Net-Zero, Primary Residence Homes, Part 2

  1. First of all, the process of building a house consumes a huge amount of energy before anyone even moves in and calls it home.  Here’s a brief snapshot of what I mean.   

There’s no such thing as a house that doesn’t consume energy

  1. Site & Concrete:  First the loggers come and clear out the land. They have some toys I’ve never seen before that can lift a whole tree right out of the ground and grind it up right there, stumps and all.  After the land is cleared and all the brush is cleaned up and out of the way, dump trucks and excavators and well drillers prepare the site.  Within a couple days, the concrete for the foundation arrives with premixed concrete for the foundation. This material often comes off a boat that sailed all the way from China. Can you believe that? Somebody on the other side of the world actually made the materials that went into the foundation for my house in Vermont. Somewhere far away, there’s a seaport where my concrete was offloaded by a big crane and transferred by large hauling trucks to the local batch plant where it gets properly mixed with aggregate and water and finally trucked to my lot.  That’s just phase 1.
  • Building materials:  Delivery is by rail, barges and trucks and it comes from all parts of the world and is distributed to local Lumber Yards where it is handled, re-sold to builders, loaded again and finally delivered by a fleet of trucks to the construction site. 
Net-Zero, Primary Residence Homes, Part 2 1
  • Manpower:  The Foundation Crew, Electricians, Plumbers, Carpenters, Insulators, Drywallers, Painters, Flooring and Tile guy, and the Site Contractors and Landscapers all must drive specialty service vehicles back and forth to jobsites each day for many months. Some make multiple trips in the same day. You gotta love plumbers.  I think they have the most parts to deal with than any other subcontractor. Electricians are second. Have you ever met a plumber that arrives on the jobsite and has everything he needs to stay there so he can do his job?  I have often wondered what the real cost is for getting into his truck in the middle of the day and driving 15 miles to get two ½” by 90 degree fittings? Multiply that by over 25 different subcontractors, designers and inspectors who make regular site visits during construction. 
  • Waste Handling:  By the time the average 2500 square foot home is completed, there’s two or three huge dumpsters that are full of scrap materials being sorted somewhere 25 miles away.
  • Moving Day:  Finally, there’s the big moving day when moving vans and friends with vehicles of all kinds assist their friends as they transport their belongings from the previous place of residence to their brand new location. 
  • Summary:   This kind of energy that isn’t often factored into the construction of any home is referred to as “embodied” energy, and it’s a lot! It boggles the mind, actually, when you stop and think about it. 
Net-Zero, Primary Residence Homes, Part 2 2

But after teasing you with all this trivia, I’m going to tell you that we’re not here today to discuss how embodied energy plays into the formula for how much energy a house will consume in a year.  Most of you are here to find out two things.  The first question you might have is “Should I consider building a Net-Zero Home; a house that generates as much energy as it consumes?” and very close behind is the big question of the day … drum-roll please … “Can I afford the additional investment into the cost of building it?”    

  • While it’s true that every house consumes energy, there is such a thing as a house that generates as much energy as it consumes. The most popular nickname for this type of house is “Net-Zero” but sometimes I like to refer to them as “Energy Neutral”.  As a designer and builder of “Net-Zero” homes, I want to share some of our techniques that we use to achieve that goal.  I also believe it’s important to let you know that there are many variables we encounter along the way toward achieving “Net-Zero” and just to be honest and transparent, there are also some compromises we may need to make as well.