Are you thinking about building a net-zero home in Vermont but find the technical terms confusing? Many of the terms used to describe net zero can be confusing only because they are new terms. A net-zero home in Vermont or New Hampshire—regions are known for temperature extremes—needs to rely on the best technologies to achieve the energy savings you’re looking for. Let’s look at three of the most important technologies that help to create the fantastic living environment net zero affords.
1) Cold Climate Heat Pump
The terms, “cold” and “hot” are relative terms. Here’s what I mean by that: If you go outside when the air temperature is 32 degrees, you may feel cold, but compared with a day that’s zero degrees, the 32-degree day will feel comparatively warmer.
A cold climate heat pump literally pumps heat from varying outdoor climates into your living spaces using very little electricity to do so. For a net-zero home in the north country, a heat pump is the best solution for a number of reasons:
- They are three or four times as efficient in their use of electricity as standard electrical baseboard resistance heaters.
- They are also more cost-effective to operate than conventional heating systems that use carbon-based fuels.
- They cost about the same as central heating but offer cooling as well as heating for the same price. The need to install a fire-rated and sprinkled utility room or worry about carbon monoxide is eliminated.
Aside from taking heat from outside air, heat pumps can transfer heat from the earth or even a well. These geothermal heat pumps require additional installation so it’s important to choose what kind of system you want to install before the construction process begins.
2) Solar Hot Water Systems
According to energy.gov, the energy used to heat hot water can account for about 17 percent of your total home’s energy use in a conventional home. But because a net zero home requires much less energy for space heating, a more accurate figure could be as high as 30 percent. Using solar can save as much as 20 to 40 percent of energy costs in water heating alone.
There are two common ways to employ the technology necessary to heat hot water for a net-zero home in Vermont:
Direct Solar Hot Water System
In a solar hot water system, thermal collectors absorb energy and transfer it to a closed-loop glycol system from the south-facing roof or ground mount to the water in the storage tank. Generally, a solar hot water system (SHW) relies on a back-up of a regular hot water heater. If the water in the storage tank is warm from the sun, then you will get solar heated water when you turn the tap. If the sun is not shining and the water in the tank is cold, the backup system will provide hot water.
Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems
Because the cost of Solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems has come down dramatically. It has made more sense for many owners to install additional Solar PV panels in tandem with a hybrid electric water heater. A hybrid water heater is just that: It’s a tank-style water heater with both electric heating elements and a heat pump.
Utilizing solar can save several thousand dollars in cost while eliminating the added costs of maintaining glycol systems and pumps.
3) Battery or Generator Backup Systems
Power outages may be a concern for a net-zero home in Vermont or New Hampshire. Net zero homes are connected to the grid so if the grid goes down and the sun is not shining, you’ll lose power. Here are some things you should consider in your choice of whether to invest in backup power or not:
- Are you building in an area that is prone to power outages?
- How long is an average power outage? A net-zero home in Vermont is a “high-performance” home. If you lose heat for only a few hours, even in the winter, it’s unlikely your home’s internal temperature will drop by much.
- If you choose a generator, we advise having it professionally installed. If you install a gasoline-powered generator, you’ll need to be mindful of the instability issues of using the 10% ethanol gasoline that’s currently sold at most gasoline stations.
If you want to save energy, you’ll appreciate all the “high-tech” features built into a quality net-zero home. You’ll save a lot of energy costs as well as having the peace of mind you’re making a wise investment in a quality home.