Net Zero Energy Homes – A Revolution in Sustainable Housing

An emerging option to tackling carbon emissions on a residential level is Net Zero Energy (NZE) homes. Considering that housing accounts for 17% of secondary energy use in Canada and 16% of the country’s greenhouse gases, there are big potential gains to be made, both economically and environmentally, by conserving and generating sustainable energy on a residential scale.

Net zero energy homes do both, as they are designed to produce as much energy as they consume on an annual basis. They often remain attached to the electrical grid due to the seasonal and daily variations in solar energy production. Thus, most NZE homes generate excess electricity during the daytime and summer months – which is in turn provided to the electrical grid – and draw additional required power from the grid during the nighttime and winter months.

These NZE homes, although designed with the function of reducing energy-related costs and the environmental impact of residential homes, often provide improved indoor air quality and a heightened living environment. This is intrinsically linked to the integrated-green design models that these homes are constructed under.

Landmark Homes, an Edmonton-based developer suggests three steps that must be followed in order to achieve net zero energy: energy conservation, energy recovery, and energy generation. Although generating energy is crucial in achieving net zero status, the net-zero homeowner must also adjust their living habits in order to conserve energy, and use technologies that use recovered energy to improve the home’s ventilation, such as heat recovery ventilators (HRV) and energy recovery ventilators (ERV).

Rooftop solar systems
Residential rooftop solar systems

Net-Zero homes are being constructed across Canada, with developers investing significant efforts to perfecting this upcoming style of home construction. Reid Heritage Homes, an Ontario based company, believes that they have “got Net Zero figured out,”. The same goes for Landmark Homes in Edmonton, which has the same goal of reducing the homeowner’s carbon output, and having all their homes be net-zero by 2015.

solar water heating
Example of a solar hot water system in a home

Both developers generate the majority of their energy from solar photovoltaic (PV) modules, and use several other green technologies, such as heat recovery ventilation systems and solar thermal hot water systems. These technologies provide NZE homeowners with the opportunity to start seeing cheques rather than bills coming from their energy provider.

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has initiated a project called “The Path to Net Zero,” a four-year study with the goal of developing a framework for regionally sensitive construction recommendations. The Canadian Home Builder’s Association (CHBA) has a “Net Zero Energy Housing Council” that supports innovation in the housing industry with an aim to create a market advantage for builders and renovators pursuing Net Zero Energy performance.

The methods for building these NZE homes are continually being refined, as more new homes are being constructed to meet the targets of energy efficiency programs. According to a survey done by the U.S. Depatment of Energy, 46% of new home buyers cite energy efficiency as a primary consideration in their purchasing decisions, which means further innovation in the field, which will result in reduced costs and higher quality. This could lead to a home development revolution that could potentially change not only the infrastructure of our electricity grid, but the way we view energy generation and consumption as well.

Written by guest blogger Adam Trovato

Header Image Source: “House on the Bay” by Flickr user Inhabitat, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Image of rooftop solar: “Solar Panels on Roof” by flickr user Duncan Rawlinson, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Image of solar hot water system: “Solar Hot Water” by flickr user Seattle.roamer, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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