What is a Zero Energy Ready Home?

August 30, 2017 by Paul Shepard

Zero energy homes are some of the most energy efficient homes on the planet - and those certified by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) program also improve its overall comfort, health, and durability. As more consumers learn about ZERH, it is expected that they will begin to realize the major opportunity for substantially reduced energy bills and a potentially transformative living experience.

In short, a DOE-certified ZERH is a high-performance home that is so energy efficient, most or all of its annual energy use can be offset with renewable energy. DOE works directly with leading builders who leverage proven best practices, such as those from the Building America program, that result in homes that are 40%-50% more efficient than the typical new home—even without solar or other on-site renewable power.

The largest zero net energy (ZNE) community of single family homes in California will serve as a multi-year living laboratory when Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) researchers begin to monitor and analyze the benefits and impacts of smart and grid-connected homes.

A collaborative team including De Young Properties, EPRI, BIRAenergy, and Pacific Gas and Electric, today unveiled plans for the new community in Clovis, Calif., called De Young EnVision. The development, located within the Loma Vista planned community, will include 36 grid-connected ZNE homes designed to produce as much clean energy as they consume in a year.

The homes have been designed to be optimized for energy efficiency and will include features such as electric heat pumps for space heating and cooling, advanced wall framing and insulation, solar generation, and electric vehicle ports.

Over the next several years, EPRI researchers will monitor the homes' energy use, solar production, and other performance attributes to learn how they can improve upon and expand zero net energy communities and the benefits for homeowners and the environment.

"The community will be unlike any other in the region," said Brandon De Young, De Young Properties Executive Vice President and President of De Young Mortgage. "Its green design and energy efficiency measures will enable homeowners to achieve extremely low energy bills, to live more comfortably, and to reduce their carbon footprint."

Brandon De Young, De Young Properties Executive Vice President and President of De Young Mortgage

"Our research will quantify the benefits and impacts of near-all-electric, smart, and energy efficient homes and communities, such as reduced CO2 emissions, increased customer choice, and energy savings," said Ram Narayanamurthy, EPRI principal program manager. "We want to understand the economic and technical feasibility of developing more communities of this type."

The findings also will inform utilities and other development stakeholders about how to more seamlessly integrate these types of homes into the electric grid.

So how is a ZERH home defined by the DOE? The answer lies in the program's six core buildings blocks:

Future Ready - Every ZERH is built with higher levels of insulation, window performance, and air-tight construction than a typical home. As a result, these homes are designed to stand the test of time.

Moisture-Protection Ready - ZERH are built with comprehensive water protection to ensure water cannot enter roofs, walls, openings, and foundations. This reduces the possibility of mold or decay from trapped moisture that would normally evaporate in less efficient homes thanks to air leakage from windows, walls, or the roof.

Comfort Ready - ZERHs have advanced and high-efficient heating and cooling systems that result in even, and more comfortable, temperatures from room-to-room. That means no more drafty basements!

Technology Ready - The appliances and components inside high-efficiency homes often consume more than half their total energy use. Every ZERH includes ENERGY STAR-certified equipment, fans, appliances, and lighting that can save money, and often work better and last longer.

Health Ready - Ensuring air quality is vital in energy efficient homes that are constructed air-tight. Every ZERH protects occupants from indoor air quality concerns while keeping drafts at bay. They minimize contaminants in construction materials, ensure plenty of fresh air inside the home to dilute any that make it into the home, and use advanced filters to remove dangerous particulates from heating and cooling system ducts (aka the "lungs" of the home).

Zero Ready - ZERHs are built to ensure homeowners can readily add renewable resources to their property further dropping their energy bills. Typically these systems are added during construction, but for homeowners deciding to add a solar system a few years down the road, ZERHs are built from the start to minimize the disruption and cost of installing solar systems in the future.

What are the Financial Benefits of Zero Energy Ready Homes?

While a ZERH may typically be incrementally more expensive than a typical home, the savings on each month's utility bill may actually be larger than the difference in the monthly mortgage!

When comparing two homes, make sure to consider the energy costs as a part of the overall cost of ownership—you might find that a ZERH offers a more comfortable home for a lower overall cost. That's why it can be a very costly decision to just look at the sticker price of the home.