In Washington, scientists developed a model home that not only avoids energy bills, but it actually produces net additional energy that the homeowners would be able to sell for profit. The National Institute of Standards and Technology created the “Net Zero Energy Residential Test Facility,” a home that uses an exciting combination of solar panels, passive solar construction, and innovative new heating systems to temper the temperature of the house. This test house does not actually house any residents, but scientists at the NIST estimate that this 2,700-foot structure could generate 120 percent energy. That additional 20 percent can be sold back to the residents’ local utility company. This is a great boon for homeowners, because the months that generate a profit can help pay for the electricity that you may have to purchase in months of intense heat or cold. The NIST is not the only example of a well-built net-zero energy home in the U.S. In Maryland, for example, there is an entire community of net-zero energy homes that hopes to model green strategies for homebuilders worldwide.
There are not very many net-zero energy homes on the market today, especially if you are looking for a home under a million dollars. It might be several years before you can find a truly affordable net-zero energy home, but if you are building your own home or you are updating an already existing home, there are some strategies you can implement.
To decrease the amount of energy that you have to purchase from outside sources, it is important to figure out exactly what you have to work with. An energy audit is a great first step; you can pinpoint the major energy inefficiencies in your home and create a strategy. Energy audits are also helpful tools because they can help you find areas of your home that cost the most money. Once you have an energy audit under your belt, sit down and craft a plan. Some of the changes that you will need to make are small ones, like swapping out your light bulbs for more energy-efficient and cost-effective bulbs, while some are large structural changes, such as revamping your home’s insulation. It is a good idea to come up with a budget for home renovations at the beginning of your project so that you do not get too deep into a project before realizing that you cannot quite afford it.
Crucial “Green” Features
Solar panels are an obvious choice, but there are some basic building material choices that can have a big impact on how much energy is required to heat or cool your home.
Windows are usually a source of energy inefficiency, as they leak heat in the winter and absorb far too much heat during the summer. To combat this and help keep your energy costs down, insulate your windows. If your budget is fairly flexible, you can replace your current windows with models that have already been equipped to protect your energy budget. Companies like Vinyltek offer some of the best options, with triple-pane windows that serve several great purposes. These types of windows are designed to let plenty of light into your home and absorb passive solar energy that you can use to produce energy, without losing a lot of heat during the winter or at nights. If you are on the fence about the cost of new windows, look back to your energy audit. It may be a high sticker price, but it could end up saving you a substantial amount of money in energy costs in the long term. For those operating with a smaller budget, you can purchase insulation kits that involve applying an insulating film over the window. The downside to these options is that they usually tint your window slightly, but they do a pretty good job of controlling the amount of heat that comes in and out of your windows.
Patch the leaks in your home. Every home sports minor holes and leaks that can leak hold or cold air back into the environment. The older your home is, the more these holes can add up and cost you money. In most homes, all of the holes and leaks add up to a hole about the size of a basketball. Adding better insulation to your home and patching up the holes that you can find can offset the energy costs that you incur as a result of leaking heat into the outdoors.
If you’re building a home specifically for this purpose, consider choosing concrete floors. Adding rugs can make these homes a little bit more comfortable, but concrete floors are a great way to conserve energy. Couple concrete floors with a water heating system under the floor, and the heating system could be as much as 200 percent efficient. If you are working with a contractor, you can also visit wholesale retailers in the area to use reclaimed materials, such as reclaimed wood flooring and other building supplies that have a much smaller environmental impact because they are not being produced for your home from scratch.
Once your home is built, choosing appliances is another big choice that can determine the energy efficiency of your home. Appliances can easily run up the monthly electricity bill, so replacing fridges, washers, dryers, and dishwashers can cut a substantial portion of your energy bill out. The older your appliances are, the more energy inefficient they are, so simply upgrading to newer models is a good first step. The market offers energy-efficient fridges, for example, than use less that 50 percent of the energy that a fridge from ten years ago uses. An energy-efficient appliance should be pretty easy to spot on the market because they will be sporting an “Energy Star” label. This marking means that the appliance not only meets the energy efficiency minimum standards; they exceed it. Making a monthly schedule for food and groceries, if you do not already, can be a valuable tool when you are shopping for appliances. Choosing a fridge that is just big enough for your needs can cut energy costs because you are no longer paying for a huge fridge that is not needed.
Solar Power Installations
The most important component of any net-zero energy home is your solar power installations. The main goal of a net-zero energy home is to produce more energy than you use each year. Some days, it will be impossible to produce the amount of energy that you need to complete daily tasks. If you retrofit (or build) your home with energy costs in mind, however, you will be able to produce more than enough energy to power your home throughout the year. If you think that you cannot successfully install solar panels, think again! Solar panels can be installed in sunny or cloudy areas easily, and there are advantages and disadvantages to operating solar panels in each area. If you live in a warm area that typically receives a lot of sunlight, it is easy to collect enough solar rays to power your home, but the heat causes the panels run less efficiently than they optimally could. If you live in a cool or cloudy area—think areas like Seattle or other parts of the Pacific Northwest—solar panels operate at optimal efficiency. Despite conventional assumptions, solar panels absorb plenty of solar rays through the clouds.
The two most important steps towards creating an energy-efficient home are installing energy conscious insulation and solar panels, so work on covering your roof in solar panels. These two choices mean that you can likely cover your energy costs completely during the moderate months of the year, and you will end up paying a only small monthly bill during the most temperature intense months of the year. Websites like zero-energyplans.com can help you construct basic blueprints for net-zero energy homes that you can adapt for your own life.
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