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Net zero homes.

It is approaching four years since we completed construction on the net zero energy Equinox House, which we detailed in a 12-part ASHRAE Journal series titled "Solar NZEB Project." While the name Equinox House is in reference to the time of year when the clerestory window overhang shifts between allowing in or shading direct sunlight, we also see this as the Equinox of the home building industry. Shifting to a time when energy standards, labor training, construction materials, systems, and verification are all readily available and economically feasible to make energy efficient home construction the standard. Add to this the exciting fact that solar PV is now at grid parity and you have an easy pathway to solar powered net zero homes.

The obvious impact of net zero homes is reducing energy consumption and moving towards 100% renewable energy, however, arguably more important is a healthier indoor environment. Zero energy construction also creates good paying jobs and leaves more money in our communities making them stronger and more sustainable.

So how do we get to a time when net zero homes are the norm rather than the exception? No longer is it an excuse that we don't have the tools. It's a circular problem of today's consumer market drivers coupled with inadequate home appraisals and a lack of innovation and education in lending.

As consumers start demanding super insulation, A+ efficient appliances, and solar panels like they currently do granite countertops, three car garages, and stainless steel appliances appraisers will begin giving value to these features. Despite their role in the sub-prime lending bubble, banks are hesitant to make construction loans for features that receive anything but a footnote from the appraiser. This, despite the fact that this would be to their advantage to lend for net zero energy construction. A larger loan for extra insulation, more efficient appliances, and solar power eliminates a utility bill, meaning more cash flow for mortgage repayment.

We are close to a tipping point where this shift in market demand will mean more net zero homes. A positive of the decline in housing construction has meant less bad homes are being built. Hopefully this gives more time for the new innovations in housing construction to make it to the general market. As always the continual increase in energy prices will always make net zero an attractive option.

Ben Newell is president of Newell Instruments in Urbans, Ill.

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Author:Newell, Ben
Publication:ASHRAE Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2014
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