Are Net-Zero Energy Houses on the Horizon?

Builders are testing the best ways to increase energy efficiency without upping costs for consumers.

By SHARE

[See More Headwinds for the Housing Market?]

"We're reducing the footprint and being more creative with the space," Lee says. "We're taking advantage of every space that we can, so that while the home is smaller, it doesn't feel small."

An open floor plan helps circulate air more freely throughout the home, helping prevent hot and cold pockets, while details such as low-flow faucets, compact fluorescent lighting (CFL), and Low-E coating on windows shaves off unnecessary energy use as well. This all adds up to savings for consumers, without requiring any lifestyle sacrifices.

Beneath the veneer of unassuming eco-friendly attributes, today's most energy-efficient homes boast a number of sophisticated technologies designed to make the bones of a house durable and energy-efficient. Instead of the typical 2-by-4 construction, Camberley's Building America model home uses 2-by-6 construction, which gives the home a thicker barrier against the outside elements and space for more insulation. It might sound like a no-brainer, but sealing spaces that leak out air can translate into big savings for homeowners in the long run.

[See Housing Slump Hits Hispanics Hard.]

"The heating and cooling systems can do what they're supposed to do then," Lee says. "You're not heating or cooling the outside anymore."

There's still a lot of work to do to engineer net-zero energy houses that are practical in the real world, experts say, but programs like Building America and firms like Camberley are getting researchers, analysts, and builders one step closer. "It's still a dream to buy a new home," Nardella says. "These homes are livable, beautiful, and have a tight thermal envelope and good energy efficient equipment."

Twitter: @mmhandley