Builders are Committing to Net Zero Energy Homes


Builder, November 9, 2016

With energy codes becoming more stringent in many states, Myers and Thrive are at the vanguard of a growing group of regional and national production builders who are building highly efficient, zero energy ready homes—meaning they’re wired for photovoltaic panels, even if those panels aren’t on the roof yet. They’re doing it for just $5,000 to $10,000 more in direct costs now voluntarily (some builders even say they can do it for the same price as conventional homes) before the day comes when codes say they must, a moment in time that’s just around the corner in some areas.

California, for instance, has a stated goal of adding zero net energy (ZNE) requirements into its building code by 2020. If implemented as envisioned, that means California’s new homes won’t just have to be zero energy ready—they’ll actually have to generate as much energy as they consume in the course of a year, typically by installing solar panels on the roof. And other states, such as Massachusetts and Florida, have been adding on to their standards as well.

“We’re pretty confident that by 2020, you’re going to see a significant number of states moving in that direction,” says Sam Rashkin, creator of the EPA’s Energy Star for Homes benchmark, and current chief architect in the building technologies office at DOE, where he heads the Zero Energy Ready Home program. “By 2025, the national code pretty much looks like what we’re doing now with zero energy ready (ZER) or better.”

That spec incorporates Energy Star for Homes, the EPA’s Indoor airPlus and WaterSense programs, and insulation requirements from the International Energy Conservation Code, in addition to solar-ready wiring, next iteration code adherence, and getting heating and cooling ducts into conditioned space.

Currently, about 320 builders are enrolled in the program, with 1,000 homes certified nationwide. “But what’s exciting for us is that we are finally at a tipping point,” Rashkin says. “For the first time, we have some large national builders who are committing to do zero energy ready homes across an array of divisions,” including Meritage Homes, KB Home, and PulteGroup.

For builders of Herro’s and Brown’s ilk, the mantra is “reduce before you produce.” That means they focus on making their houses as tight and efficient as possible first, before adding solar. The more efficient they build the house itself—i.e., the less energy it uses by design—the smaller, and less expensive, those costly photo­voltaic panels can be. Typically, they say, a gain in one area helps offset expenses in another, such as better or more insulation reducing the size and cost of a home’s overall HVAC system.

Take Meritage, for example, which claims to produce more zero net energy homes—about 80 annually—than any builder in the country. It does so by building all of its 8,000 homes per year to near zero net energy standards, making them about 50% more efficient than existing homes and all solar ready at an additional cost, above code, of just $5,000 per home. Next, it installs a base solar package on about 10% of its roofs. Customers who then want to pay for more solar to get all the way to zero can, but the focus for builders is on eliminating as much of the need for power inside those homes in the first place.

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