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Should You Buy Or Build A Net-Zero Energy Home?

5-Minute Read
Published on March 23, 2022

A net-zero energy home may be your dream come true. Instead of relying on traditional energy sources, you can build your home to produce enough energy to sustain itself.

A net-zero energy home is an enticing idea. But should you buy an energy-ready home or build one? Let’s take a closer look at what these homes can offer you in terms of your personal carbon footprint before you decide.

What Is A Net-Zero Home?

Net-zero homes are houses conscientiously designed to produce as much energy as they consume in a year. They’re connected to the grid, so they can tap into conventional power sources if needed but will produce enough energy to pay it back in kind.

With growing interest among homeowners to lower their carbon footprint, you’ve likely run into other terms that can be easily confused with a net-zero home. Let’s review the most common ones you should watch out for.

A net-zero home is not a zero-energy or off-grid home. Unlike a net-zero home, these types of homes are not connected to the power grid at all. Another common source of confusion is with energy-efficient homes. Although net-zero homes may be energy-efficient, they don’t necessarily need to be, as long as the home produces enough energy to cover its needs.

What Are The Characteristics Of Net-Zero Energy Homes?

As you consider living in a net-zero home, here are the characteristics you should keep in mind.

Renewable Energy Production

The hallmark feature of a net-zero energy home is that it has to produce its own energy to offset its energy usage. Renewable energy production can be sourced from solar, wind or hydropower. The energy will need to be created on-site, so it’s not surprising that having solar panels installed on the home is often considered an essential feature.

Smart Designs

Net-zero energy homes are often designed with smart floor plans that minimize energy usage. The placement of the building, the floor plan it uses and the window placement are all components of a smart design process.

Beyond the design features that minimize energy usage, most net-zero energy homes also consider the health of the occupants living within them. You’ll find that the majority of net-zero energy homes are designed to support a healthy lifestyle for the owners through a healthy indoor environment.

High-Quality Insulation

A net-zero home will often need high-quality insulation as a part of its design. The goal of high-quality insulation is to seal the home's interior completely from the outdoor elements. With that, the energy produced for heating and cooling will be effectively used throughout the home with minimal leakage.

In addition to high-quality insulation, most net-zero homes will need to consider highly energy-efficient windows. As you improve the home’s energy efficiency, you will reduce the amount of energy needed to be produced for your net-zero energy home.

Efficient Water Management

Water management aims to preserve natural water resources and reduce the potential for water damage. A net-zero home can reduce your hot water usage by including low flow water fixtures, stacked plumbing, drain water heat recovery and hot water recirculation.

When you think of homeownership in America, you may often think of maintaining a lush green lawn. But net-zero energy homes often choose to forgo the traditional look for a more practical approach to water usage.

Instead of opting for the most lush grass available, net-zero energy homes often go with drought-resistant landscapes. Typically, the homeowners embrace rainwater collection methods as a solution for keeping their outdoor landscape alive.

Why Consider A Net-Zero House?

Luckily, there are many good reasons to consider a net-zero home. Here are some to keep in mind.

Environmental Concerns

Unfortunately, the environment has been suffering at the cost of energy production for decades. Currently, cooling, heating and power usage of the residential sector accounts for approximately 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions for the U.S.

Imagine if that number could be slashed! A net-zero energy home allows you to make a direct impact on the greenhouse gas emissions that occur every day.

Healthier Homes

A net-zero energy home is a high-performance design that provides a high-quality indoor living environment, creating a healthier home. The improved air quality can have a positive impact on their occupants’ health.

The airtight nature of net-zero energy homes leads to fewer pollutants making their way into your home. But if pollutants do make it in, most net-zero energy homes have a built-in filtration system containing fresh air ventilation, which circulates clean filtered air to draw out any contaminants.

Reduced Energy Costs

A net-zero home should be able to slash your annual energy bill to zero. Plus, your home may overproduce energy, creating energy credits you can use in the future.

Imagine what your budget would look like without your monthly power bill!

Lower Purchase And Build Prices

You may have realized that net-zero homes are becoming more popular. With that increased demand, construction techniques in this space are evolving to become cheaper to purchase and build.

For example, net-zero energy homes start at around $254,900 in Cape Coral. According to Zillow, this is less than the typical home value of $266,279 – so it’s possible to stay on budget while seeking out a net-zero energy home.

Increased Resale Value

You’ll find an increased resale value associated with net-zero energy homes. On average, a net-zero energy home will add 3 – 5% more in value than conventional homes.

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How Can I Be Sure My Home Will Use Net-Zero Energy?

Standards are important to prevent “greenwashing,” which means presenting a product as more environmentally friendly than it really is. With that, savvy home buyers – and their lenders – are asking for third-party proof that the homes they’re buying are what builders and sellers say they are.

Here’s what to ask for.

LEED Certification

LEED certification is a recognized symbol to help you determine the sustainability of a building. As it’s granted by an unbiased third party, a LEED certification can help you ensure that you’re getting the home you want.

Builders and sellers can obtain a LEED certification to help reassure you and your lender that the home will perform as a sustainable building.

Home Energy Rating System – HERS Index

An additional method of confirming that a home will operate efficiently is with the Home Energy Rating System. Through this system, you can determine how efficiently your home is operating through the course of a thorough inspection.

Once you calculate the home’s energy performance, you can determine if it’s possible for it to be a net-zero energy home based on the energy production options available.

Net-Zero Vs. Passive Houses

Net-zero and passive homes are green buildings with two distinct approaches to obtaining energy savings for your home. While a net-zero home produces as much energy as it consumes annually, passive homes reduce your annual energy by 90%.

Net-zero uses an energy-efficient building envelope, high-quality windows and high-efficiency ventilation systems to keep your energy usage low. By contrast, passive homes use airtight insulation construction and high-efficiency designs, enabling the sunlight to maintain a steady temperature inside the home, which helps save energy throughout the year.

Where Can I Build My Net Zero Home?

A net-zero home won’t function well in all climates. Although you can make adaptations based on your surroundings, you may not achieve your net-zero energy goal in extremely cold or hot climates.

However, you should explore the options in your area to determine if it’s a possibility. You may be able to alleviate some of the problems that come with certain climates through the appropriate placement of the building.

The Bottom Line: Green, Healthy And Sustainable Homes Are Within Reach

Net-zero homes can be beneficial because their primary purpose is to use as little energy as possible, which can in turn help to lower energy bills. It’s crucial to remember that not all net-zero homes are energy-efficient, but they do all help with energy savings. If you’re looking to lower your own greenhouse gas emissions, a net-zero energy home could be a major solution.

If you’re on the hunt for more ways to reduce energy consumption around your living space, check out our article on the top design elements of energy-efficient homes.

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Sarah Sharkey

Sarah Sharkey is a personal finance writer who enjoys diving into the details to help readers make savvy financial decisions. She’s covered mortgages, money management, insurance, budgeting, and more. She lives in Florida with her husband and dog. When she's not writing, she's outside exploring the coast. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.