Soon all new homes will be Energy Zero. The European Union, California or Japan have huge Zero Energy Building projects for the next decade.
These homes involve features such as high levels of insulation and air sealing or high energy-efficient appliances, lighting and windows. But also smart design, landscaping and siting (besides renewable systems, to meet the remaining energy needs).
They aren’t a distant or a too expensive dream. And if you are going to build a new home, you should consider their features. They are a great guideline, even if you don't intend to follow the standards strictly.
Homes should be modest in size. Large homes are difficult to heat and to cool. There is no surer way of wasting money and energy than a very large home. It's relatively easy to build a modest sized home with high levels of energy-efficiency, at an affordable price; but it's almost impossible to achieve it with a large home.
If possible, keep the size of your home around 2000 square feet or less. Larger homes should use zoning strategies and careful layout to reduce energy consumption.
Home Siting and Sun Orientation
Homes should be properly oriented toward the sun (in cold and moderate climates) or protected from it (in hot climates); overhangs with the right dimensions can be a way of blocking sunlight during the summer.
Layout, Shade and Landscaping: cold and mixed climates
The main living rooms should be oriented to sunlight (in cold and moderate climates). The main windows should be located in the sunny side of the house and properly sized.
Levels of Insulation
Homes in cold and moderate climates should have very high levels of insulation all over their walls, floors and attic.
The German concept of Passive Houses and Zero Energy Homes rely on massive insulation and smart design.
Very energy-efficient homes, even in cold climates, do not require large heating systems. They do not have to have central furnaces and boilers.
They may use one or two small wall gas furnaces or electric heat pump mini-split systems.
Low-energy homes, properly designed, do not need central air conditioners. Mini-split ductless air-conditioners and window air conditioners can be good alternatives to central air conditioners, for larger cooling needs.
In warmer climates, homes on tree-shaded lots, with deep overhangs and reflective roofs, using ceiling fans, may not need air conditioning.
Windows and Doors
Windows are often the weakest point in the home's envelope. They are critical for the home’s energy-efficiency.
Consider carefully their location, size, and type; and also the type of glass and its heat gains and insulation coefficients, as well as the type of frame.
Breezes, Wind and Shade
In hot climates, homes should be protected from the sun (through vegetation) and oriented to take advantage of refreshing breezes.
Appliances and Electronics
Energy efficient appliances and electronics consume a fraction of the energy consumed by old units - which can amount to hundreds of dollars per year.
Consider sun tunnel skylights instead of conventional skylights.
Use compact fluorescent bulbs and LEDs instead of incandescent and halogen lighting. That can save you 5 or 6% in your electricity bills.
Solar Water Heating and Photovoltaic Systems
High-performance gas water heaters consume half the power of traditional models, and solar water heaters can meet 70-80% of your hot water needs, in many climates.