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Culture » Take Me Home

A New Building Era

Net-zero energy homes designed for change



Buildings have been transforming since the beginning of their existence. Throughout history, people have adapted buildings to address social needs, as builders continue to learn, adapt and improve after mistakes. Today's era of building is ready to enter into a new phase, with change being driven by a need to conserve precious resources, clean air, water, energy and land.

  • Qais Tabib / Wikimedia Commons

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
- Buckminster Fuller

This idea is applicable to our current situation: the existing reality is standardized home building practices which need to be updated to a new sustainable model of home building, a Zero-Energy or Net-Zero Energy-Ready Home.

A Net-Zero Ready home is built to be more energy efficient than a conventional home built to minimum code requirements. Energy efficiency is achieved with the use of additional insulation, high quality, energy efficient windows and doors, Energy Star appliances, LED lighting and lower water use fixtures, combined with intentional design, utilizing natural heating and cooling qualities along with the introduction of natural light, adding up to the highest efficiency possible, well above the standards. A Net-Zero Energy home is complete with all of the efficiency elements, plus the addition of renewable energy, such as solar, to offset the home's energy consumption.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 70% of the total electricity consumed in the United States is from the residential and commercial sectors. Fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum and natural gas produce the majority of the energy consumed. Emissions from burning fossil fuels are not beneficial, but actually harmful, for the environment and human health, and must be phased out. 

Zero-Energy Ready and Zero-Energy homes have crossed the threshold to being financially viable for home builders. A study performed by the Rocky Mountain Institute highlighted that Zero-Energy homes have an average cost premium of 7.3% and Zero-Energy Ready homes have an average of 1.8% cost premium compared to baseline code-built homes. The research also finds that homebuyers are willing to pay up to a 4% premium for a green built home—more than compensating for the extra cost. So the question remains: What's the holdup?

Like it or not, believe it or not, society as we know it is at the proverbial crossroads of maintaining a habitable planet and survival of our species, or setting the stage for the end of humanity. The tools have been developed and the technology is in place to build a better future. Even though the need for change is convenient to ignore, there will be a time in the near future when it cannot be denied and there will be no other option. 

For additional information, visit a local-based website, zeroenergyproject.org and the Department of Energy's Zero Energy Home page at energy.gov/eere/buildings/zero-energy-ready-homes.

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