A recent Wall Street Journal article highlights the movement of developers toward net-zero homes. Equipped with heavy insulation, efficient HVAC systems, and onsite power generation like solar panels, the “New American Home” and its brethren produce more electricity than they use. The owner of a net-zero home saves big time on utility bills (and may even turn a profit selling excess electricity back to the grid), more than enough to offset the up-front cost of achieving net-zero status.
So what’s the problem? Cash flow. Many people simply can’t afford the up-front cost, and they miss the opportunity to be financially better off in the long run. As renewable-energy systems become cheaper to install, the technology becomes more accessible, but we still have a LONG way to go. I laughed bitterly when I read that the “New American Home” will list at $2.5 million. The featured design-build company claims it can build smaller net-zero homes for $700K… more affordable relatively speaking, but a 30-year mortgage on $700K might run $2500 per month or more. According to the article, this price point is supposed to bring net-zero to a mass market. Seriously?
The “New American Home” is in sunny Las Vegas. Colin’s house, which also relies on solar panels but in a location considerably more overcast, cost under $500K. He paid nothing to install those solar panels; instead, his installer charged him by taking the electricity the panels generated over eight or so years. In effect, Colin’s only expense was to pay his old electric bill for eight years longer. Payment schemes like this one offer a huge incentive to invest in energy-saving measures, and with zero up-front cost they could make greater energy efficiency available to everybody.
The article does point out that net-zero is not the only possible goal: one can achieve more modest energy savings for a more modest price. And since this is Tiny Tuesday… I must add that the smaller your house is, the less it costs to go net-zero!