Net Zero Homes: Energy Self-Sufficiency Becoming More Realistic

In recent years, green living has been gaining more attention and popularity, and eco-friendly products like solar panels have become more commonplace. Many homeowners have incorporated such products into their homes, but some have gone far beyond one or two changes and have instead created fully sustainable structures known as “net zero homes.”

What Is Net Zero?

Simply put, a net zero home is one that has no net energy consumption or carbon emissions. It produces its own clean energy and is built to minimize its impact on the environment. Common features of net zero homes are solar panel systems and gray water systems, among others.

Residential buildings consume 22 percent of the energy in the United States, and commercial buildings consume 18 percent, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Making American homes and commercial more energy efficient – and ultimately “net zero” – would go a long way toward achieving U.S. energy independence.

One example of a Net Zero structure is Germany’s BIQ building, a home planned for completion in March 2013 that uses living microalgae as a power source and for protection and insulation from strong sunlight during hot weather. Another net zero home in Silicon Valley, California uses excess electricity generated with solar energy to power its electric vehicles using a Leviton Evr-Green™ 160 charging station. Thanks to breakthroughs in home design and construction techniques, the home requires 75% less energy than a typical 3,000-sq. ft. house.

Even public schools are getting in on the act. Richardsville Elementary School near Bowling Green, Ky. became the first net zero school to open in the United States in 2010. Solar tubes funnel sunlight directly into classrooms, nearly eliminating the need for electric lighting, while geothermal and solar power help meet other energy needs.

Why Build A Net Zero Home?

So, why all this fuss about being net zero? There are many goals behind building these homes, but here are two of the most important, as outlined by a recent report from the U.S. National Science and Technology Council (NSTC):

  1. Reduce energy consumption – According to NSTC, commercial and residential buildings are responsible for 72% of our country’s electricity generation and 40% of energy consumption overall. What’s more, if consumption continues on its current track, it’s set to exceed that of both industrial and transportation combined. As the economic and environmental costs of traditional energy rise, it will become even more necessary to reduce consumption of power, water, and other resources. Net zero homes are one particularly effective method for achieving this goal.
  2. Improve the health of the occupants – Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) is of the utmost importance to the health of the people living inside of a structure. Poor indoor air quality is directly linked to health issues such as asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, carbon monoxide poisoning, and other serious conditions. As with power, healthcare costs in the U.S. are rising, and by providing improved IEQ, net zero homes may be able to reduce the incidence of illnesses, in turn reducing healthcare expenses, sick leave, and loss of productivity for the occupants.

Net zero homes provide far more benefits than just those outlined above, and many of its greatest effects may not become clear for many years. One thing is for certain, though: humans as a whole cannot continue on the current path of consumption, and net zero homes can help us get onto a more sustainable path.

Guest post contributed by Renewable Energy Corporation, a Maryland solar company. Renewable Energy Corporation provides solar panel installations and solar hot water systems in Maryland; Northern Virginia; and Washington, D.C.


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