainly worth a second look, whether you’re concerned about protecting the environment through the use of renewable energy sources or guarding against vast increases in the future cost of electricity or both. Here are some variables to consider:
- Can you save enough money in energy costs and state and federal tax credits to offset the extra cash you will spend on building a net-zero home?
- Are you interested in doing your part to save the environment?
- Do you have an allergy problem that might be eliminated or at least mitigated if the air in your house was filtered more efficiently?
If You Build It…
So how do you build a home that will reduce your electric bill to next to nothing? In the U.S., private companies and the federal government have been working on that challenge. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (www.nist.gov) has spent $2.5 million trying to prove that a 2,700-square-foot house in Gaithersburg, Maryland, can produce as much energy as it consumes. The goal is for the home to access the electrical grid only when necessary ñ similar to a hybrid automobile asking its gasoline engine to kick in only when it is most efficient.
Greener than Green
The theory behind net-zero homes, which are “greener” than most homes classified as simply “green,” is the same in the private and public sectors. Builders have developed the use of photovoltaic panels, which skip the middleman by converting sunlight directly into electricity. They also install solar thermal panels that heat the water you use to bathe, wash clothes and take care of other necessities of life. In Gaithersburg, NIST depends on ground temperatures to heat and cool its test home, along with radiant heating in the floors and a high-velocity duct system.
Private builders around the world are beginning to take cues from the net-zero market, utilizing heavily-insulated structural panels that can be used for interior and exterior walls (and withstand winds of up to 200 miles per hour). Efficient heat pump systems are on the rise, and geothermal systems from heating and cooling have gone from a fringe technology to a commonplace incorporation.
Something in Common
Though the details might differ, most net-zero homes have one thing in common: They are equipped with airtight and watertight heat and air systems. The air you breathe in your net-zero home is fresh and filtered, meaning you may experience some relief from seasonal allergies. And it’s easier to heat and cool than the air that circulates through a house built with conventional materials.
Finally, although tax credits for green building are a constantly evolving thing, most energy saving renovations and building practices are eligible for write-offs on your tax bill.
Have you made any additions to your house to move toward net-zero energy usage? Do you know of a net-zero home or building in your area?
Garret Stembridge helps residential and business customers who use storage units when they don’t have enough storage space on their own property. Garret’s company – Extra Space Storage – has locations from coast to coast, including a Palmdale storage units location.