Buildings are a significant source of the greenhouse gas emissions that are destabilizing the climate, accounting for nearly 40 percent of carbon pollution in the United States. From keeping the lights on to blasting the AC to running appliances and electronics non-stop day and night, your home could be a 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 the climate change and air quality challenges facing the nation and the world.
Net zero energy homes generate as much clean, renewable electricity as they consume, thus having 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 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 U.S. 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 Energy Star qualified appliances and fixtures and high performances windows that meet Energy Star specifications for the particular climate zone the home resides in — 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 consider installing a geothermal heating and cooling system.
At the state level, California’s climate targets2 are the most ambitious in the country — 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 last year 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 last year5 in Fontana. 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 an important factor as to whether your home will become net zero after going through the process of building a net zero home or retrofitting an existing home. 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.
Is there vampire power sucking energy from sleeping 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 that you are playing your part in ensuring a livable climate for future generations by cutting carbon emissions from your home.