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Affordable net-zero energy homes are real

Joan Fieldstone

May 17, 2016

By: Joan Fieldstone, Home Improv Advocate

In: Green LivingElectrical

If you follow my blog, you know I'm all about looking for ways to save money. My interest in selling my home in a high-priced market and buying something less expensive for my "retirement" years -- not that I plan to ever retire my keyboard -- is motivated by the necessity of tightening my budget. But when you look at buying a home, you have to weigh a lot of variables like mortgage rates and payments, property taxes, and homeowners' insurance where the home is located. Last but not least, you have to consider energy costs.

The last is hard to gauge if you're buying an older home. In addition to a home inspection, you might get an energy audit to see what kinds of expensive home improvements you'd need to beef up the home's energy efficiency. But it would be much easier to buy a new home that's up to code with the latest insulation features and appliances. Better yet, finding a home that's been certified to cost nothing for energy would be a major score, especially if it's a home you like and can afford to buy.

New net-zero homes are going mainstream

During my preliminary foray into house hunting recently, I stumbled upon several communities being built in and around my target locations that consist of affordable, net-zero energy townhomes. It can be quite an undertaking to make an existing home so energy-efficient that you spend virtually nothing for energy consumption.

Builders, however, are jumping on the bandwagon to give new homebuyers what they clamor for -- net-zero new-construction homes featuring solar panels that produce most if not all of the energy a household requires. Additionally, by air sealing the home and through the use of the most energy-efficient windows, doors, and insulation products, these homes typically have a low HERS index score, an energy-efficiency rating used by the Department of Energy. As an example, a typical resale home has a score of 130 and a newly built home has a score of 100. A home with a score of 70 would be 30 percent more efficient than a standard home built to code today. A net-zero home, however, has a HERS score of zero or less.

If you're a homebuyer looking for this kind of serious energy-efficiency, now and over the next few years, you may not have far to look in your own community. As an example, some municipalities on the Gulf Coast of Florida -- not exactly a state known for its energy efficiency -- are subsidizing EcoVillages, net-zero townhouse developments. A few of these are being built for homebuyers of more modest means. The price of their homes in Dunedin, Fla. include photovoltaic solar systems mounted on the roof of each home. Standard features also include energy efficient home components previously mentioned plus others:

  • Energy Star appliances
  • LED lighting
  • Hybrid water heaters

Luxury and custom options in net-zero homes

If your tastes run to something considerably larger, you can also find communities of luxury net-zero homes such as High Performance Homes (HPH) in Gettysburg, Pa. Prefer to build on your own property and choose the home that best fits your budget? You can buy an energy-efficient prefab structural shell like those made by Deltec Homes that can be customized for layout and net-zero energy-efficiency features. Their models range from tiny houses -- less than 400 square feet -- to McMansions.

While all of these homes may cost more than a 60-year old fixer-upper, they hold the promise of life without energy bills, which over the many years you would hope to stay in such a marvel of a home would more than make up for the initial higher price. Something to think about.

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