CE has covered the topic of off grid houses in the past using the example of an Earthship. Off-grid refers to homes that survive without being connected to any main or national grid for water supply, sewer, natural gas, or electrical power, surviving instead in a self-sufficient manner. However, a new, less radical trend is taking place in green housing communities around the globe.
The most popular phrase in eco-friendly discussions now is “zero net homes.” A zero net home is a house that consumes little to no energy from the electrical grid, and therefore has a zero net energy consumption rate. Most zero net buildings remain connected to the grid for energy storage purposes, but still use energy harvested on-site to fulfill their power needs. As we become increasingly aware of the negative impact our lifestyles have had on the planet, and fight to continue reduction of carbon emissions, we can only hope that the trend of net-zero homes will increase in the coming years.
The process of building or retrofitting a home to transform itself into net-zero isn’t simple by any means, but a growing number of motivated contractors have begun to specialize in energy efficient and zero net homes. For homeowners interested in pursuing a zero net, or close to zero net home, it’s worth considering the basic tenets involved in energy proofing a house.
The first step is to schedule an energy audit, which can done yourself, or by a licensed energy auditor. This process will allow you to make note of any air leaks, cold bridges, energy leaching appliances, and general energy hot spots that are easily fixable. Once you’re aware of the problem areas, it’s easy to patch up energy gaps that are typically found under doors, between windows, and a number of other places with additional insulation, draft blockers, and in some cases, caulk.
The major feature of true zero net homes is the establishment of an alternative source of energy. If you’ve got the money and dedication, options include solar panel installation, wind turbines, geothermal or even hydro power if your home is located near a steady flow of water. Direct renewable energy isn’t widely available or affordable for everyone (a solar installation package costs around 7-10 thousand dollars) so for residents who simply cannot access an alternative source of energy, there is the option to evaluate your local energy companies. Many power companies are beginning to use alternative, renewable sources of energy to supplement or replace traditional power plans, and in many states you can use online databases like PAPowerSwitch (Pennsylvania), Direct Energy (Texas) and Energize Connecticut (Connecticut) to find plans that can provide you with up to 100% of your home electricity from green sources. No matter where your energy is derived from, focusing on using less is a foolproof route to benefitting the environment. Monitoring and limiting your use of electronics and appliances will greatly reduce your carbon footprint over time. An additional benefit of reducing usage of these devices is, of course, a smaller electric bill. Zero net or not, an update in appliances can reduce the overall amount of power your home needs to be fully functional. Consider changing the electronics you have inside your home to environmentally friendly brands. Even basic swaps like replacing traditional light bulbs for eco-friendly, LED lightbulbs can add up to thirty dollars in energy savings per each bulb’s lifetime. Not only do these bulbs use less energy, they also tend to last for much longer than the traditional kind. Toss out old appliances (7+ years old) for Energy Star certified appliances. Though like any appliance, Energy Star electronics are an investment, their certifications require them to use at least 20-30% less energy than the federally mandated minimum. On top of that, you can even receive a federal tax credit for upgrading. While the growing trend of zero net houses is exciting and revolutionary, it’s not immediately necessary to shell out thousands of dollars in order to obtain similar environmental benefits. Simple changes in your lifestyle, from energy-saving behaviors, to switching appliances inside your home, are the easiest steps you can take to lowering the amount energy your home consumes and the amount of carbon emissions it produces, all while new advances in alternative energy sources move us ever closer to a future free of fossil fuels. Once you’ve mastered the energy efficient home, it might become more realistic to imagine your house running off entirely renewable sources. Written by Kate Voss *Check out this resource to learn more about alternative energy sources for your home: http://www.climatemaster.com/residential/how-geothermal-works/ .
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