According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, buildings in the residential and commercial sectors account for 40% of the total energy consumption in the U.S. Green homes and buildings are helping immensely with reducing energy requirements, but homeowners can do even more to help offset dependence on fossil fuels. The solution is to build or retrofit homes to be Net Zero or Zero Energy. These homes are highly efficient, built very air tight, insulated extremely well, utilize non-toxic materials and generate all of their own renewable solar energy.
- Wonderlane, Flickr
Solar-powered dwellings are designed to be very energy efficient, with low energy requirements. Many Net Zero homes take advantage of thoughtful, intentional passive solar design to assist in these efforts. Passive solar homes respond appropriately to the sun and different seasons. During the cooler months they allow the sun in for lighting and heating and during the warmer months they can shade sunlight and use heat dissipation to keep the home cool. Ancient Greeks, Romans and Chinese were the first to implement and refine these basic principles. We've seen passive-solar homes being built in the U.S. since around 1930s and steadily growing in popularity.
Air-tight construction is another main emphasis in Net Zero buildings and re-circulating fresh air into the home is a necessity. This gives the opportunity to use highly energy-effective ventilation to filter, monitor and maintain high indoor air quality with less dust, smoke and allergens.
A Bend-based organization, Zero Energy Project, states that, "with cost-effective design and construction, the energy-saving features and solar collectors for a zero-energy home may add 5 to 10% over the cost of a similar-sized home built to code, after incentives. However, the average monthly energy savings on the zero home will be significantly greater than the added monthly mortgage payment. As a result, the total cost of ownership of a cost effective zero energy home will be less than that of a comparable home built to code, creating positive cash flow the very first month of ownership." If the complete-zero package is too much for the budget, a home could be built Net Zero Ready, meaning the home is built to high energy-efficient standards and is ready to accept solar panels in the future, allowing the homeowner to add solar as finances allow.
One step beyond the Net-Zero standards is the Net-Positive home, which creates more energy than it uses. These homes make an abundance of energy that goes back into the power grid and in turn helps to power the community. Imagine these homes as mini satellite power plants. Incorporating these strategies on as many homes as possible could eliminate the need for large power plants, and allow individual residences to provide their own communities with renewable, clean and reliable power.