In 2008, the Department of Energy issued a challenge to homebuilders: design more efficient living spaces. Accordingly, they launched a stringent new set of criteria for energy-saving homes, designed to foster design innovation and drive new building techniques. Specifically, the DOE's Builders Challenge program focuses on the net zero home, or DOE Zero Energy Ready Home, a high-performance structure that generates at least as much energy as it pulls off the grid.
The zero net energy home, or ZNE as it's often called, represents a new era in home building, where spaces are fully integrated to save energy. All the features and pieces — solar energy utilization, passive design, efficient materials — are designed to work together to lower the household's overall energy consumption. It's resulted in some truly unique homes, equipped with innovative features that may well change the future of our home lives for good. If these designs are any predictor, here’s what you can expect in the homes of the future.
Renewable Energy Systems Will Become the Norm
The ZNE homes eligible for the DOE's Building Challenge show that the future is coming — and it will be increasingly powered by solar. ZNE homes are overwhelmingly equipped with on-site solar PV. Many of these homes are even architecturally engineered to optimize solar production, as well. They feature larger roof surfaces, southern orientations, and roofs angled to capture the maximum amount of light and heat.
Efficiency Features Will Be Built In
Homes lose a lot of energy due to inefficiencies and air leaks that release heating and cooling and make moderating temperatures more difficult. ZNEs often include reinforced insulation, such as taped, coated sheathing in the wall frames, or open-cell spray-foam cavity protection, insulated concrete slabs, and argon-filled insulated window frames. ENERGY STAR rated appliances come standard, as do EPA WaterSense plumbing features.
Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Will Be More Common
Many builders are taking energy efficiency outside the home as well. Designs will often include electric vehicle charging stations housed in the garage, an indicator of the changing future of travel, as well. With Tesla's interest in solar well documented, the futures of both renewables and electric vehicles are clearly entwined. While EV-equipped ZNEs typically sell for slightly higher premiums, the overall fuel savings is usually great enough to offset the increase in price.
Greener Materials Will Become Standard
Something homeowners need to consider when evaluating green renovations is a feature's overall environmental impact, from the raw materials that are used to the emissions and waste inherent to the manufacturing process, to the transportation and delivery, right down to air quality and health of the material once it's installed. Net zero communities often ask homeowners to agree to use VOC-free paints and materials, for instance. Or they may use exclusively formaldehyde-free wood products. They sometimes feature more eco-friendly, nontoxic alternatives to blown fiberglass insulation.
With over 14,000 net zero homes built by the DOE challenge alone, the ZNE trend doesn't seem likely to go away anytime soon. Get ready to meet the next generation of home building—one where energy efficiency is king!
Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener and aspiring eco-friendly homeowner. She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes full time for Modernize, with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big green home projects with confidence.