Working Toward a Zero Energy Home

Working Toward a Zero Energy Home

To build "green" is to build in an environmentally sensitive manner — common sense. Recently however, a new term has evolved to describe the ultimate green building: a Zero Energy Home (ZEH) — one that consumes an annual public utility amount of zero, or "net zero." That's the goal. Getting there is a tougher proposition and an expensive one as it turns out. Award-winning green builder, Gary Dorris, owner of Dorris Construction in Central Point puts it bluntly, "Going really green means spending big bucks."

Still, Dorris and others suggested some tried and true green techniques you should consider. These eco-friendly ideas will reduce home energy consumption and save renewable resources.


Darrin Thornton, owner of Central Point's PolySteel Alternative Building Systems, Inc., enthusiastically touts the many benefits of a hybrid combination of concrete-cored steel plates and cages, wrapped in expanded polystyrene. Known as insulated concrete forms (ICF), this product exponentially increases the already strong insulating and sound-proofing efficiencies of bare concrete. In his experiences as a distributor and contractor, Thornton relates examples of new homes reporting monthly power bills of less than $20 after extensive use of these products.


The more the merrier, energy consumption-wise. Local builders like Darrell Boldt, of D. A. Boldt Construction, still rely on traditional fiberglass bats for wall and ceiling insulation. Plus they're also employing alternatives, like polystyrene slabs, in certain applications. Boldt describes a promising new water-based liquid foam that solidifies much quicker than the previous generation. He's hoping to see this product debut soon in the Rogue Valley.


"It's easy to overlook," says Boldt, "but a good caulking job, that seals existing leaks and drafts, pays off right away." He notes that many older homes and even some newer ones suffer from adverse temperature exchanges around windows, eaves and doorways. An added benefit: caulking is relatively inexpensive.


Installing or retrofitting energy-efficient windows can dramatically lower your climate control costs — up to 40 percent in some estimates. Advanced technologies like gas-filled sandwiches of low-emittance coated glass, mounted in composite frames, efficiently retain heat in the winter and cold in the summer.

ZEH designers are also devoting greater attention to the location and sizing of home windows, seeking to maximize passive-solar efficiencies.


Speaking of solar, more and more homeowners and commercial building managers are harnessing the sun's abundant power. An array of solar panels providing for heat exchange and electricity needs can reduce or eliminate public power grid consumption. The initial investment can be substantial but after that, let's just say the sun hasn't figured out how to bill for its cheery energy.

In fact, extensive use of solar energy can — at certain times of the year — spin your power meter wheel backward ... literally!


An earthbound version of solar energy — geothermal heat pumps — are finding their way into upscale home construction in Southern Oregon. Roughly double the cost of air-to-air equipment, geothermal heat pumps rely on the relatively stable temperatures of good old Mother Earth's subsurface. Employing an elaborate web of fluid-filled coils entrenched around the building, these highly efficient exchangers heat and cool your abode and can also provide hot water with Energy Star efficiency.

If you can't go geothermal, consider an Energy Star conventional heat pump or electric furnace. These are all miles more efficient than they were even 15 years ago.


Lots of local green tips and contacts can be found on a blog at www.activerain.com, compiled by Ashland mortgage consultant Karen Cooper. Along with maintaining this excellent resource, Cooper is working with other industry activists in persuading lenders to develop mortgages that recognize and reward buyers employing green building philosophies and features. Keep an eye on this if you're looking to "go green" in the future.

The green building movement is only just a babe in the woods. All over the country visionaries seek new and better ways for building safe, comfortable and affordable dwellings that exceed net zero. That's right, the new green frontier envisions structures that will return more renewable resources than they consume. Now, won't that be the day?

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