More builders crafting net-zero homes

Friday, March 9th, 2012 By

A log cabin

People don't have to live in a log cabin to have power bills of $0; a growing number of builders make net-zero homes that generate electricity. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Power bills are a pain, but what if they could be drastically reduced or eliminated altogether? A growing number of “net-zero” homes, or homes that use practically no power from utilities, are being built.

Green for planet and pocket

Few people relish having to pay utility bills and the typical household, according to Yahoo News, paid $2,200 per year for electricity in 2009.

Until recently, one of the only ways to avoid them was to go “off the grid,” and live without electricity. However, a growing number of companies offer “net-zero” homes, or homes with a net power usage of or close to 0, having solar panel arrays built into the home.

Many of these homes are pre-fabricated and are priced about the same as a normal house. For instance, Shea Homes builds entire neighborhoods of net-zero houses, with houses starting at $180,000, according to Time magazine, though Shea Homes are used for retirement communities. Meritage Homes, a net-zero builder located in the Southwest U.S., according to USA Today, offers net-zero houses for as little as $140,000.

Getting it for less

For those who don’t want to buy a whole new house, homes can be converted, but it isn’t cheap. To go “net-zero,” one has to install sufficient solar panels or other implements to generate as much or more electricity than they use. The typical home, according to the Energy Information Administration, consumed 11,496 kilowatt-hours or kWH, of electricity per year, in 2010, though it varies by region.

To retrofit the typical home with enough solar panels to be net-zero in San Francisco, according to Forbes, typically costs $12,000 after tax incentives.

The cheapest complete solar array on Home Depot’s website capable of generating more than 11,000 kWh of electricity is a 6,500-watt solar system from Grape Solar, for $16,621. It comes complete with panels and power inverter, ready to be hooked up to a home’s power system and even feed surplus electricity to the power grid.

[It would take a lot of short term loans to fund that construction project]

The buyer also needs to purchase a mounting system and have it installed, which could add a further $5,000 easily to the cost of the system; the total cost is likely to be more than $20,000. Assuming a home goes net-zero and saves $2,000 per year, a $20,000 retrofit will pay for itself in 10 years, before tax incentives.

More homes heading this direction

According to Yahoo news, 17 percent of new home construction in 2011 was green construction, though not all “green” homes are net-zero houses and a Yahoo poll found that 50 percent of more than 1,500 respondents considered “green” technology to be a vital component of their dream home, though that’s a relatively limited sample.

More home builders are building homes to be more energy efficient or energy producing and more people want them. Not having to pay a power bill, or at least a much smaller one, certainly has appeal.

Sources

Time

USA Today

Yahoo news

Energy Information Administration: http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=97&t=3

Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/justingerdes/2012/02/28/net-zero-energy-buildings-are-coming-what-about-the-buildings-already-standing/

Home Depot: http://www.homedepot.com/Electrical-Alternative-Energy-Solutions-Solar-Power/h_d1/N-5yc1vZbm18/R-203080175/h_d2/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10053&langId=-1&storeId=10051

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