Discover how a net-zero home works.


Buildings are a significant source of the greenhouse gas emissions that are continuing to destabilize the climate, accounting for nearly 40 percent of carbon pollution globally. From keeping the lights on to blasting the AC to running appliances and electronics non-stop day and night, your home could be part of the problem.

Is there a way to make a home carbon neutral?

Net-zero energy homes are an important part of the solution to climate change and the air quality challenges facing the world.

Net-zero energy homes generate as much clean electricity as they consume, giving them a “net-zero” annual energy impact. This is accomplished by integrating such environmentally sustainable features as rooftop solar panels, solar water heating, electric vehicle charging stations, battery storage, energy efficient LED lighting, and air-tight insulation to limit the use of the HVAC system.

While the initial up-front costs can be higher for a net-zero home, the monthly cost of living can be lower due to energy efficiency improvements and lower electricity bills. Net-zero homes are also more comfortable because of the steady temperature provided by the insulation and other climate control measures.

How effective are net-zero homes?

A 2013 National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) one-year demonstration project in Maryland1 resulted in an energy surplus of 491 kWh.

The house was certified LEED Platinum by the US Green Building Council, the highest designation possible by the USGBC. The home included triple-paned windows, the most energy efficient appliances on the market, a solar water heater, and 32 rooftop solar panels that generated the home’s electricity.

However, it is important to ensure that the builder or renovator of your home is following US Department of Energy (DOE) guidelines to make sure that you are getting the maximum benefit for living in a net-zero home.

DOE encourages builders to participate in its Zero Energy Ready Home. To meet the DOE requirements, these homes must meet certain requirements such as having Energy Star-qualified appliances and high-performances windows that meet Energy Star specifications for the particular climate zone the home resides in, be it marine, hot-dry/mixed-dry, hot-humid, mixed-humid, or cold/very cold. If you live in area of the country with less sunshine and abundant geothermal energy underground, you might even consider installing a geothermal heating and cooling system.

At the state level, California’s 2016 climate targets2 were the most ambitious in the country — cutting greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Reducing carbon pollution from residential and commercial buildings is a big part of meeting the GHG targets. The Golden State is already home to almost half of the net-zero homes in the country and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the California Energy Commission (CEC) launched a residential Zero-Net Energy Action Plan3 for all new homes to be net-zero by 2020.

How can I get started making my home achieve a net-zero goal?

In order to significantly reduce America’s residential carbon footprint, entire communities will need to be converted to net-zero energy.

Net-zero communities are starting to be built around the country. Kaupini Village4 is the first net-zero energy affordable housing community in Hawaii. The LEED Platinum, net-zero energy community consists of 19 single-family homes and a community center. The first net-zero community in California opened 5 in Fontana in 2015. The community’s 20 homes are expected to use 60 percent less energy than a newly built home in line with California’s energy code.

There is another important factor to consider when determining whether your home will become net-zero after going through the process of rebuilding or retrofitting — and it doesn’t have to do with how much sun reaches your solar panels. Humans behave differently and consume energy differently. So you can monitor your energy usage to make sure you are being as energy efficient as possible.

Did you know that you might still be using electricity by plugging insleeping electronics? Can you still be comfortable with the temperature a couple of degrees cooler? Do you need the kitchen light on or will the windows provide enough light?

At the end of the day, as a net-zero homeowner you should feel good knowing that you are playing your part in ensuring a livable climate for future generations by cutting carbon emissions from your home.


  1. cleantechnica.com/2014/07/21/results-1-year-net-zero-energy-home-case-study/ 

  2. bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-24/california-passes-toughest-greenhouse-gas-emission-curbs 

  3. greentechmedia.com/articles/read/California-Wants-All-New-Homes-to-be-Net-Zero-in-2020 

  4. energy.gov/eere/downloads/kaupuni-village-closer-look-first-net-zero-energy-affordable-housing-community-hawaii 

  5. cleantechnica.com/2015/04/28/first-zero-net-energy-community-california-announced/