Your Go-To Guide to Understanding and Creating a Net-Zero Home

Creating a net-zero home is an investment in your family's health and comfort as well as teh environment.

What is a net-zero home? Is the concept realistic in this modern age of electronics? Learn everything you need to know about creating a net-zero home in this post.

As a society, we’re continually working to move toward a more sustainable future in most aspects of our lives, from recycling more intently, to monitoring our energy consumption, to conserving water.

So, it should come as no surprise that sustainability is making its way into the actual process behind how we construct our modern-day homes and buildings. LEED certification and home energy labels like the Home Energy Score and Home Energy Rating System are driving the prioritization of green building materials and energy efficiency in our homes.

A growing number of homeowners are also taking this movement a step farther. They’re not just creating energy-efficient homes. They’re creating net-zero homes.

In this post, we’re going to walk you through the entire concept of “net-zero homes” to help you get more familiar with the concept. We’ll also explain why the concept is gaining momentum and provide tips to push your home toward net-zero performance.

The Net-Zero Home: More than a Buzzword

At a high level, net-zero homes produce as much energy as they consume… Hence the term, net-zero! They do this by minimizing their power consumption and relying on solar power or other types of renewable energy.

The concept of a net-zero home seems outstanding. Even unreal, right? Think about it, a home that’s giving back as much energy as its taking, totally canceling out its net energy consumption. 

The concept of a net-zero home may be straightforward. But such a home is far from a “simple build.” It takes a lot of hard work and thoughtful design from the get-go to ensure a home is actually net-zero. Despite its complex requirements, this type of home is on the rise. Not only are individual homeowners increasingly choosing this approach when building their houses; but entire communities are also being built with net-zero goals in mind.

Let’s dive into the fundamentals of a net-zero home.

Net-Zero 101

Many people think that a net-zero home is simply an energy-efficient home or a home with a massive emphasis on decreasing carbon footprint. But that’s simply not the case. Yes, a net-zero home is a normal, and in most cases grid-connected home. But it is insulated super well, functions incredibly efficiently, and also produces as much electricity as it consumes over the course of the year via renewable energy. Ideally, this results in a net-zero energy bill (and a carbon-free home!)

So we want to say again: a net-zero home isn’t just a green home that has solar panels and monitors to manage energy consumption. It’s a building intentionally-designed to cancel out any and all energy it consume. That’s the official qualification for net-zero homes.

Homes that are designed from the ground up to be net-zero are typically the easiest candidates to achieve the “net-zero” label. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make changes to your home to get there. It also doesn’t mean you can’t make some changes to get closer to this lofty goal. Ultimately, aligning the numbers comes down to three things: good design, specific product choices, and creative solutions.

Net-zero homes are designed from the ground up to prioritize superior energy-efficiency.
Net-zero homes are designed from the ground up to prioritize superior energy-efficiency.

Why Go Net-Zero: What are the Benefits?

Maybe you read that question and thought, “umm, duh—the benefit is that you’re giving back the same amount of energy you’re taking, thus reducing your carbon footprint.” And honestly, you’re right—in our eyes, that is the biggest benefit.

But net-zero homes have more than just one perk (even if that perk is pretty darn important). Net-zero homes can also help you save money; create a healthier and more comfortable living environment; and help you better prepare for your future.

Long-Term Cost Savings

The initial costs of creating a net-zero home might seem high. And they are certainly higher than the cost of an average home. But in the long run, it is very possible to end up saving more money than you spend with a net-zero home. The total cost of living will be significantly lower than that of a comparable, standard home. And it’s bound to protect you from rising energy prices. Why? Because in 5, 10, or 15 years, you’ll pay the same price that you pay now to keep your lights on: zero (or almost zero).

Further, with a net-zero home where you produce renewable energy, you have the opportunity to participate in buyback programs where excess energy that you don’t use is sold back to the grid as credit. (What an amazing additional bonus, right?).

Health & Comfort Come First

Net-zero homes aren’t just lucrative and efficient. They’re also high-quality homes that help you maximize comfort and prioritize your family’s health. Because they place an emphasis on being more durable and solidly built from the ground up, they’ll offer benefits like freshly filtered air; airtight walls that trap heat during cold winter months; and advanced window technologies to protect you from UV rays and prevent cold air from seeping out in hot summer months.

All in all, creating a net-zero home can be an investment in your family’s health and comfort.

Taking Climate Action Home

And of course, as we mentioned above, choosing a net-zero home means taking real action against climate change. With a net-zero home, you’re able to not only take control of where your energy comes from, but also give back as much (if not more) than what you take. Say good-bye to energy waste. As compared with residential energy use across the US, investing in a net-zero home can create a tangible impact in our communities’ fight to curb climate change.

Your How-To Guide: Creating a Net-Zero Home

There’s no uniform process for creating a net-zero home. But there are certain guidelines and concepts that can make all the difference when it comes to achieving a net-zero home. We’ve laid out a few of them here to help you get started:

Bring the right people on board.

This is not a home DIY project. Having the right pros on your team will pay dividends as your dream net-zero home becomes a reality.

Start with a clear, definable goal.

Even before you even put pen to paper to brainstorm your house. Ask yourself, what’s my primary agenda, here? And make sure that, as you think about that question, you’re including your contractors, suppliers, and anyone else working on the house in that discussion to be sure everyone is on the same page.

Work with third-party certification programs.

Ensure that you’re implementing the best-of-the-best when it comes to product choices and energy efficiency.

Keep it simple.

Simplicity in design is your friend here. If zero-energy is truly your goal, architectural intricacy isn’t going to fit. The simpler the shape, the more successful the design will be. Similarly, consider keeping the home’s size in check. After all, how much home do you actually need? The smaller the space, the easier the process will be. Plus, do you really need that extra wing that never gets used?

Teamwork makes the dream work!

Work with trustworthy contractors to optimize design. Ask them about leveraging tools like a computer energy model to balance cost-effectiveness with building shells, equipment efficiency, and solar technology.

Leverage Solar.

Solar panels are the most straightforward sources of residential renewable energy. So make sure you’re physically positioning your home on your property to maximize its solar potential. Your contractors and partners should help you figure this out in the design process, before building begins.

There are so many things to consider when it comes down to creating a net-zero home, but remember, you don’t have to do this alone. And we have to say it one more time: partner with professionals who you can trust. Do your research to identify who has first-hand experience to make your dream a reality. It will make a world of a difference when it comes to designing a zero-energy home.

This net-zero home by Mike Holmes is an example of how beautiful net-zero homes can be.
Net-zero performance doesn’t mean you have to compromise on aesthetic. Source: Mike Holmes Net-Zero Homes

It Doesn’t Have to be “Net-Zero or Nothing”

In an ideal world, we’d all have the resources to design and build or to purchase a net-zero home. But unfortunately, that’s simply not the case… Yet!

That said, you don’t have to write off the mindset behind net-zero. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Bringing an awareness of energy efficiency and power conservation is exceptionally powerful. Any effort—no matter how small—can make an enormous difference. And those changes will magnify when shared with others. So start out by being more aware of how often you flip your lights on or how frequently you leave your heat going or the power consumption of your home appliances. And share these concepts with your friends and family.

Spread the Energy-Efficient Word

Do you have a net-zero home? Know someone who has renovated their home to achieve net-zero status? Or simply made significant energy efficiency improvements and want to share? Awesome—let’s hear it in the comments section below!

Looking to learn more easy-to-apply energy saving strategies or how to take control of your electricity bill? Subscribe to the WattDoesItUse blog for monthly tips straight to your inbox!

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