The world’s most eco-friendly homes are net-zero energy homes

Net-zero energy homes, the most eco-friendly type of home, can save lives and money in a world where energy scarcity is a potential reality. “It’s the key to our survival as humans on the face of the planet,” says Jim Shaffer, founder of BC Green Homes.

The ideal net-zero home has neither a need for a power source nor a power line, so there’s no need for electricity to run the air conditioner and heating system. Since power can be drawn from sources as disparate as renewable energy, solar panels, or home solar panels and linked by on-site batteries, efficient use of energy is guaranteed.

“Without energy, the home does not operate at all,” says Shaffer. “We can replace gas furnaces with heat pumps, and water heaters with more efficient energy-efficient devices.”

Some homes are designed as fully built-in energy and water conservation systems. Others have basic components, such as solar and water and radiant slab heat. The basic floor plan is based on geothermal technology, which is located under the home and compresses heat below the floor in the winter and conveces it up through the floor in the summer.

“Net-zero houses are an architectural solution,” says Shaffer. “Sustainability has become a design imperative, and builders have gotten involved.”

Having Net Zero as standard design—or you can remodel your home from top to bottom to achieve it—means you’ll save money, not only on energy, but on the human and financial cost of an energy crisis.

Insulation, ventilation, and lighting are all involved in making a net-zero home, and BC Green Homes builds them. “We’re currently wrapping up the last homes of the 2½-year Net Zero series in Fairfax County’s New River Valley,” says Shaffer.

“It’s been exciting to see the building industry taking a meaningful approach to sustainability,” says Gail Meyers, president of BBVA Compass, one of the community’s two builders. In 2008, BBVA Compass built the first eco-friendly home in Washington in the bank’s 21 years of building here.

It became an early leader in environmentally friendly homes, offering a net-zero home, in addition to the standard, for 13 years. By contrast, many other builders have recently began building such homes.

“Brandywine Credit Union has been encouraging more sustainable building throughout the DC metropolitan area for nearly a decade,” says Kris Druckman, who is responsible for this focus at the state-chartered bank. “We have nearly 75 community partnerships that help with installation of solar panels and other energy-efficient programs. In addition, we work with builders to make environmentally friendly homes available to people who can’t afford these high-priced, energy-efficient homes.”

Rising temperatures and weakening habitats for plants and animals could create more energy scarcity. “Future generations will ultimately have to choose between a clean environment and the food they need to survive,” says Shaffer. “As long as the need for power is there, somebody will generate the power, whether it’s the planet or somebody else.”

If you’re considering such a house, avoid the first few. The cost to convert your home—the work is done in front of the owners—will impact your net-zero status. But you can work it out. “Our net-zero certification is like a receipt for a building permit,” says Shaffer. “You start from the beginning and add on. The more modern and efficient you are, the cheaper the building permit becomes. And if the building permits don’t exist, you’ll go back to square one.”

This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, New America, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, visit the Future Tense blog and the Future Tense home page. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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