The Rise of the net-zero home is something to look forward to in this modern world.
Many homes powered by gas today were originally fueled by coal or heating oil. Electric power is a natural evolution in how we’ve historically fueled our homes.
In the mid-1900s, most homes converted to gas as the primary fuel source, which was cheap and relatively clean compared to coal or oil.
Natural gas prices continue to rise, and the impacts of carbon emissions are slowly becoming apparent to communities. The era of the net-zero home is beginning.
Sustainable builders have embraced airtight building envelopes, electrification, and solar photovoltaics (PV), also known as solar panels, in builds for sale on the MLS, raising the stakes for homebuilders who are still building homes with gas lines.
All electric and net-zero homes have given sustainable builders a competitive advantage, delivering homes that are more comfortable, durable, healthier, and quieter; they also require less maintenance and cost less to operate.
Who wouldn’t want that?
The net-zero home differs from region to region, depending on climate and local construction methods and standards. In the Chicagoland area, we deal with harsh winters and hot, humid summers — a challenge for builders.
Net-zero homes are typically grid-tied homes equipped with solar PV on their rooftops. They exclusively use electricity as fuel and don’t have gas lines.
In Chicago, net-zero home tend to overproduce power from March through October, during the summer, during daylight hours, sunny conditions, and the weather is milder. As a result, excess energy is sent to the grid to be used by neighboring homes.
Through this, the home treats the grid as long-term storage for power used in the colder months, when heating demand increases energy requirements and shorter days reduce energy production.
Through net metering, it’s possible to size a solar PV array (a collection of multiple solar panels) to produce as much power as a home is likely to consume over a year.
So, for example, a house fitted with a solar array that generates 9-megawatt hours per year can provide power to a building estimated to consume the same amount.
This way, electricity power costs are reduced to the base delivery charge and fees. In addition, renewable energy generated on the rooftop can compensate for any carbon-based power the home consumes.
Of course, building a net zero home takes planning and the right team. Typically, builders will contract with an experienced energy consultant to help them look for cost-effective solutions to reduce energy needs and improve quality, comfort, and health.
Here are some of the basics a development team considers before construction:
Insulation and Building Envelope
High-performing homes are air sealed, with better building wraps and insulation strategies. You can usually feel and hear the difference compared to homes without these high-quality materials, which translates into a home free of drafts and hot or cold spots.
Triple pane windows offer opportunities for more oversized windows with more light and more connection to the outside world. Imagine enjoying a polar vortex view while cozy and warm at your picture window!
The combination of super-insulated envelopes and enhanced windows also reduces sound transmission, which helps quiet the home’s interior, blocking out noisy neighbors and rush hour traffic.
Who doesn’t want a more comfortable and peaceful home? In my experience, buyers are typically in awe of the library-quiet interiors.
Healthier Indoor Air
Indoor air quality in an airtight home is intentional. Standard homes rely on the inherent “leakiness” that comes with typical construction methods, but being airtight reduces the ability for outdoor air to find a way in, minimizing the infiltration of allergens, pests, and other pollutants into the home.
In an airtight home, healthy indoor air quality is manageable by carefully commissioned systems that ensure the occupants have clean, fresh air supplied using Energy Return Ventilators (ERV’s/HRVs).
These simple systems constantly exchange inside air with filtered, fresh air while conserving the heat in the system by using a heat exchanger to precondition incoming fresh air with heat from the exhausted air.
As a result, a home fit with an ERV has fresh air, much like an open window, without the energy penalty, year-round. An ordinary home can’t make that claim, as it relies on air leaks or open windows.
Moving the home’s system away from natural gas to electrically-fueled appliances is more straightforward than it seems. Most high-performing homes have migrated away from natural gas and combustion entirely.
Here’s how many homes have made the shift:
HEATING AND COOLING: Electrically powered heat pumps replace gas furnaces and central air conditioners. For heating and cooling, cold climate heat pumps do an incredible job of making homes more comfortable year-round.
These systems don’t over-cycle or use on-off cycling like most HVAC systems. Instead, they keep the interior temperature and humidity nearly constant by running at the exact speed needed to maintain the temperature set on the thermostat.
Due to the building envelopes of net-zero homes, the heat pump uses power slowly and is nearly silent in operation.
DOMESTIC HOT WATER: Hybrid water heaters use less electricity than tankless water heaters and cost less to operate than high-efficiency gas water heaters.
Hybrid systems use a heat pump to move heat into the home and water tank. Moving heat is about three times more efficient than making heat, and these units typically cost less than $115 per year to operate versus the $200+ per year cost of efficient gas and tankless electric models.
COOKING: I know most of you will say, “My clients only want to cook on gas stovetops.” Well, I believe anyone loyal to gas cooktops hasn’t had a proper introduction to induction cooking.
Most informed cooking enthusiasts and chefs will vouch for induction’s superiority to gas: it’s faster to boil and sear, with more power transmitted quickly to the pan. It’s more precise than many cooktops and can melt chocolate and butter without scorching.
It’s also more efficient, as the cooktop stays cool to the touch, only heating the pan, and you won’t have to be concerned about the potential for combustion. Also, with homes getting more airtight by code, replacement air and exhaust systems need more scientific consideration for gas combustion to be safer indoors.
DRYING CLOTHES: Heat pump dryers remove moisture from clothes gently and pump the humidity into the plumbing system. They also use very little power and don’t vent valuable heat to the outside.
These units are state of the art and make electric drying much greener.
RENEWABLE ENERGY: This is a hot trend right now! With carbon-based fuels at near record prices, making your power is an attractive option. Before you tell your clients to install solar, consider the following:
- Take Pam Brookstein’s class on Solar for REALTORS®. You’ll learn all the tools you need to become an expert on the complex consumer world of renewable energy.
- Consider reducing the home’s overall electrical consumption before installing a solar system. Solar panels cost money, and fewer panels might be needed if you properly build the building’s envelope and commission the HVAC systems.
After all, insulation is cheaper than solar. Remember, one watt saved is equal to one watt produced by solar in decarbonization!
ENERGY EFFICIENCY DOCUMENTATION
Once everything is in order, look for documentation. Most energy-efficient homes will be “rated.” There are many standards builders can choose to follow; some popular ones are LEED for Homes, Pearl Certification, PHIUS, and Energy Star.
Most of these certifications will require verification of the home’s performance once constructed.
For example, it’s not unusual for consultants to do a blower door test to verify airtightness and inspect all ductwork and HVAC systems for proper sizing and installation.
Once rated, most homes will have a HERS Score certificate, which places the house on an objective scale and indicates the anticipated annual savings of that home.
So, keep your eyes peeled, and get excited to see more of these net-zero home on the market in the future!
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If you have any real estate questions or about net-zero home call us at contact us.