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"Zero Energy Homes" Hit the Mainstream
Jamais Cascio, 10 Aug 05

Although it's something of a misnomer, "zero energy home" has an attractive ring to it. The combination of wall and window insulation that keeps heat out in the summer and in during the winter, high-efficiency appliances and solar panels with "net metering" lets an otherwise standard American home consume little or no power beyond what it produces. A growing number of housing developments are offering ZEH as an option -- or as the default -- and mainstream media outlets are starting to clue in that something big is happening. The latest example is Newsweek.

The article claims that the only real downside is the added cost of the equipment, around $25,000 before rebates. While certainly a considerable sum, if part of the original design, it's not an up-front cost. Rather, it's likely to be 5% or less of the total cost of the home, adding just a few tens of dollars a month to a typical mortgage -- and the amount saved every month on energy fees would more than make up for that.

The home featured in the Newsweek article is in Sacramento, California, which is suffering through a summer of near-record heat (a stretch of 100+ degree days in late July was broken by a few days only in the high-90s; the record, 9 days over 100 degrees, was set in 1996), so it's not altogether surprising that solar panels work very well for this development. But solar isn't the only option; micro-wind and co-generation (where electricity is produced from the systems heating the home and water) can also play an important role in (currently) less-sunny climes.

(Via Make)

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I'm glad ZEH is taking off as a concept (and a practice). But is it enough to offstage the pro-nuclear lobby? How do we get the utilities to push for distributed, smart grids and cogen systems? Is the power industry listening to Lovins (esp Small Is Profitable)? Any insight appreciated!

Posted by: JN on 11 Aug 05

$25,000.00 is "only" 5% or less of the purchase price of a ZEH house? How in the world can mainstream working families, even dual income families possibly afford $500,000.00 AND UP homes? This article just glosses right over that bit like it's not even a consideration. Sounds like cultural elitism to me to make assumptions like that, and certainly not the way to attract mainstream consumers.

Posted by: rick peat on 12 Aug 05

Rick, it's not so much cultural elitism as a reflection of housing prices across much of the west coast and southwest (where designs using solar are apt to have the greatest uptake), as well as many other locations across the US.

$500,000 is below the average home price in California. There are parts of the state that are even well above that (I saw a recent local news report claiming that the average home price in San Francisco is now over $750,000).

Such prices are arguably well over what a truly rational market would come up with, and talk of a "housing bubble" is becoming more and more common. Many dual income families are able to afford the $500K and up homes through mortgage schemes that they'll come to regret down the road.

But if my casual reference to $500,000 houses as "typical" came as a shock, my apologies. It was purely a reflection of the kinds of prices I've seen discussed lately across the region in which I live and in many other parts of the country.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 12 Aug 05

I would like to start building zero energy homes.
Can someone help point my in the right direction to get started?

Thank you very much!

Posted by: larry rheinlaender on 22 Aug 05



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