While the mortgage of a zero-energy home may be higher, the total monthly costs for owning and maintaining that house will be effectively nil in a world of incessantly rising water and energy costs. It is not difficult to achieve a net-zero house, but it does take disciplined decision-making, a systems-based approach, and greater initial investment in efficient quality materials, equipment, and design. But the trade-offs are worth it! Here are some key features that make a zero-energy building.
Energy Monitoring Systems
The first, and most critical step, is to recognise that a home’s eco-friendliness is ultimately determined by the behavior of the occupants. What good is the best-designed eco-home loaded with cutting-edge technological systems if the occupants engage in inefficient energy practices?
The inclusion of a user-friendly monitoring system is standard procedure. Information on energy usage can be accessed via the internet at any time, allowing for responsive and proactive behaviors on the part of the owner. An eco-friendly home occupied by a vigilant owner can operate off the grid, through careful monitoring of behaviours that may spike energy usage.
Proper Orientation and Design
Good design and decision-making can translate into significant energy savings. Proper orientation of a building combined with a climate-responsiveness is the most cost-effective way to reduce energy demand. When designing a net-zero house it is important to keep in mind that it is far “greener” and cheaper to work with nature rather than fight against it.
In our climate, it is best to have the longer sides of a building facing north to south, which minimises direct sunlight and reduces the demand for cooling. Allow for efficient cross-ventilation by positioning windows to take advantage of prevailing breezes, and shading them with awnings, louvers, screens or glazed glass to avoid direct sunlight heating your interior. High ceilings give hot air space to rise, leaving it cooler below and an open floor plan allows air to flow all around the house in any direction. Landscaping is another important factor to consider in alleviating cooling costs.
Rainwater Collection System
A rainwater collection system is appealing in this age of environmental awareness and personal economy and is an essential component for self-sufficiency and a zero-energy building. Rain collection systems can be as simple as a rain barrel that collects water from the roof gutterings or as complex as a 7,000-gallon underground tank that filters and pipes rainwater into a home or business for indoor use. For the property owner, there are net-cost savings and better water quality.
A basic rainwater collection system consists of a holding tank, above or below ground, which collects rainwater from the roof via gutters and downspouts. The tanks filter weeds, large debris like sticks and leaves. A pump directs collected water toward its intended use — often outdoor irrigation, but sometimes indoors for flushing toilets, doing laundry and even drinking water, which requires extra filtration.
After heating and cooling, appliances are the next largest users of energy in the home. It is essential to a net-zero home that energy-efficient appliances (water heaters, washers, refrigerators, etc.) are used. This ensures that the energy being created onsite is functioning at the highest level of energy efficiency.
The most prominent technology employed to achieve net-zero energy creation on site is a solar/photovoltaic installation. While these technologies may be the most glamorous aspect of a net-zero house, they also contribute significantly to the cost difference between net-zero and traditional modes of home construction. They provide the sustainable, energy-production punch needed to completely power all of the building’s appliances and mechanical systems. However, as impressive as these solutions are, it takes responsive and well-designed strategies to create a functional net-zero home.