As more homebuyers seek out green homes and want to reduce energy bills, they can purchase a net-zero-energy home for a price that may not be as high as you think:
The Spencer’s new home is part of a niche, though growing, segment of the U.S. housing market — net-zero-energy homes, many of which use solar energy to achieve net-zero-energy use vs. consumption. In the sun-sparse days of winter, energy consumption often exceeds generation, but in the sunny days of summer, energy generation often far exceeds consumption.
As of February 2012, 37 homes have been rated net-zero-energy or better on the industry-standard Home Energy Rating System e-scale of the U.S.-standard auditor. This number could grow 1,000 percent or more in 2012 if projects continue as planned.
“Interest has been off the charts,” said Todd Louis, vice-president of Tommy Williams Homes, the Florida-based building company that built the Spencers’ home. So far, the company has built and sold four, and has plans to build 35 to 40 more in 2012. The price of their net-zero-energy homes are still $30,000 to $40,000 higher than those that are not net-zero-energy, said Williams, but that margin is dropping with a decline in photovoltaic costs. The Spencers paid $250,000 for their home…
Shea Homes has long featured extremely energy-efficient designs, though the upgrade to solar panels could be costly — around $30,000, said Asay. He and his wife were considering the upgrade, but when the announcement was made that the new net-zero homes, with solar, were only $7,000 more than the previous base model, they jumped: “Sign us up.”
This approach is different than another housing approach that has generated buzz: passive houses are homes that are so insulated that they use a ventilator to move air from inside to outside (and vice versa – see some diagrams here). The energy costs in these homes are very low. In contrast, net-zero-energy homes have higher energy costs than passive homes but then offset the energy usage. In this article, the homes have solar panels (I wonder if this could be done in other ways – wind turbines on the roof?) which also means that the homes have to be in climates and locations with more sunlight. If the costs for doing this are reasonable and introduced completely at the beginning (meaning it can be spread out across the life of a mortgage), I could see how this is attractive for homebuyers.
I expect that we will see more homes like this in the future: beyond wanting to reduce energy bills, more homeowners appear to be interested in green homes. The housing industry is starting to warm to this idea and there are a number of ways that new homes can adapt: more sustainable materials, being a passive house or a net-zero-energy house, downsizing or right-sizing, and being in denser neighborhoods where homeowners can drive less and use less land.