Reviewed by Matt Hope
Updated March 23, 2023
In today’s fast-paced world, change is everywhere, and people have had to embrace it or be left behind. Technologies we couldn’t have envisioned a decade ago are becoming part of our everyday lives; smartphones, voice-controlled computer assistants streaming audio and video are just a few.
Our climate is changing, too, giving rise to concerns about pollution and non-renewable energy sources. Natural Resources Canada notes that housing accounts for 11% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. One solution designed to counteract this problem has been the rise of the Net-zero home, an innovation that may soon become the norm in homebuilding.
A Net-zero home is a home built with an eye toward energy conservation; using advances in building methods and energy production/conservation, these homes produce as much energy as they use on an annual basis, so they aren’t a drain on natural resources.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Net-zero homes are off-grid. They can be connected to the grid, drawing on it when they need power and returning excess energy to the grid when they are producing more than they can use. As long as the annual net-energy consumption is zero, a home can be called Net-zero.
Net-zero homes are equipped with photovoltaic systems that allow them to capture and utilize renewable solar energy so they need not rely on non-renewable sources of power. According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, they may also include technologies and practices that enhance indoor air quality and comfort, reduce environmental impact, conserve natural resources and improve affordability.
For those who aren’t yet ready to invest in solar panels, there are also net-ready homes that are designed to allow for solar panel installation at a later date without making major adjustments.
In 2017, the Canadian Home Building Association launched a Net-zero home labelling program to recognize Net-zero homes and promote their construction. Potential changes to building codes could soon require all new housing to meet a Net-zero standard by 2030, so stay tuned.
Net-zero homes have three aims: to include renewable energy systems, to reduce energy requirements, and to operate efficiently.
Most Canadian Net-zero homes use photovoltaic systems that convert sunlight to electricity. They have the advantage of being low maintenance, safe and reliable while producing no emissions or pollution on site. They may also have rooftop solar panels that produce hot water.
The Net-zero home reduces energy needs in a variety of ways. It generally has outstanding insulation all around the building to prevent heat or cold from escaping, depending on the season. The home is generally oriented east-west on its lot so that many of the windows face south and take advantage of the sun’s light and heat to reduce energy costs.
Net-zero homes may include roof overhangs and take advantage of natural shade to prevent the homes from getting too hot. They often have energy-efficient mechanical ventilation that provides an ongoing exchange of stale indoor air for fresh, outdoor air to ensure that the indoor environment is as healthy as possible.
To recover energy that might be wasted during exhaust and wastewater disposal, Net-zero homes may incorporate heat recovery ventilation systems and wastewater heat recovery systems.
The appliances and lighting fixtures, as well as the heating and cooling systems, must be consistent with the energy-efficient design of the home.
For homeowners who are attempting to be as energy conscious as possible, it’s useful to have a display or dashboard that offers real-time data about the home’s energy consumption and production so that the residents can adjust their behaviors accordingly.
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Appealing to our better natures won’t necessarily make Net-zero energy homes the norm, but changes to building codes might. However, there are additional reasons for homeowners to embrace the Net-zero concept.
Homeowners living in Net-zero domains save money. Although the initial outlay for the home may be higher than a less efficient house, over the long term, homeowners will recoup any loss over time. Other than a small cost for hooking up to the grid, they have no monthly energy bills, putting money back in their pockets. There is also a saving on water.
The Net-zero home is equipped with energy-efficient appliances, so your washing machine, toilets and dishwasher use less water than the standard models. There is also the joy of low maintenance. Net-zero homes have fresh air systems and airtight construction, so they are easy to clean: no mold or water damage and less dust.
Finally, when it comes time to move, energy-efficient homes also have a higher resale value in today’s money- and energy-conscious marketplace. Who doesn’t want to live in a home that allows them to save money on bills while benefiting the environment?
With all of these benefits and the added bonus of improving the environment, if you had the choice, would you buy a Net-zero property?
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About the expert: Matt Hope
Matt is a co-founder and the COO of FindEnergy.com, which empowers consumers by providing data about where their energy comes from and the true price of that energy in relation to neighbouring areas. To build FindEnergy.com, Matt spent three years making sense of convoluted energy data that various government agencies collect.
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