Home Sweet Zero Energy Home

by: Sara on 01/23/2012
Posted in: Guest Posts

Barry Rehfeld, the author of, get ready for it, it's a mouthful, Home Sweet Zero Energy Home, What it Take to develop great homes that won't cost anything to heat, cool or light up, without going broke or crazy, is our guest blogger today, discussing the rising popularity of "zero energy" homes and what that means for the homeowner.

Barry  has been a journalist for over 30 years and is the founder of www.zeroenergyintelligence.com where he writes about everything you need to know to build, buy or renovate a home that produces as much energy as it uses.

Two days after my book, Home Sweet Zero Energy Home, arrived from my publisher, The New York Times ran a story about “Zero Energy” on the front page of its Sunday Real Estate section.

That wasn't the only place since my book went to press where zero energy was popping up in the news either. KB Home, the fifth largest builder in the U.S., went national - from Florida to California -  with its program to market "zero energy" homes. 

Nor were either events the only good news for zero energy becoming part of the building mainstream. One tenet of zero energy was that in developing a home that produces as much energy as the little it uses was that everything in it could be bought retail and that's happened with the one killer innovation for producing huge energy efficiency gains.

LED bulbs have made the leap from technological novelty to big box shelves. Indeed, many Home Depot outlets now sell enough types of LED bulbs, which use about a fifth as much electricity as the standard incandescent, to stock several shelves. By most accounts too, LED are seen as viable replacements to the incandescent bulbs - should the ban on their production in the U.S. actually go through. (Congress has held up the 2012 ban.)

Some of the newest televisions, top freezer refrigerators and dishwashers are something to look at for achieving energy efficiency too. While they don't achieve the same kind of savings as LED bulbs, they can lower electric bills much more than many other models without much of an increase - if any - in price. For example, I've found Kenmore dishwashers that use less electricity and water than almost any other model in stores and on the web for under $500 - a good price in any market.  

It all adds up to the fact that zero energy living is becoming better known and more widely accepted. In some parts of the country there may even be the financial incentive to outfit houses with solar energy installations and to become much more energy efficient.

Homes in the Northeast are heavily dependent on oil for heating and home heating oil prices have more than doubled since 2003. The average annual oil heating bill last year was $2,298 or more than the entire U.S. average annual utility bill was in 2009 (i.e. $2,200)!

To be sure, the long, slow slog it has been for developing zero energy homes since the idea first appeared on the home scene in the nineties will likely continue for the foreseeable future. 

Realistically, home owners don't have enough of a financial motivation to strive for energy efficiency and to purchase solar energy equipment - even in the Northeast. The extra upfront costs zero energy requires is still hard for most home owners and buyers to accept in a still weak economy.

There also may be reasonable alternatives to oil. Throughout the country, electricity rates have been holding steady for about four years and natural gas prices, which accounts about of a third of home energy use, have been falling over the same period. 

However, as zero energy becomes a more familiar concept and home owners and buyers find it easier to attain, zero energy homes will become part of the mainstream. Let's hope it's within the time frame the developed world is shooting for - the next 8 to 18 years - if not sooner.   





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