A zero energy home (ZEH) aims to consume the same amount of energy it produces on site through renewable and sustainable methods. One such house may still sound like a futuristic concept, but the technology required to build it is already available on the market. Zero energy homes have already been constructed in many areas of the world, like Africa, California, and Texas, where the natural energy from the sunlight is abundant.
While the cost of building a ZEH is higher than the cost of establishing a regular home (20 to 60% higher), the long-term benefits are clear and worthy of the price. Traditional homes consume 40% of the total fossil fuels in US and EU and are massive contributors to greenhouse gasses. Zero energy homes are meant to lower carbon emissions and fossil fuels dependency.
Aside from a $0 energy bill, a ZEH homeowner will make use of increased energy reliability (even during blackouts) and will contribute to environmental sustainability. A typical home uses about 120 kilowatt-hours per square foot a year. Zero energy homes achieve $0 energy bills through a combination of reducing their needs by up to 60% (72 kW/ year) and producing their energy through environmentally sustainable methods.
While some days the home will consume more energy than it produces, the idea of a ZEH is to reach zero net energy usage by giving back approximately the same amount it consumes. However, while building low energy homes is relatively straightforward, a zero energy home requires quite a bit of planning.
Here are nine ways to own a ZEH:
Reduce space heating and cooling requirements.
The home needs to be positioned out of direct sunlight to reduce air conditioning needs, use appropriate house framing to save on insulation costs, or use natural landscaping techniques to block the sun. For example, well-planted trees can save up to 25% on the energy the average house uses. A ZEH works well and reduces costs if every room requires minimal energy to heat or cool.
- Use high R-value insulation that produces a continuous layer around the building envelope;
- Use concrete thermal mass that will moderate temperature swings and seasonal fluctuations;
- Use airtight construction to ensure that windows and doors are well tight;
- Use triple glazed windows and external double doors to save up on energy loss;
Insulation is an essential element for a zero energy home. For example, installing thicker and better-insulated windows and doors and building an energy-efficient attic are ways to reduce energy loss throughout the house. Insulation materials and placement of the house determine the well functioning of the ZEH. A homeowner could use fiberglass, cotton batts made from recycled materials, cellulose or Spray Polyurethane Foam
Use natural and fluorescent lighting.
Whenever possible, ZEH homes make use of natural light from sunroofs and windows. Well-positioned sunroofs can go a long way to decreasing lighting needs, especially during the day. At night time and whenever artificial light is required, ZEH homes use energy-efficient lighting. According to HowStuffWorks, fluorescent bulbs are 4 to 6 times more efficient than incandescent bulbs and have a much longer lifespan. Also, consider installing permanent fluorescent fixtures throughout the home.
Choose energy-efficient climate control.
Climate control is often the greatest consumer of energy in a home. To achieve zero net energy usage, a ZEH homeowner will often have to invest in the most energy-efficient heating and cooling systems on the market. Geothermal heating systems will contribute to fighting the energy battle by using natural Earth temperature. Use radiant floor heating because it warms the space quickly, allows room by room zoning and reduces the noise. Whenever possible, go for alternative cooling methods like ventilation and evaporative coolers.
Choose energy-efficient water heating.
Heating water is the second greatest culprit in high home energy costs. Using a solar-based water heating system, known as a passive solar-thermal system, will help, especially in warm areas with lots of sunlight. A backup water heater will often be necessary for cold days with low sunlight, but electric heaters must be energy efficient. Installing low-flow fixtures in showers and reducing hot water consumption will also help because it will help conserve water resources. For example, you can use water-saving showerheads and faucet aerators to reduce water usage.
Install solar cells.
Photovoltaic panels (solar cells) are widely used to produce energy in ZEH home design. These cells can be mounted on the roof or elsewhere near the property, and their power output will naturally depend on the amount of light they are exposed to. Solar cells often require some maintenance to ensure that they are producing energy at their optimal levels. According to Sunedison.com, a 5kW solar system that runs for 6 to 7 hours a day is enough to power the average home.
Install a windmill.
Windmills are a less conventional method of producing energy, but ZEH homeowners may benefit greatly from it. Windmills convert wind kinetic power into electricity and help reduce overall costs and consumption needs.
Automate energy savings.
Use motion sensors and timers automatically to switch off room lighting, appliances, and even climate control. A well-tuned thermostat can also help lower heating and cooling costs.
Practice good energy habits.
Ultimately, the final responsibility for reducing power consumption falls on the homeowner. An owner who leaves the front door open and runs the air conditioning all day will inevitably consume more energy than the house is capable of producing. ZEH homeowners will need to consider their environmental footprint, including taking shorter showers, turning off appliances when not in use, and reducing high-energy activities in general.
Following the above steps is a good move forward in the goal of owning a zero energy home. However, the process of designing and maintaining a ZEH is extensive and usually, requires a significant financial and lifestyle commitment, depending on the state or region. If you are convinced a ZEH is for you, you may benefit from federal and state tax credit or deduction and Walker Reid Strategies is here to help you in this matter.