Couple Standing in Front of Zero Net Energy Home

Build a net-zero house

Your home will produce as much energy as it uses, saving you money on utilities.

Green Lifestyle
3-5 min read

If you’re interested in building a house and want the best in home energy efficiency, consider net-zero. Net-zero houses produce as much energy over the course of a year as they use. They offer year-round comfort, saving you money on utilities while dramatically reducing your environmental footprint and climate impact.

The most important factor to consider when building a zero net energy home is good sun exposure. The goal is to get maximum sunlight for passive solar heating and electricity generation from photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.

Solar panels provide electricity for a net-zero home.
If you’re interested in building a house and want the best in home energy efficiency, consider net-zero.

That said, while early net-zero houses had to have full and unobstructed southern exposure, new technology means that these energy efficient homes can be built on lots that aren’t perfectly oriented.

Net-zero houses have been planned or built in almost every province in Canada, with each successful project steadily helping to improve the technology available. Today, net-zero is possible in many regions of the country, including in Northeast British Columbia, where winter days can be very short and cold.

After sun exposure, think of energy efficiency and start with the building envelope, making sure it is highly insulated and tightly sealed, with Energy Star-rated windows and doors and no air leaks. This also means a good heat-recovery ventilation system is needed to allow fresh air in without losing any heat. Likewise, appliances and lighting must be as efficient as possible, which means choosing LED lights, induction stoves, Energy Star washers, and such.

Then capture as much free energy as possible, mainly through south-facing windows with overhangs designed to prevent overheating in the summer. 

Efficient window in a net-zero house.
Net-zero homes are well insulated and tightly sealed, with efficient windows and doors.

Concrete floors can also be used to capture heat from the windows in the daytime and radiate it indoors during the night.

Finally, the house itself should generate any extra energy that you need. That electricity can be generated through rooftop solar panels or geothermal energy, which is increasingly becoming an option for many Canadians. Water can be heated using an electric water heater or solar hot water system.

What about renovating your existing house? 

Concrete floor as a passive solar energy collector.
Concrete floors can be used to capture heat from windows in the daytime and radiate it at night.

While there have been some successful net-zero renovations, they have tended to be in places with warmer climates. In an older house it might be necessary to strip the walls down to the studs to add insulation. Ensuring the envelope is well sealed could also be a challenge. The amount of energy that needs to be generated might also be higher in an older house, requiring more solar panels or a larger heating system. Like all renovations though, the cost and effort have to be balanced against the result.

Thicker walls and better windows come at a price, but they are ultimately balanced against vastly reduced utility bills. The price of solar PV has plummeted in recent years as well, while prices for fossil fuel-based energy are forecast to increase. Custom builders have also built most net-zero projects in Canada, which increases the price, but now some larger builders have started offering net-zero homes on a standardized floor plan, leading to reduced costs.

If you’re looking for the ultimate energy-saving home, net-zero is the way to go. 

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