5 Net Zero Building Techniques

One of the most significant environmental problems related to construction is energy use. Now more than ever, contractors are shifting net zero building to follow sustainable and green building techniques that 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.

Photo By RossHelen

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.

green building
Photo By petrmalinak

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.

Photo By ronstik

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.

Photo By Jenson

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.

FAQs: Net Zero Building Techniques

What exactly is a net-zero energy building?

A net-zero energy building, often referred to as NZEB, is a structure that generates as much energy on-site as it consumes over the course of a year. In other words, the total energy used by the building is equal to or less than the energy produced by renewable sources within the same building.

How can I determine if a site has adequate sun exposure for solar energy in my construction project?

Evaluating sun exposure is critical for effective solar energy utilization. A solar site assessment, conducted by professionals, takes into account factors like the orientation of the site, shading, and local climate. This assessment provides insights into whether a location is suitable for solar installations.

Are there any financial incentives for implementing net zero building techniques?

Yes, there are often financial incentives available at the state and federal levels for projects that incorporate net-zero and energy-efficient features. These incentives may include tax credits, rebates, and grants. It’s advisable to research available incentives in your area.

What is the typical return on investment (ROI) for solar energy systems in commercial buildings?

ROI for commercial solar energy systems can vary depending on factors like system size, location, and local incentives. On average, commercial buildings tend to see ROI within 8-10 years. However, this timeline can be shorter or longer based on specific project details.

How can I ensure that my construction project adheres to net zero building principles?

To ensure your project aligns with net-zero building principles, consider collaborating with architects, designers, and contractors experienced in sustainable construction. They can help you make informed decisions throughout the design and construction phases. Additionally, utilize energy modeling software and conduct thorough site assessments.

Are there any ongoing maintenance requirements for net zero energy buildings?

Net-zero energy buildings typically require regular maintenance to ensure the continued efficiency of systems and equipment. This may include servicing solar panels, monitoring insulation, and maintaining energy-efficient appliances. Routine inspections can help identify and address any issues promptly.

What are some emerging technologies in net zero building construction?

Emerging technologies in net-zero building construction include advanced energy-efficient HVAC systems, smart building automation, and improved energy storage solutions. These technologies enhance a building’s ability to generate, store, and manage energy efficiently.

Can net zero building techniques be applied to existing structures, or are they primarily for new construction?

While net-zero techniques are commonly integrated into new construction projects, they can also be retrofitted into existing structures. Retrofitting may involve upgrading insulation, installing energy-efficient systems, and adding renewable energy sources like solar panels.

Are there specific certifications or standards for net-zero energy buildings?

Several certification programs and standards, such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Passive House, focus on sustainable and net-zero building practices. Achieving certification under these programs demonstrates a commitment to energy efficiency and environmental responsibility.

How long does it typically take to design and construct a net-zero energy building?

The timeline for designing and constructing a net-zero energy building varies depending on project complexity and size. In general, such projects may take slightly longer due to the additional planning and technology integration required. However, the long-term benefits often outweigh any extended timelines.

Please note that while these FAQs provide valuable insights, consulting with professionals experienced in net-zero building techniques is advisable for comprehensive guidance on your specific project.