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Designing and Building a Zero Net Energy Home

A net zero energy home in the simplest of terms is one that creates the same amount of energy that it uses. This is possible through both passive and active efforts to conserve, as well as produce the energy needed to run your house. The easiest way to create a zero-energy home is to start from scratch as it can be difficult (even impossible at times) to retrofit an existing home. New builds are essentially a clean slate – so all elements can be planned prior to spending any money.

 

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The design process is key because it gets the entire team on the same page when it comes to materials, timelines and potential issues - we focus on this phase of all of our projects to ensure we’re always in agreement on where things stand. Designing for maximum functionality and determining all the details at the start will keep costs lower throughout the build process.

Energy Needed – Energy Created = Net Energy.

We have to focus on both reducing and creating the energy needed to run your home. To do this, it helps to know how the energy is used. According to a residential focused survey conducted by the US Energy Information Administration, 51% of the energy used in a typical home is for heating and cooling the space in your home, 23% is used to heat water and the remainder goes toward lighting, refrigeration and “other.”

Here are five things that most directly affect temperature control

1. Orientation - There’s a reason we sit under a tree if it’s hot outside or sit in the sun if it’s cold. Shade keeps us cool; sun warms us up and the same principal applies for structures. Talk to your builder about positioning your home to take advantage of the natural light patterns. It’s best to minimize exposure to rising and setting sunlight living spaces should face cooler facades and patios or decks should be on the north side of the house if possible.

2. The Presence (better yet, LACK) of Leaks - Have you ever yelled at your kids (or roommates) to “shut the dang door so we don’t cool the whole neighborhood?” Then you already understand how this next factor works. Keeping the house as tightly sealed as possible will ensure consistency and reduce the energy needed to cool or heat your space. Doors, windows, walls and the roof are the main weak points for leaks. Using double or triple paned windows, making sure doors and windows are sealed well and having the proper insulation are all ways to keep the house tight.

3. Materials - You don’t wear a sweatshirt in the summer because it’s too thick and fuzzy, right? What you use to build your house will also determine how well it maintains temperatures, thereby reducing the energy needed to heat or cool. Concrete, brick, tile and thick plaster are able to absorb large quantities of heat and slowly release it. Reflective roofing will protect your home from heat as well as maximize the use of solar panels as an energy source. Windows should be energy efficient and shaded by landscaping or built-in overhangs. Carpet will keep floors warm and tile will keep them cooler. Insulation is also something to pay close attention to. It is important to insulate the walls, floors, and ceilings with the type and thickness of insulating material that fits the specific needs of each surface, and to design walls, floors and ceilings to accommodate those materials.

4. Ducts and Pipes - Anything that will lead to or from a central heating or cooling feature should be inside the conditioned space and as close to the source as possible. This includes ducts, your water heater and HVAC system. An ideal heating/cooling system for a net zero home is a geothermal one. This system uses the temperature of the ground to regulate the temperature in the house through a series of thermal tubes and refrigerant levels.

5. Solar Electric Panels - Once you’ve designed and modeled everything else in your home – you can determine the best solar panel system to produce just the right amount of electricity needed for your home. These panels convert sunlight to electricity, so you want to maximize their exposure to the sun. Your builder will discuss the best placement of your roof and the panels to accomplish this. Most people have their solar panels connected to the grid so they can be monitored, and power can be supplied if needed. This also works in the reverse providing a homeowner with credits if more electricity is produced than required.


Living the Net Zero Life

How you live will also greatly impact the energy required to power your house. Here are ways you can reduce energy whether your home is net-zero or not:

  • Purchase high-rated energy efficient appliances.
  • Consider xeriscaping instead of traditional landscaping.
  • Replace incandescent lighting with LED lighting.
  • Use low-flow shower heads and toilets in bathrooms.
  • Incorporate monitoring devices to keep temps consistent even when you aren’t at home.
  • Unplug gaming systems and computers when not in use.
  • Make sure you have a full load in your washer and dishwasher when you use them.

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