Whether you are committed to the idea of an eco-friendly, so-called “green” house or not, the reality is that an energy-efficient home is going to save you money. And if you aim for a net-zero energy or carbon neutral home, you’ll find it’s more comfortable and healthy too.
The other reality is that in terms of the World Green Building Council’s (WorldGBC) global Advancing Net Zero project, by 2030 all new buildings will have to operate with net-zero carbon, and by 2050 100% of the world’s buildings must operate with a zero carbon footprint.
No doubt you know that carbon emissions are harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, and more than half of these come from burning fossil fuels like natural gas and coal for heating, electricity, and transportation. In the U.S., buildings account for at least 40% of energy consumption, using a lot more than transport and industry. This, in turn, results in ever-increasing utility bills.
In London, carbon emissions are even higher, at an alarming 80%, with residential buildings being blamed for about 36% of the total.
While it is true that engineers like me are key to reducing the carbon footprint of large buildings and skyscrapers, and of helping building owners achieve the goals of net-zero energy, there are many things homeowners and tenants can do to make their homes more energy-efficient.
How to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient
If you’re building a new home you need an architect or designer who knows all about “smart design” that can be implemented easily and cost-effectively. Most professionals will use energy modeling software to achieve optimal energy efficiency.
One of the most important design elements is to be sure that the building envelope, that separates the inside of your house from the outside, is properly sealed. Apart from saving energy, an airtight house designed with heat and energy recovery ventilation systems will have a constant source of fresh air with controlled moisture. That’s where your health comes in.
Insulation is also super-important, not only for walls, ceilings, and floors but for doors and windows too. An incredible amount of energy can be lost through windows and doors – and if you’re losing energy, you’re potentially losing money too!
Heating, cooling, and lighting are vital issues for energy efficiency and ones that are directly related to budget. Solar power is big, not just for heating water, for lighting, and recharging batteries, but also for passive solar heating through windows. In fact, photovoltaic panels provide a fantastic form of renewable energy that can be used to power lighting, heating, and cooling systems, and to run appliances. Heat pumps are also great for heating and cooling systems, and LED lights are essential.
Even if you’re not planning to renovate your home, you’ll find that improving insulation, and upgrading cooling, heating, lighting, and ventilation systems will be worth the spend in terms of the money you will save long term. Remember that insulation not only keeps the cold out in winter (which is vital in colder climates), but it will also keep your home cool in summer if you live in a hot climate country.
The other way to make your home more energy efficient is to use appliances that have been designed to save energy, for instance, those that are certified ENERGY STAR products.
Do You Have to Aim for Net Zero Energy?
We all have to aim for net-zero energy living, at least by 2050. We may not achieve it, but we really do need to make the effort.
There is resistance, particularly from small building and homeowners, largely because of the perception that super energy efficiency costs too much. But an increasing number of construction companies worldwide are committing to sustainability and energy efficiency, and as they become the norm, costs will stabilize.
While the WorldGBC can’t force you to toe the line, a growing number of cities around the world have introduced legislation that will make you conform in time – and the time is going to be sooner rather than later.
Different countries, and indeed different cities and regions, have different commitments and policies, some of which are mandatory. For example:
- In 2017 the first net-zero building code in the U.S. was introduced to California and by 2020 all new residential buildings MUST be net zero-rated.
- New York City is striving for a model that will inspire other cities around the world. In terms of a Local Law introduced in 2014, the City aims to reduce greenhouse gases by 40% by 2030, and by 80% by 2050.
- While Washington DC released a Sustainable DC plan way back in 2012, carbon reduction and net-zero energy-use standards will only come into play by 2032.
- Chicago has an energy rating system due for implementation in 2019. This involves benchmarking buildings, which will definitely require the assistance of a Chicago Engineering firm. The City has also started the Retrofit Chicago Energy Challenge.
- In 2012, London declared its intention to be a net-zero energy city by 2050. The UK as a whole, which previously had a target to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050, introduced legislation in June 2019 that will make net-zero mandatory by that same year.
I encourage you to do your bit!