Building a net zero home in Vermont is becoming the new norm in residential construction. Want proof? Check out the almost limitless amount of media buzz, ready support from utility companies and government…and the plethora of clearly visible “solar farms” along the state’s highways.
But constructing a net zero home in Vermont, New Hampshire, or anywhere else in a cold climate requires more than just adding a lot more insulation and sticking some solar panels on a roof. A net zero home is a high-performance and high-tech home requiring that a number of processes come together.
Here are three things you should keep in mind as you explore zero energy living:
1) Assess your Energy Usage Habits
A net zero home in Vermont generates as much energy as it uses. But a home doesn’t use energy until you use energy…by setting a thermostat, taking a shower, washing dishes or engaging in a number of other energy-consuming habits. So habits are important to know.
As part of the planning process, personal energy usage habits should be quantified. Attempt to calculate usage in kWh (kilowatt hours). This is the standard unit of measurement for electricity. If you need help with this, seek the counsel of an experienced net zero homes builder to develop a practical related number. This is an important step, and can make the difference between having a true net zero energy home, or not.
2) Don’t Guess on the Number of Solar Panels
Guessing is a bad idea for two reasons:
- If you install too many solar panels, you’ll be needlessly wasting money. And if the utility company caps the net metered amount of energy it will credit you, you may not get the return on investment you desire.
- If you install too few solar panels, your new home in Vermont will not be a true zero energy home because it will not be able to produce as much energy as your home will consume.
You’ll need to get a thorough energy usage assessment. Let me emphasize thorough. Aside from your usage habits, other factors need to be weighed. The home’s orientation, roof pitch, potential obstructions, and the utility’s energy buyback program should all be considered.
Solar array peak output is expressed in kilowatt hours (kWh), the same measurement standard your power company uses. The goal is for your solar array to produce close to the amount of energy you will use yourself.
3) Test the Sealing Process
This is big. A net zero home in Vermont must be sealed. Air incursion has always been a concern among builders. With a net zero energy home, it’s critical.
A net zero home needs to be sealed to the greatest extent technology affords and a special purpose air exchange ventilation system needs to be installed.
While caulking, well-sealed windows, doors with gaskets, etc., are all good, the effectiveness of such materials and practices need to be verified.
Enter the “blower door test.” This test pressurizes the home so that any areas that “leak” can be addressed. We like to see this test done twice: during construction and when the home is completed. Utilizing this test is the only way to certify that the home truly is a high-performance home.