Net-Zero Buildings: A Net Gain for the Planet
In the United States, energy costs for commercial and residential buildings account for nearly 40 percent of total energy expenditures. With little hope that these costs will decrease in the foreseeable future, energy efficiency and conservation become increasingly important with each monthly energy bill. A growing trend in construction concentrates on making an entire structure completely energy independent. This type of structure, known as a Net-Zero building, has the potential to dramatically reduce overall energy consumption, decrease pollution and carbon emissions, and eliminate the need to pay for electricity.
What Is a Net-Zero Building?
A Net-Zero building is a structure that produces all the energy it needs on its own without using power from the local electricity grid. In some cases, these buildings can produce more energy than required, which allows for excess power to be sold back to the local energy utility. A Net-Zero building will commonly have energy-production systems and conservation measures such as:
- Solar panels: Most of the energy used by a Net-Zero building will be produced by rooftop solar panels. Solar energy has been consistently shown to be among the cheapest and easiest forms of energy to acquire and use. Solar power is also extremely clean, which benefits the environment.
- Heavy insulation: Net-Zero structures are heavily insulated to prevent energy loss. A high level of insulation prevents heat energy from escaping during the winter and keeps the air cool inside during the summer. Thick insulation also provides the additional benefit of soundproofing.
- Tight seals: The building’s structure is tightly sealed, which means there are few areas where air and energy can escape. Holes, cracks, gaps and other openings are effectively sealed with caulking or spray foam insulation that stops wasteful loss of conditioned air. Windows and doors are fitted with weatherstripping that stops air leaks and are thoroughly sealed around frames and panes. HVAC ductwork is kept well sealed and in good repair to prevent any losses of energy in the air distribution system.
- Numerous windows: These structures include numerous windows to provide plenty of natural light. This reduces the need for artificial indoor lighting.
- High-efficiency appliances and equipment: To boost energy efficiency and decrease operating costs even further, Net-Zero buildings can be equipped with high-efficiency appliances and HVAC equipment. These can include tankless water heaters that conserve energy by producing hot water only when it’s needed; high-efficiency furnaces, air conditioners and heat pumps that use the least amount of energy possible to produce heating and cooling; and geothermal heating and cooling systems that offer extremely economical heating and cooling by using the characteristics of soil or water.
Benefits of a Net-Zero Building
The most prominent benefit of Net-Zero buildings is their self-sufficiency, which means they will require no electricity from the local power grid. Monthly energy bills are eliminated, which can save thousands of dollars a year. Even if a small amount of electricity is required to operate lights and appliances at night, the excess power produced by the building during the day should allow recovery of these expenses. Net-Zero buildings are also environmentally clean and produce few if any harmful emissions. Since they do not rely on local utilities for power, they can contribute to the overall reduction of fossil fuel use.
Cautions for Net-Zero Buildings
Net-Zero buildings can be effective only in situations that support them. For example, a Net-Zero building must be constructed in a spot where it can receive plenty of sunlight. The walls must be thick enough to allow the installation of a sufficient amount of insulation. There must not be excessive numbers of building flaws or air leaks that allow energy to escape.
Our goal is to help educate our customers about Plumbing, HVACR, Fire Protection and Alarm Systems in Mechanical, Commercial and Residential settings. For more information about the benefits of Net-Zero buildings, and to view projects we’ve worked on, visit our website! Sobieski provides services to Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.