Builders are constructing more energy efficient projects now than ever before, giving rise to the popularity of the “Green Building”. There are many different certifications a building can acquire to be considered a “green”. One of the more renowned organizations, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), gives out LEED (Leadership in Engineering, Environmental, and Design) certificates to those who qualify.
These certified buildings are ranked by four classifications: certified, silver, gold, and platinum. Platinum is as high as LEED certificates go. The goal of LEED building and sustainable architecture is to use resources more efficiently and reduce a building’s negative impact on the environment. They achieve this goal by using recycled materials, reducing waste by using scrap pieces of drywall, pre-fabricating walls, trusses, etc.
I have been hearing more and more about these “Net Zero Energy Buildings” over the past two years. Net Zero Energy Building (NZEB) seeks to achieve one key green-building goal: completely or significantly reduce energy use for the life of the building.
Sounds easy, right? Hint: it’s not. If it was, everyone would be doing it. BUT: this goal is becoming more maintainable as we continue to make advancements within the industry. Current technology allows us to visualize and analyze buildings for efficiency. Designers can now create 3D models and run energy analyses on the entire building in minutes. This takes into consideration wall/roof insulation, window’s R-value and more. These models go into great detail and provide interesting information like which months use the most energy based on the location of the building.
The first step to becoming a net zero building is to use as little energy as possible. A few ways to do this are: include high R value walls, ceilings, and windows, energy efficient appliances and fixtures, concrete floors, and awnings to protect windows from direct sunlight.
Once your building is as efficient as possible, you must add something to create energy. Most projects now are using solar panels and inverters. These are a great addition, especially when paired with a net meter—a meter that runs in both directions. By installing a net meter, you can track if you have created more energy than you used; if you accomplish this, you may receive a payment from the state!
Zero energy buildings may or may not be considered “green” in all areas, such as reducing waste, using recycled building materials, etc. However, these zero energy buildings do tend to have a much lower ecological/financial impact over the life of the building compared with other “green” buildings that require imported energy and/or fossil fuel to meet the needs of its occupants.
The best part about this? You don’t have to spend millions of dollars and build a brand new building to give this a try. If anyone wants to improve their home and become one step closer to a NZEB, they can.