Architects, Engineers, and homebuilders agree that installing solar thermal can have the biggest impact when it comes to significantly reducing or eliminating a building’s carbon footprint. Here are three things to consider if you’re thinking about building your dream green home.
Understand the Terms ‘Green Home’ vs. ‘Net-Zero’ Home
You might think “green home” and “net-zero” home mean the same thing, but there are differences.
- A “net-zero” home has essentially one key goal: Reducing the home’s carbon footprint to the point where it has zero carbon impact on the environment. This is accomplished by generating energy without fossil fuels and by maximizing energy efficiency.
- A “green home” not only has a smaller carbon footprint through solar and other technology, but it’s also built using 100 percent sustainable and environmentally nontoxic construction materials. In addition to solar thermal, that means perhaps building with reclaimed wood, using tiles made from recycled materials or choosing paints that are free of volatile organic compounds, often abbreviated as “VOCs.”
By incorporating green homebuilding trends and choosing to power their home with a renewable energy such as solar, homeowners can significantly reduce their overall impact on the environment.
If your family’s goal is to build a net-zero home, your architect’s choice of paint, roofing materials, insulation and other construction materials will be specific to that energy-savings goal, and may be less focused on whether the materials are recycled or made with sustainable products.
Design for Energy-Efficiency Codes and Future Market Trends
Your builder or architect should be aware of the latest energy efficiency requirements for new construction. California's Title 24 Energy Efficiency Standards are created to guarantee new and current buildings lend themselves to energy efficiency and preserve overall environmental excellence. These measures (Title 24, Part 6) can be found in the California Code of Regulations.
Consequently, if you’re asking your builder to add solar thermal to your home now, you’ll not only be using solar to comply with new building regulations, but you’ll be positioning your home to be competitive for the real estate market in the future.
Determine Your Water Load for your Solar Home
Let’s say you and your architect have decided solar thermal will be a part of the plan for your net-zero and/or green home. At this point, your architect will be calculating your water load and figuring out how many square feet of collectors are needed to fit your application. Also, will it be a ground mount or a roof mount system?
Next, you’ll will need to consider the orientation of the roof that will have solar. In general, you’ll want at least one roof surface oriented toward the south to capture the most sun during the day, especially in the summer months.
The biggest share of a household’s energy use generally goes to heating and cooling. The average annual bill for a home equipped with a gas furnace and central air is about $875, which is roughly 43% of a year’s total energy spending. Water heaters, by themselves, tend to be the third largest energy user in the home, behind heating and cooling.
The most common technologies that help significantly reduce a home’s energy footprint include:
- High-efficiency solar thermal collectors
- LED lighting and maximized natural lighting
- Energy-efficient windows
- Energy-recovery ventilation
- R-49-rated insulation and other caulking materials
- Energy Star-rated appliances (refrigerators, washers, dishwashers, etc.)
- Lighting sensors, smart thermostats and other smart devices that reduce energy use when you’re at home and when you’re away.
Once the budget for a net-zero home has been estimated, accounting for all the expected energy-efficiency measures, the architect and solar professional can calculate how many solar collectors will be needed.