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Net-Zero FAQ: Answering Five Common Questions About Building and Owning a Net-Zero Home

As one of western Canada’s premier net-zero home builders, we pay particular attention to this ever-evolving space. As Canada begins to make serious inroads into greenhouse gas reduction, with an eye-focused eye on sustainability and environmental awareness, more Canadians are beginning to look at energy-efficient and net-zero homes as realistic options.

Naturally, questions arise regarding the attainability of net-zero homes, their cost of ownership, and other aspects associated with going net-zero. In this blog post, we address the top-5 questions we receive from new clients prior to the home building process kicking off.

You Asked, We Answered: 5 Questions About Going Net-Zero

If you are considering going net-zero, or are wondering how you can reduce the energy consumption from your current home, we invite you to contact us.

How Much Does a Net-Zero Home Cost?

This is the most common question we receive, and of course it is also the most difficult to answer. As you know, there are many factors that influence the cost of a home:

  • Size and layout
  • Creature comforts and amenities
  • Finishings, appliances, and fixtures
  • Other intangibles, including customization

However, it is safe to budget an additional 8-12% on top of the cost of a comparable “traditional” home. There’s a perception that to go net-zero you have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so, and while it’s true that you won’t find a net-zero home in the low six-figure range (or any detached home, really), it’s an enormous misconception that going net-zero adds $100,000 or more to the cost of a home.

This may have been true in 1997, but in 2017 the technologies and allow us to embrace net-zero are more affordable and efficient than ever. In addition, subsidies now exist in Alberta that empower us to further reduce the consumer-cost of the home (such as the Alberta Government Solar Rebate, worth up to 30% of the cost of solar to a maximum $10,000).

How Much Money Would I Really Save Compared to a Traditional Home With Energy-Efficient Windows and Appliances?

Another tough, but honest, question. This one is extremely difficult to answer because the variables that influence the answer vary considerably. High-efficiency appliances, for example, range in performance: both an 88% efficient furnace and a 95% efficient furnace can carry the “high efficiency” label, yet one will outperform the other.

Consider this: the average cost of electricity for the typical Albertan home is somewhere around $1,500 per year, or roughly $125 per month (after factoring in all associated costs). If you lived in one of our Belgravia Green homes, your cost for electricity would have been dramatically less than that- likely somewhere around $75 per year or less.

Similarly, net-zero homes are designed to be as heat-efficient as possible. The typical home in Edmonton will spend between $60 and $80 per month on heating costs, whereas a net-zero home may be 10% of that.

All told, it’s reasonable to assume monthly utilities for a detached net-zero home to be somewhere around $20 – $30, including surcharges. This is about 10% of what a typical homeowner would pay.

If I Go Net-Zero, do I Have to Worry About My Power Consumption?

We believe in a capable but realistic approach to net-zero. In other words, while the homes we build for net-zero designation are indeed capable of achieving that status, we still tie into the electrical grid.

The Belgravia Green home that we built in 2012 shows what is possible- it has generated more power than it’s consumed for the past three years. This is something that would have been unattainable for most people 20 years ago, but is now becoming more commonplace thanks to incredible advances in material science, sustainable power generation, and net-zero building methods.

So, while we tie you into the grid, it serves more as a storage facility for your excess energy. This allows you to slowly feed energy in and draw it back when required.

What Kind of Maintenance to Rooftop Solar Panels Require?

For most Edmontonians, maintenance amounts to ensuring the solar panels are clear of snow or other debris that may obstruct power generation.

In Edmonton’s continental climate, snow happens… regularly. We slope and face the panels to minimize the accumulation of snow, though if obstruction happens to the point that power is no longer being generated, the home will notify the homeowner to make them aware. The homes are designed with orientation and shade analysis considered and cleaning the solar modules is not required, although it can slightly increase production if the snow is cleared in the winter.

Otherwise, dust is a relative non-issue, with an estimated maximum power generation reduction of 10%. A nice rainfall will solve this problem.

What Kind of Lifestyle Changes Are Required With a Net-Zero Home?

No changes in your lifestyle are required because we tie our homes into the electrical grid- you will always have power regardless of how much electricity your home generates. However, a few simple changes that are easy to adapt to can make a big difference in your energy consumption… and the performance of your net-zero home.

For example:

  • Ensure you use LED light bulbs for interior and exterior light fixtures. LED bulbs provide similar lighting performance for a fraction of the energy usage of traditional bulbs (or even “high-efficient” bulbs).
  • Minimize your use of energy-intensive appliances, such as hair dryers, irons, hair straighteners, and other appliances that utilize heat coils. This doesn’t mean never use them, but be smart about it- they suck back power surprisingly fast!
  • Turn off lights when you aren’t in the room.
  • Set timers to bathroom or ceiling fans (to ensure they aren’t accidentally left on).
  • Unplug electronics when not in use. The “phantom draw” from all these appliances can add up to meaningful consumption!
  • Program the temperature of your thermostat to a few degrees lower than normal during sleeping hours or when no one is home. Lowering the set temperatures will reduce energy for heating considerably.
  • Leverage natural lighting and passive-solar heat spaces.
  • Use a drying rack vs. a drying machine. Not only will this extend the life of your items, but it cuts a huge power user out of the laundry equation.
  • Rather than relying exclusively on your overhead light fixtures, switch to energy-efficient LED floor and desk lamps (called task lighting).