Energy-efficient homes now more affordable with a net-zero home

Las Cruces resident Henry Broekhoff is working to make his Picacho Mountain residence a net-zero home with solar hot water and recently added solar photovoltaic panels. Photo by Beth Sitzler Las Cruces Bulletin

Going green has gained a strong foothold in certain sectors of society.  But 2010 is shaping up to be the year where green building really takes off, especially in New Mexico real estate through Net-zero and zero-energy homes.  In the past, the green movement has primarily focused on saving energy in the transportation sector. Hybrid vehicles are more popular than ever before, and many city mass transportation systems are already running on cleaner, abundantly available natural gas.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, transportation only accounted for 28 percent of all energy used in the United States in 2008, while buildings – residential and commercial – accounted for 39 percent of total energy usage. If we are ever to make a significant difference in energy consumption, we must change the way we consume energy in our homes and offices.

Net-zero and zero-energy homes

Two of the main goals of going green are energy conservation and save money. The good news is you don’t have to build a completely “green” home to become energy efficient. Thanks to current technology and strategic planning, it’s possible to build an energy efficient home that’s also affordable.

A zero-energy home is designed to produce 100 per cent of its energy 12 months a year through photovoltaic, geothermal and soon possibly even hydrogen power. A net-zero home is similar, but its average energy usage versus energy production may vary month to month. Some months, a net-zero home may produce excess energy, which gets sold back to the electric company. Other months, a net-zero home may use more energy than it produces. On average, net-zero homes produce at least as much energy as they use over the course of a year.

Zero-energy and net-zero homes might not be considered green by all certification standards, but in the long run, they tend to have a lower ecological impact given their energy efficiency.

Building a net-zero home in New Mexico

Las Cruces, New Mexico is a particularly good place to build a net-zero home. Federal and state tax credits, rebates and incentives make building an energy efficient home more affordable here than in many states. Plus, Las Cruces is one of the most highly UV-saturated locations on the planet and typically enjoys 350 days of sunshine each year. That might not be great for your skin, but it is perfect for producing solar energy.

It’s all in the planning

It’s important to start from the ground up when planning your net-zero home. The way your home is oriented and the location of your windows are two of the most important factors in building your net-zero home. It is easy to focus exclusively on views and privacy when orienting your home without considering energy sustainability.

When designing your home:

  • Orient the long axis running east-west to utilize daylight as natural lighting.
  • Minimize windows on the west and north exposures, because those windows will generate the most heat dur­ing the summer.
  • Select low U-value/low-E windows and use window glazing on windows that get the most direct sunlight.
  • South-facing windows should include awnings to shade windows in the summer and allow solar gain in the winter. Large porches and courtyards provide great shade and natural ventilation.
  • Finally, make sure to increase the amount of insulation you use in your foundation, walls and ceiling.

Appliances, lighting and climate control

The next step in creating a net-zero home is to select appliances and fixtures that use the least amount of energy possible. Today, you don’t have to sacrifice quality or performance when selecting Energy Star-rated appliances, LED and florescent light fixtures and tankless water heaters.

Another way to way to reduce your energy usage is to use a geothermal system, which uses the stable ground temperature to help heat and cool your home.

Select renewable energy sources

The recommendations above will take you a long way toward reaching net-zero status. To get all the way there, you will have to add a renewable energy source. Solar hot water panels are a great first step, as the hot water heater is one of the largest energy consumers in the home.

Next, consider solar photovoltaic roof panels to generate additional energy for your home. Most new homes in Las Cruces have flat roofs, which can easily accommodate low-profile solar panels without obscuring views.

Many smaller builders and developers are driving the push to make energy efficient homes available and affordable, but it is demand that will ultimately make the difference. Ask your builder, home designer or devel­oper about a net-zero home and make 2010 the year to make your home energy efficient.

Contact us today at 888.511.9872 to find out more about net-zero homes, zero-energy home, or New Mexico Real Estate.

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