Net-Zero Energy Ready: The New Standard for Homes

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California has passed a mandate to have all new home construction be net-zero energy ready by 2020.   While some other states and countries have tried it, including the United Kingdom which had a 2017 goal but have backed away, California has embraced the challenge.

On May 10, 2016, The White House hosted major building industry organizations  to discuss building code changes for homes, schools and workplaces that build resiliency into construction.  This is a piece of the move to net-zero construction or super-durable building.

At this point, everything from photovoltaic panels that make electricity to heating and cooling that consumes it are rapidly improving in efficiency.  However, a homebuyer or someone who is remodeling a home today may not have the additional resources needed to purchase the latest and greatest equipment for their home. They may not be able to invest in photovoltaic or solar panels at this point because of cost or there may be no good financing options in their area at this moment, but they can make preparations to their home or property to add them more easily when these options are available.

By definition , the Department of Energy says a net-zero energy building is “an energy-efficient building where, on a source energy basis, the actual annual delivered energy is less than or equal to the on-site renewable exported energy.”

You can help get net-zero energy ready by building the best envelope you can at the time of construction.  It’s all about building your enclosure in a way that it will be thermally efficient so you can consume less energy to be comfortable, need less power and actually achieve net zero energy when you can afford to generate your own power on site. To do this you need to add as much insulation as is possible, cut out the conductivity short circuits and thermal bypasses created by traditional framing techniques, and you have to get air-tight. These are actions which are either very expensive or very disruptive once the building envelope has already been constructed. It needs to be in your mind before you start.

The proposals and guidelines are out there. There is a whole Department of Energy website dedicated to net-zero energy resources available to consumers and builders today to help them understand what it is and what they need to be thinking about.  Because the question pops up from consumers ‘well if you say I need to be net-zero ready, what is the R value of my wall?  What is the R value of my roof?  How airtight do I have to be?  Let’s put it in today’s building code terms so I can get net-zero energy ready’.  This is where you can go for the resources and climate-based answers.

This information is based on research and is delivered in a way which will not cause you problems with the structure or durability of your home.  Information from the Building America program or other Department of Energy programs will give you sound advice.

The recommendations that are being made for net-zero energy ready today are based on good building science and should give you the qualities of moisture management and indoor air quality along with energy efficiency.  This is critical in order to achieve durability along with efficiency.

So, our mantra is: Do all these things.  Get energy efficient. But make sure that you are ensuring the durability of your structure and ensuring the quality of the environment you’re creating for your family. Let’s create a healthy, productive indoor environment by building a healthy, durable building envelope for a healthy, more durable society.

Sometimes what is good for “me” is also good for “we”.  More on this in my next blog.

 

 

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Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

1 Comment

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