The 4 Key Elements to Achieving a Net Zero Home in Vermont

Posted by Tim Biebel on Feb 3, 2016 9:00:00 AM

Woman pointing to an energy efficiency chart showing net zero in Vermont energy efficiency

Net Zero Energy is the coming norm for new home construction in several states, including Vermont. While the Vermont Legislature has mandated that all new homes achieve net zero energy standards by 2030, net zero energy is rapidly growing in popularity in states like New Hampshire, that don’t have a mandate.

To construct a new home that achieves net zero energy requires certain key elements be incorporated into the design and construction process. Here are the four that are absolutely critical to building a new zero home in Vermont.

Key #1) Sealing the Home

The old euphemism that a healthy home needs to “breathe” is true to a point. The truth is that a home that “breathes” is a home that leaks. And a home that suffers from a lot of air incursion is a home that is very expensive to heat—especially in states with formidable winters, like Vermont or New Hampshire.

A net zero home in Vermont needs to be sealed from air incursion to achieve maximum energy savings, and make solar an effective source of power. Ironically (and remarkably), the sealing processes accomplish two great things:

  • Saving enormous amounts of energy related to heating and cooling.
  • Producing a healthier 'inside' environment.

Because a net zero home is sealed so well, it’s important that inside air is exhausted and replaced by fresh outside air. This process is accomplished beautifully by addition of a heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system. An HRV brings in fresh air while, at the same time, recovering heat from inside air as it’s being exhausted. Thus, a net zero home in Vermont essentially “breathes”, but in an controlled and efficient fashion.

Key #2) Super Insulation

Insulation doesn’t produce heat; it simply keeps it from migrating from one place (your home environment) to another place (the great outdoors). Insulating a net zero home in Vermont requires much more technique and effort than just stuffing some fiberglass batting in the walls and ceiling.  "Super insulation", as a term and process, is explored below.

Design best practices for installing 'super insulation' include:

  • Adding insulation between structural components like sills to reduce thermal bridging.
  • Fully insulating the slab or foundation.
  • Staggering wall studs to allow for a much greater amount of insulation to be installed in thicker walls.
  • Adding maximum insulation to the ceiling.

Super insulation and sealing the home go hand in hand, along with selecting high-efficiency doors and windows. The goal, of course, is to reduce the heat load required, thus saving as much energy as possible.

Key #3) The Importance of “R” Value

But it’s not enough to randomly seal a home, make the walls thicker, and add more insulation. Such practices would certainly achieve lower energy costs, but would leave in question whether the home was truly built to net zero specifications.

The main goal of building a net zero home in Vermont or New Hampshire is to maximize energy savings and knowing this fact to be true. Aside from using proven construction techniques, “R” value can serve as a standard for assurance that all insulating materials contribute to energy savings.

“R” value simply is a standard to measure the product’s ability to insulate. The “R” simply stands for “resistance.” According to Energy.gov: “An insulating material’s resistance to conductive heat flow is measured or rated in terms of its thermal resistance or R-value -- the higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness.”

“R” value is used to measure the quality of insulation on many building products such as:

  • The insulation material itself.
  • Windows and doors.
  • The insulation used to limit thermal bridging.
  • Insulation under and around the slab or foundation.

Key #4) High-efficiency Lighting and Appliances

Choosing energy-efficient lighting is easier now than ever. LED lighting now is available in so many configurations—both conventional and decorative, that you can have fun with the choices while saving enormous energy dollars.

Home appliance choices are equally easy. Once you assess your needs, just look at the Energy Guide label on each unit to make comparisons.

Water consumption is also a consideration. Clothes washers and dishwashers can use a significant amount of water. While you may choose to wash clothes in cold water, your dishwasher will consume energy needed to both heat water and run the dishwasher. As you do your research, make sure these appliances have met Energy Star ratings. Such rated appliances will give you the confidence that you are saving as much energy as possible.

Download the Ultimate Guide to Net Zero Home Construction

Tim Biebel

by Tim Biebel

Tim Biebel is Vice President of Prudent Living, a leading net zero and energy efficiency building company located in Windsor, VT.

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