Editor’s note: This guest posting is from the Propane Education & Research Council.
Imagine if your home could benefit your wallet, your health, and even the environment in which you live.
Buildings of all kinds — including homes — are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, they account for nearly 40 percent of carbon pollution in the United States, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. Zero net energy (ZNE) homes, on the other hand, generate as much clean, renewable energy as they consume, thus having a “net zero” annual energy impact. By integrating environmentally-sustainable features and enhancing home value, ZNE homes have seen increasing popularity over the past few years.
The Net Zero Energy Coalition released a study in 2017 that provides insight into the growing popularity of the ZNE market. Its research found there to be more than 8,200 single-family and multifamily units of zero-energy housing across the U.S. and Canada in 2016. That was a 33 percent increase over the year prior — and the data shows there’s no slowing down. Nearly 30,000 additional zero-energy projects are currently in the planning stages.
For mindful homeowners in pursuit of energy-efficient living, the following are a few steps you can take to help reduce your home’s carbon footprint and energy bills, and approach zero net energy.
Focus on the Building’s Envelope
There are several things a homeowner can discuss with their construction professional when making building or remodeling decisions aimed at reducing a home’s carbon footprint.
For starters, it’s important to think about the home’s building envelope — insulation quantity, insulation quality, air sealing, window performance, and house orientation. An effective building envelope will lower the cost of fuels and power to control interior climate, as well as improve the level of comfort, health, and safety within the home.
Insulation quantity addresses how much insulation should be built into the foundation, walls, and roof of the home, while insulation quality addresses how well the insulation is actually installed. The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) can be referenced online to check insulation levels for any climate. It’s important to note that while minimum insulation levels are listed, ZNE projects generally add higher levels of insulation to the envelope.
With air sealing among the most cost-effective ways to increase a home’s efficiency, it is strategic to take a closer look at air sealing trouble spots in your home — attic access, ducts, windows, recessed lighting, and garage and living space walls, to name a few.
Ask your remodeler about double-pane and triple-pane windows. Thermally, windows are often the weakest link in the home’s envelope. Many zero energy or zero energy-ready homes use at least high-quality double-pane windows. An increasing number of projects that place an emphasis on preventing energy loss — a staple of ZNE homes — install triple-pane windows, especially in mixed and colder climates.
Finally, the home’s orientation can affect the availability of roof area suitable for solar panels and heat gain in the summer. In some cases, homes can even be designed for passive solar heating in the winter based on their orientation.
Incorporate High-Efficiency Propane Appliances
Once you start thinking holistically about your home’s energy consumption, you can consider what fuel sources can best keep your home’s energy use low. For example, propane, when used in tandem with a renewable energy system like solar, has proven to have many benefits.
Installing propane appliances can significantly lower a home’s energy consumption. Most notably, it takes 3.03 units of electricity to produce and deliver one unit of energy to a home, whereas it only requires 1.15 units of propane to deliver one unit of energy, according to the EPA’s emissions and generations resource integrated database (eGrid). As you can see, using electric increases your home’s energy bill and potentially its carbon footprint, too.
The larger home systems — generally significant energy consumers — such as high-efficiency tankless water heaters, space heating systems, and generators should be the first to transition to high-efficiency propane appliances.
For example, high-efficiency propane tankless water heaters have 67 percent lower carbon emissions and save more than $150 per year in energy costs when compared with electric storage water heaters. They also provide comfort, versatility, and convenience. Heating with propane furnaces and boilers can improve the efficiency, performance, and comfort of homes and buildings. Propane provides more versatility, affordability, and comfort than any other heating choice — it’s that simple. Propane generators can provide homeowners with peace of mind and a sense of security. Their long shelf life and dependability make them a great addition to any ZNE home.
Energy-efficient propane generator sets can also work in tandem with renewable energy sources, like solar or wind. Generators can also be used to charge the home’s battery storage during long-term power outages when there is no access to solar.
In addition, propane can also power a home’s oven, fireplace, and clothes dryer, keeping energy consumption low all throughout your home.
Trim Other Energy Use
Energy Star appliances, LED lighting, and energy-monitoring devices are a few additional strategies to further cut into a home’s energy consumption.
Using Energy Star-labeled appliances such as dishwashers, refrigerators, washing machines, and ceiling fans can help homeowners ensure efficient operations, ultimately lessening the home’s energy use. The Energy Star label, established to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants caused by the inefficient use of energy, saves homeowners money on energy bills without sacrificing performance, features, or comfort.
As one of today’s most energy-efficient and rapidly-developing lighting technologies, LED lights are an optimal addition to any zero-energy home. Residential LEDs — especially Energy Star-rated products — use at least 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting.
Finally, energy monitoring and feedback devices are tools to consider in any zero-energy project. Seeing the real-time and historical energy use can help attune homeowners to how their home is using energy and even encourage them and their family to adopt energy-saving habits.
There are several options for designs, technologies, and energy choices as the zero energy and zero energy-ready home markets continue to grow in the U.S. For homeowners interested in improving their home’s carbon footprint and reducing their total energy consumption, propane is a viable energy solution. To learn more about how propane can be incorporated into your ZNE home, visit propane.com.