Energy-saving practices, such as rooftop solar panels and increased efficiency through smart lighting and home automation, are becoming mainstays of new construction, spurred on by recent legislation in cities like San Francisco. As these measures deepen their roots, a higher and more targeted energy goal—net-zero energy (NZE)—has emerged.
NZE construction uses familiar energy practices to reduce energy usage and increase on-site renewable energy production until the former offsets the latter over the course of a year. Although utilized in a small portion of new construction, NZE is gaining traction.
According to "To Zero and Beyond," a report by the Net-Zero Energy Coalition (NZEC), the number of single-family and multifamily units in the United States and Canada built to NZE standards hit 8,203 units in 2016, a 33 percent increase from the year before. These units were part of 741 construction projects, an 82 percent increase from the 408 NZE projects reported in 2015. Going NZE means these homes have eliminated 77,929 tons of CO2 (the equivalent of 16,406 cars) yearly as compared to a home that simply meets code requirements.
The vast majority (94 percent) of NZE units are found in multi-unit projects—61 percent in multifamily buildings and the remaining 39 percent in single-family developments. The average multi-unit, single-family project has 33 units; the average multifamily project has 46 units.
The University of California Davis’s West Village is the largest multi-unit project with more than 2,000 students, faculty and staff currently living in 663 units completed and occupied. The community is also the largest single-family project with 350 single-family homes in the design phase. The first 50 homes are planned to go on sale in 2018.
NZEC only expects the number of NZE projects to grow in the upcoming years, reporting almost 30,000 in the planning phases of development. However, the organization is clear that the current driver behind NZE growth is not market demand, but rather large-scale projects by developers and organizations.
According to the report, the top 10 builders and developers (by number of units) of NZE homes are responsible for 45 percent of all current NZE units. Of those 30,000 future units, 21,500 will be completed by FivePoint for a community called Newhall Ranch in Los Angeles County. Projects in Waterset, Fl., by Greenergy and London, Ontario, by Sifton Properties account for 5,000 units and 1,900 units, respectively. In total, these three developers account for nearly 95 percent of future projects.
Currently, the construction of NZE buildings rests almost solely on developers choosing to make that change, but in the future, it may be a standard required by law. In March 2017, the city council in Santa Monica, Calif. voted in favor of an ordinance to require all new single-family construction in the City of Santa Monica to be zero-net energy. The law went into effect on May 1.