A green house icon stylized like a hedge sitting on a wood table

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), total greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide equivalents dropped by 1.7% between 2018 and 2019. The new estimates suggest a figure of 6,558 million metric tons.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) believes we can no longer stop human-caused climate change, but we can limit the extent of its impact. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases would be one solution.

Caring about the environment and becoming environmentally friendly starts at home: a zero carbon home. If you’re designing a home, zero carbon housing can drastically reduce your carbon footprint.

But what is a zero carbon home? Is building a home like this expensive? Can you change an existing home to make it zero carbon or carbon neutral? To discover the answers to these questions and more, keep on reading!

What is a Zero Carbon Home?

Did you know that residential energy use accounts for around 20% of all carbon emissions (and other greenhouse gases) in the United States? If you’re thinking about designing a home, making it zero carbon is the way forward.

Carbon-neutral housing and zero carbon housing are two terms often used synonymously with one another. However, they mean slightly different things.

A house could be described as carbon neutral if the amount of carbon being produced is equal to the amount being removed from the atmosphere. Carbon neutrality is a term more commonly used for businesses or countries, as you require special equipment to remove carbon from the air.

However, trees are natural carbon converters. They take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Having trees in your garden can, in theory, help make your home carbon neutral.

In comparison, zero carbon housing won’t produce any carbon whatsoever. To achieve this, a zero carbon home will usually have specific features to minimize energy requirements.

Features of a Zero Carbon Home

Building a home that produces zero carbon can be difficult. Almost every design element needs to be taken into consideration to maximize natural energy sources and minimize energy consumption. Many of these features will be decided early in the design process.

Reducing Energy Consumption

One of the first components to consider is the orientation of the house. This serves a practical function beyond design. By having your home north-south oriented, you maximize its absorption of the sun in the winter and minimize it in the summer.

Ground source heat pumps provide the home with hot water for radiators, underfloor heating, showers, baths, and taps. These pumps use electricity to funnel water underground where it absorbs the Earth’s natural heat.

Although these pumps require electricity, they compress the water to raise its temperature further. This method means that they use less energy than would be required to heat the water another way. Combined with other approaches, they help contribute to zero carbon housing.

A zero carbon home won’t be connected to any gas lines. Electricity production is becoming cleaner, thanks to renewable energy solutions. Whereas using gas in your home contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, negatively impacting the health of you, your family, and the planet.

Increasing Energy Production

Designing a home that requires minimal energy consumption is the first step, but you’ll still need energy. Using electricity from the grid may offer an environmentally friendly solution, but most energy providers use a combination of renewable and fossil fuel energy sources.

The only way to ensure that your home is using green energy is to get off the grid!

Solar panel systems are the most reliable and efficient form of energy production that a residential property can harness. By making use of unused space, such as the roof and walls of your home, you can maximize energy production.

Since solar panels don’t function at night, your power system needs to produce enough energy during the day to cover night use. Either by producing enough green energy to offset any electricity you use from the grid, or by storing excess energy in a battery unit.

Caring for the environment doesn’t end when you leave your home, though. As such, most zero carbon housing should include an electric car. Charging your car will require around 7,200 watts or less.

You’ll need to factor this energy usage into your calculations when purchasing a solar power system. You can also make use of small wind turbines to further increase your home’s energy production.

The Cost of a Zero Carbon Home

Building a zero carbon home from scratch may appear more expensive, at least initially. In comparison to a similarly sized home, it usually costs around 5-15% more to build zero carbon housing.

However, this doesn’t factor in the various green incentives that exist throughout the country. Builders can be eligible for up to $2,000 in tax credits, while consumers can receive tax credits or rebates for the purchase of energy-efficient improvements.

When compared to a standard home, living a zero carbon lifestyle can save you anywhere from $30-$100 per month. All while caring for the environment!

Converting Existing Homes

What about those people who can’t afford to build a house from scratch? Can you convert an older house into zero carbon housing?

Yes and no!

The answer depends on the age of your house, the design, and your current energy needs. You’ll be able to drastically reduce energy consumption and increase energy production. But making it a zero carbon home could be challenging, if not impossible.

The first step would be to hire a professional energy auditor to assess energy consumption and suggest improvements that can be made. This could include new insulation, triple-glazed windows, refitting doors or windows, or fixing leaking pipes.

The next step is to install solar panels, if possible. Either way, install hardware that allows you to monitor energy use. A smart meter is a simple example and your energy supplier can usually install it for free.

Ready to Design a Home?

Designing a zero carbon home allows you to reduce or eradicate your carbon footprint. By maximizing energy production and minimizing energy consumption, you can live an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Do you need help designing your ideal home? Contact Budingen Architecture today for a free, no-obligation consultation!