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Top home trend in 2015: homes with no energy bills

Matthew Grocoff

October 15, 2015

By: Matthew Grocoff, Green Renovation Expert

In: Green Living

It's true -- net zero energy homes were the number one home trend in 2015.

Forbes magazine recently featured their top five home trends for 2015. Their number one pick: Zero Energy Ready (ZER) homes. They called ZER "today's gold standard for efficient home design." I'd go one step further and call it the "Golden Goose" standard. If you put solar on a ZER home, it keeps paying you back. You essentially eliminate your energy bills . . . forever.

In fact, California Code requires that all new homes be able to be Zero Net Energy by 2020 (see Zero Net Energy Action Plan). That means that homes should be able to produce all of the energy they need with on-site renewable energy. In early 2015, the Wall Street Journal called net zero energy homes "Builders' New Power Play." The energy game is changing fast and solar will be disrupting the old-school energy model in the way that the Model T eliminated the horse & buggy, digital photography ended Kodak film, and the smart phone disconnected the landline.

If you're wondering if it's possible to build new homes that are all-electric and have $0.00 energy bills, consider this: my wife and I haven't paid a utility bill since March of 2011 . . . And we live in a historically restored 115-year-old Victorian home. This year we were certified by the Living Future Institute under the Living Building Challenge as a Net Zero Energy home. So, yes net zero energy is possible.

I'd say net zero energy is no longer a challenge -- it's a choice.

The future is here even if your utility company won't admit it. Remember, in 2002 Kodak executives also didn't admit that the future was passing them by. Before they realized what happened, Kodak couldn't smile and say "cheese" when digital cameras and cell phones swept them into the dustbin of short-sighted corporate behemoths.

The rapidly falling price of solar and the increased efficiency of panels has mainstream homebuyers considering the path to owning their own energy. It is now cheaper to be your own energy producer than it is to buy power from the utility company. As the cost of solar continues to plummet, the cost of producing energy from resource-based fuel (coal, natural gas, nuclear, etc.) continues a steady rise. Utility monopolies no longer support the public interest. In fact, many utilities have found it easier to fight customers rather than to innovate or recognize renewable energy as a resource. They are stuck in their old monopoly model which has delivered them reliable profits for over a century.

Renewable energy has improved its cost position versus fossil fuels steadily since the 1970s. The cost of extracting fossil fuels has been volatile and rising for 40 years. Meanwhile, the cost of solar and wind has steadily declined and that decline has accelerated in recent years. Oil, gas and coal are swiftly becoming obsolete. More importantly, renewable energy can be put almost anywhere. It is distributed rather than centralized energy production. This means anyone can become their own energy producer. This is a boon for consumers but a threat to the utility monopolies.

Consumers are catching on and are quickly realizing the benefits of producing and owning their own power. Across the country builders are beginning to specialize in net zero energy homes. My own company, THRIVE Collaborative, now only accepts clients who are seeking a minimum standard of Net Zero Energy under the Living Building Challenge. We explain to our clients that it is simply cheaper to add solar panels and purchase premium energy efficient appliances and systems to create an all-electric net zero energy building than it is to build or renovate a conventional building.

In 2012, when I spoke at Greenbuild International Conference in Toronto, Canada, only three educational sessions, including mine, addressed net zero energy. In the decade before 2012, a total of only ten Greenbuild sessions focused on net zero energy. Now Greenbuild has a large Net Zero Energy Pavillon.

There is no doubt that net zero energy is trending. But it is not just a trend. It is a permanent disruption that will forever change the way we build and renovate our homes.

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