At the Net-Zero North American Leadership Summit last month, the staff at the magazine Professional Builder interviewed some of the speakers for the event about the lessons they learned in the last five years about Net-Zero Energy homebuilding. Here is what the speakers said:
The average American is more aware of net-zero and its possibilities. In the past, those interested in net-zero were engineers and environmentalists willing to pay extra. Today, there are more average buyers who are looking to reduce their energy bills and Millennials who grew up with an increased sense of environmental consciousness and responsibility.
Homeowners have to be onboard for net-zero to work properly. The home-homeowner relationship needs to be like the car-car owner relationship. Everybody knows how many miles their car gets per gallon of gas, but when you ask them how much energy they are using, they have no idea. A simple computer terminal that tracks energy usage instead of a thermostat is a great learning tool in net-zero homes.
Producing net-zero energy homes is slowing becoming more cost efficient. Competitive production of the technology needed has brought most costs down. Government incentives, like PACE loans, help, too. Pending energy reform laws would help bring costs down as well.
Cutting-edge technology isn’t always the best path to net-zero. Keep it simple. Insulated concrete form provides a simple building envelope with better insulation values, and passive heating and shading techniques are simple ways to cut energy costs.
Air sealing and insulation can make or break a net-zero home. Putting more time and money in the envelope of the home from the beginning saves the cost of installing more solar panels at the end. The panels need maintenance and operation. The envelope lasts as long as the building stands.
Energy modeling is becoming more accessible. Architects and designers are driving energy modeling, not the more expensive energy-modeling specialists. In the past, the highest single cost in a net-zero home could be the energy consultant. Today, designing software based on energy principles is available.