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Near-Zero Energy Homes

Technology Snapshot & Benefits:
A near-zero energy home design combines state of the art, energy efficient construction and appliances with commercially available renewable energy systems, such as solar water heating and solar electricity. The objective of a near-zero energy home is to reach a level of efficiency that it is consuming little more or the same as it produces via Photo Voltaic solar panels on the home.

Since PV systems are expensive a house must be made very efficient in order to reduce the amount of energy needed and wasted. The more efficient a house is, the smaller the PV system required, saving the consumer a considerable amount of money. In a situation where a homeowner may be able to sell back additional power to the utility company, the homeowner may opt to have a larger PV system than the bare minimum to support the house.   

The efficiency process that near-zero homes must undergo is arduous. With the focus starting at the homes envelope, foundation and ceiling and wall insulation are the focus as to create a household environment that retains hot air in winter and cool air in the summer. Heating and cooling are two of the largest drains on utility bills and energy consumption, and by creating an ultra efficient whole home envelope, one helps to reduce wasted energy when it comes to heating and cooling. Another contributing factor to the envelope system is energy efficient windows, which help to create a united front on the insulated perimeter of the house.

Beyond just focusing on the household envelope a near-zero energy home requires attention to detail when it comes to efficiency throughout the home. Features such as natural day lighting all fluorescent or light-emitting diode (LED) lighting, solar water heat or a tankless water heater, advantageous passive solar heating and cooling, all help to make a near-zero energy home efficient enough to produce the same or nearly the same amount of power that the home consumes.

These homes have a number of advantages over traditional home designs. The first being improved comfort. The energy-efficient building envelope helps to minimize temperature fluctuations due to heat loss and gain in the home. An increased level in the comfort of the mind is also to be gained as an owner of a near-zero house has reliability (during blackouts), has energy security and a home that saves energy and reduces pollution, improving the environment for all.

Estimated Cost Savings:
The costs of this type of building, or retrofit are high upfront, but eventually over the lifetime of the house a good deal of that money is made back through savings and potential profits made by selling excess power back to the power companies. Also through local, state, and national tax credits a great deal of money can be saved by people making some of these efficiency improvements, especially if they aspire to reach the level of a near-zero energy home.

By pushing the envelope and investing in a near-zero energy home one can be assured that, the home will retain its value much more effectively than a traditional home at the same price level. As utility rates inevitably rise, the savings add up more quickly. Although the initial costs are typically high the return on investment on these technologies is relatively short. By investing in these ultra efficient homes and technologies the costs may be high up front, but the long term benefits fair outweighs the value gained.

Cost is definitely the largest issue with this technological approach to creating near-zero energy consumption homes. Although savings over the life of the technology may pay for itself the large upfront costs of PV systems, solar hot water heaters, and the numerous other efficiency improvements can turn those away who believe they cannot afford to make improvements or purchase a near-zero energy home. As lenders provide specific �green loans� it will be easier o finance these improvements into the long term financing of the property.

Regional Issues:
This technology is fairly regionally specific due to the reliance on solar power to supplement the homes energy consumption levels. Other regional factors such as humidity levels, temperature patterns, and ground soil composition may affect these near-zero energy systems in either direction, it's just very site specific.

Installation (Getting It Done):

If you're trying to find a new or used near-zero home on the market check with a trained EcoBroker Certified professional or checkout and Otherwise there are numerous contractors and energy audit specialists who could help you in your quest to turn your home via retrofit into a near-zero energy home.

Videos On This Topic:

Near-Zero Energy Home - Patterson, NJ (4:02) - In Paterson, NJ, BASF built a near-zero home with a HERS rating of 95.5 with features such as solar panels, radiant floor heat, and Energy Star appliances.  In this short video, learn more about these and other features the builders installed to help reduce energy costs while being environmentally responsible.

Near-Zero Energy Home (2:15) - BASF's Near-Zero Energy Home is 80% more efficient than the average home and features integrated solar energy so that not only is it saving money, it is actually producing energy to help homeowners earn utilities credits.  Find out more in this short video.

More Information On This Topic:

Building Industry Research Alliance - The Net Zero Energy Home

Building Industry Research Alliance - The Proven Benefits of Near Zero Energy Homes

U.S. Department of Energy - Zero Energy Home Design

Oak Ridge National Laboratory - Pushing The Envelope



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