Once just a concept, A truly zero-energy home (ZEH) is now a reality in several locales throughout the United States. And the opportunities to construct ZEHs are growing as solar and other energy-efficient technologies become more affordable. To show the significant long-term energy and environmental benefits of ZEHs and to encourage more builders to investigate the idea for their customers, the NAHB Research Center has published a new report: “The Potential Impact of Zero Energy Homes.”

ZEHs combine highly energy-efficient design and technology with solar electric and thermal systems to produce as much energy as they use on an annual basis, resulting in zero net consumption. While ZEHs are technically feasible and exist today, they have not widely penetrated the new-home market. However, the construction of highly efficient homes with solar energy systems is on the rise as more consumers embrace the long-term energy and environmental benefits of these technologies. For example, EPA Energy Star home sales have experienced enormous growth: from zero in 1995 to 130,000 in 2004, with up to 40 percent penetration in some markets. This trend, paired with ongoing consumer studies, leads Research Center analysts to believe that the ZEH will be an achievable standard in new-home construction in the next several years.

“The Potential Impact of Zero Energy Homes” concludes that with continued federal research and development programs to lower the cost of energy-efficiency technologies, the ZEH concept will spread into the U.S. home market as early as 2012. Solar electric system costs are on the decline, and new solar water-heating designs are under development that will also reduce costs and improve efficiency. In addition, the growing number of state and federal tax incentives will increase affordability, making ZEHs more competitive when utility costs are included in the cost of homeownership. By 2050, these factors could result in annual energy savings of approximately 17 percent of the U.S. energy consumption in single-family homes—even with the addition of more than a million new homes each year.

For more information on ZEHs and “The Potential Impact of Zero Energy Homes,” or to download a copy of the report, visit www.toolbase.org/zeh.