Homebuyers are quickly realizing that there’s a new symbol of excellence in energy-efficient homebuilding: the Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) certification from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Currently only select builders meet the levels of excellence and quality required for ZERH certification – but their numbers are growing as homebuyers learn more about the program.
The gold standard in green homebuilding used to be the ENERGY STAR® Certified Homes designation. But ZERH certification goes far beyond ENERGY STAR in every category, including comfort, quality, durability and energy efficiency. A ZERH home is typically 40 to 50 percent more energy-efficient than a typical new home – even without solar or other on-site renewable power. Could this be the future of home construction?
“A lot of builders don’t feel the need to change, but they soon will,” says Scott Sanders, CEO of BrightLeaf Homes, a ZERH-certified custom homebuilder in the Chicago area. “Homebuyers definitely understand the benefits associated with lower total costs of ownership. A ZERH home might cost 5 000 $ more, but it could save you 100 $ per month forever in energy bills. It’s easy to do the math.”
BrightLeaf's homes feature photovoltaic solar panels, passive solar design, R5 windows, attics insulated with blown cellulose and much more. "We target move-up buyers who understand the long-term benefits of exceptional energy savings," says Sanders.
California’s Title 24 code, which requires all new homes in the state to be zero-net energy by next year, has helped raise awareness about technologies like PV solar panels and radiant barrier sheathing. The ZERH program now takes that momentum nationwide, putting homebuyers directly in touch with local builders who meet DOE’s highest standards.
"Having this third-party certification really helps our marketing efforts," says Sanders. "The buyer knows that we're committed to multiple goals like achieving healthy home environments, minimizing construction waste, and reducing energy consumption."
Likewise, SALA Architects in Minnesota aimed to renovate a 1907 Victorian home to bring it to net-zero energy standards while preserving its look and charm. To renovate the home with zero net energy consumption, the team would need to rip off the existing siding in order to replace the insulation with a more efficient system of materials resulting in a tighter, more insulated home.
The resulting re-side would need to be both durable for harsh Minnesota winters and also match the look of the home’s original siding. During the deliberation, they compared engineered wood siding vs. fiber cement siding. SALA Architects ultimately chose LP® SmartSide® Smooth Texture Lap Siding to preserve the home’s historic aesthetic, while assuring the durability needed to resist hail and extreme weather conditions.
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