Net-zero energy housing has officially arrived on the U.S. real estate market in major numbers. According to CNBC, there are 5,000 net-zero energy homes in the U.S. today and California could add 100,000 per year starting in 2020.
Net-zero energy homes are built to optimize energy efficiency through airtight construction of foundations, walls, windows, and roofs. The EPA Energy Star Program estimates that properly sealing air leaks could slash energy bills by 20%.
“Energy bills tend to be pretty high and onerous, and you usually have to sacrifice comfort for your energy bill or your energy bill for comfort, and we saw an opportunity to advance in this realm and become a leader,” said Brandon De Young, vice president of De Young Properties.
De Young Properties first built a net-zero energy single-family house in central California in 2013. The average American home uses 7,200 kilowatt-hours of electricity every year. The net-zero energy home had the potential to produce as much energy as it consumed in a single year.
Four years later, in 2017, De Young would refine the home’s design for greater energy-efficiency and begin constructing three net-zero energy communities near Fresno, CA.
Today, half of the first community has been constructed. Named Envision at Loma Vista, the community consists of 140 single-family homes, each one between $350,000 to $450,000.
De Young Properties chose their investment well as the next generation of houses built in California will be built along similar lines. In December 2018, California passed a new law requiring new homes and multi-family residential buildings to include solar rooftop panels beginning in 2020.
California may not be the first state to host solar panels, but they’re the first state to require them. Cities like Tucson, AZ and South Miami, FL have passed similar regulations. Considering solar power use has surged by about 20% annually over the last 15 years, it’s no wonder we’re seeing more and more of these innovations.
California passed the solar panel law in the wake of the state’s series of wildfires. The fires are just a few of the natural disasters that have been linked to extreme weather patterns caused by climate change.
The Net-Zero Energy Coalition estimates that the number of net-zero single-family homes will grow from 5,000 in 2019 to over 100,000 by 2020 based on the average new home constructions in California.
“California by itself is one of the largest economies in the world,” said Jacob Corvidae, the principal of Rocky Mountain Institute. “What happens there has some impact, and it’s going to be an impact that has an effect on the rest of the country because they’re going to be figuring out ways to make solar cheaper and that scale will help bring down the cost.”
Up to 35.1 million Americans move every year, and many families could move into net-zero energy homes to reduce energy consumption.
But Charles Kilbert of the University of Florida’s College of Design, Construction, and Planning says that issues with energy consumption go beyond individual homes to the grid itself.
“[You] have to try really hard to have a net zero home,” said Kilbert. “Living behavior every day drives energy consumption pretty reliably.”
There are two methods for reducing carbon footprint beyond zero-energy homes, said Kilbert. The first is a low-carbon grid and the second better renewable energy stable.
Instead of relying on fossil fuels to generate energy for grids, Kilbert recommends a renewable energy source like hydropower.
“If you had storage in your home and you were careful about your energy consumptions, you would be effectively off the grid,” said Kilbert. “You wouldn’t have to worry about it, but storage is expensive.”