Let me start off by defining, “better.” From the standpoint of construction quality or practices, an IECC home and a net-zero home will be the same. From the standpoint of saving energy, net-zero wins hands down. Let’s see why.
The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)
The IECC is a residential coding standard that stipulates minimum construction practices aimed at saving energy. Beginning in 2009, Vermont and roughly half of the other states in the U.S. adopted the Code—meaning builders need to adhere to the Code’s construction practices on a self-reporting basis. From 2009 forward, the code has not changed significantly. The 2015 Code is, however, about 15% better than the 2009 code in terms of resulting overall energy savings. I will note that Vermont was the first state to adopt the 2015 Code.
The Code applies to:
- New single-family homes including modular and log homes.
- New multi-family homes up to 3 stories.
- Additions of 500 sq. ft. or more.
- Alterations, renovations, and repairs.
Going Beyond IECC
While saving energy is always a good thing, the IECC is really just a building code, simply speaking. Today, a new conventional home is an IECC home only because of the compliance requirements. To comply means the home is built to minimum energy-savings standards. According to a report by Efficiency Vermont, “Code compliance, while important, does not achieve the energy efficiency levels we need our homes to reach.”
An Energy Star Home
In 1995, the EPA launched the Energy Star certification program to identify those homes that performed better for both the homeowner and for the environment. The old adage of, “if a little is good, more is better,” applies to Energy Star homes. The more stringent building requirements of Energy Star homes raise the energy-savings bar one more notch.
A Net Zero Home
A net-zero home achieves the crème de la crème of energy efficiency. Materials, practices, and fixtures help eliminate energy costs. On an annual basis, your heating, cooling, and electric costs will zero out (i.e. create net-zero energy use) Your net payment for heating, cooling and electric over the time period is “zero”! Net-zero construction in Vermont is such a spectacular leap forward, that the State of Vermont has set a goal for all new construction to achieve net-zero by 2030.
Net-zero construction in Vermont means:
- Better overall construction; net-zero homes are high-performance homes.
- Using the latest technology to achieve maximum efficiency.
- Owning a home with potentially higher resale value as awareness and demand for the technology increases.
- Capitalizing on available federal or state tax credits to save on construction project costs.
While a net-zero may cost a little more, perhaps 10% more, the payback begins immediately and continues forever.
Achieving net-zero depends on each builder’s passion and expertise in high-performance building construction. As yet, there is no building code requirement for net-zero construction in Vermont, but there are many accepted industry standards. And no single standard can be omitted. For example, insulating walls to R-50 and adding solar won’t yield net-zero if the building envelope is improperly sealed, or if the home design and specifications do not consider the energy use pattern of the owner-occupants.