One of the most significant environmental problems related to construction is energy use. Now more than ever, contractors are shifting to sustainable and green building techniques to conserve energy and lessen the environmental impact. Another way owners and contractors are demonstrating these efforts are by designing and constructing net-zero energy homes and buildings.
A net-zero energy design means the total amount of energy used yearly by a building is equal to or less than the amount of energy created onsite. Net-zero energy buildings are made possible through the use of innovative technologies and renewable power generation. By following these net-zero building techniques, your next project can be one step closer to becoming energy independent.
The 5 Net-Zero Building Techniques
1. Design for an Energy-Efficient Building
The first step in any construction project is the design phase. This step is no different when considering an energy-efficient building. Hiring architects and designers that are familiar with net-zero techniques will ultimately save time and money upfront. Contractors can tailor specific factors that go into the design phase to an energy-efficient building. Elements that should be included are site selection, climate, size, R-value, ventilation, and insulation.
Selecting a site location with adequate exposure to the sun is vital to ensure optimal conditions for energy-efficient materials and appliances. The type of climate zone you’re building can affect different variables that contribute to the overall energy level of your home or building. Air, moisture, and amount of daylight differ in different climates and have a massive impact on the way you build for energy efficiency. Hiring designers and architects with experience will know how to consider these factors when designing your next commercial project.
2. Utilize Green Construction Technology
Using technology such as energy modeling software can help eliminate human error by identifying the least expensive factors to build a highly efficient building. Modeling can take different solutions such as a heat pump or air pump, analyze them against each other, and inform the builder which solution has the least energy impact. Once the designer has the roadmap for the project, they can run tests using the software to refine the designer’s plans with a calculated solution to the best possible net zero outcomes.
Additionally, contractors can utilize Building Information Management (BIM) technology throughout the building process. BIM is a tool used to create 3D models throughout a construction project. BIM software has helped contractors adapt to the building technique prefabrication. Prefabrication is the process of assembling buildings or parts at a site other than the job site itself. Prefabrication has a lower environmental impact by reducing waste and allowing controlled building environments to build structures with better air filtration and wall insulation, directly influencing energy efficiency.
3. Super-Insulate and Super-Seal the Building Envelope
Super-sealing, a building, is the process of making a building airtight. Air sealing a building is the single most cost-effective strategy to reduce energy consumption. A continuous seal within the structure ensures that the drywall is running at optimal energy-saving efficiency and proper cooling and heating of the building. Popular techniques include the use of ADA (airtight drywall) and adhesive attachment of sheathing. The process of super-insulating a home includes sealing the outer wall in double construction, sealing the inner wall, and sealing all other cavities in the house. This includes electric boxes, doors and windows, and attic and crawl spaces.
In addition, to super-sealing your building, super-insulation is another massive cost and energy-efficient technique. The combination of super-sealing and super-insulation creates the foundation for building a net-zero structure. Without the two together, all other energy-efficient methods won’t work at optimal efficiency. When evaluating insulation, contractors should assess the R-value of different materials. The R-Value is the measure of thermal resistance a material expresses. For example, a single pane of glass has roughly an R-value of 0.91, while a double pane has an R-value closer to 2. A double-pane window is going to keep the building more insulated.
4. Utilize the Power of Solar Energy
Utilizing solar energy is one of our essential net-zero building techniques. One significant benefit of installing a PV system or solar power system is the decrease in monthly energy bills. Additionally, check your available state rebates and tax credits your business is eligible for just by using solar energy. Solar energy can be pricy to install; however, commercial buildings typically see a return on investment, on average, in 8-10 years, and homeowners can expect to see a profit anywhere between 7-20 years, depending on the project size.
Homeowners can use solar energy to power water heaters, optimizing the overall net-zero energy building. Solar can also be used to maximize a building’s heating and cooling capabilities. For example, using the sun for heating through the south-facing windows during the winter lowers heating costs. Shading those same windows in summer reduces cooling costs.
5. Install Energy Efficient Systems and Appliances
Installing new technology and certified energy-efficient systems and appliances can be costly. However, with proper research and calculation of cost-savings, it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. For heating and cooling systems, air-source ductless heat pumps require no ducts or water pipes and operate by taking the heat out of the air and redirecting it to different parts of the home or building. Geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) are also an option, GHPs heat, cool, and supply hot water through ground-source pumps that transfer heat from the earth.
To complete your home or building, equip it with appliances that work to save energy. High-performance stovetops, microwaves, and dishwashers can save 2-3 times the amount of energy regular devices use. Energy Star offers cost-effective appliances that use less energy. Continuously check what’s on the market as cost and energy efficiency are always changing as new and improved products are released.