Near Zero Energy Homes


Welcome to Good Dirt Radio….reporting on positive change…taking root.

Countless homeowners, businesses and institutions are making the shift toward energy sustainability, and many are starting with their homes.  Armed with a growing set of effective renewable energy systems a growing percentage of Americans are investing in passive and active solar homes that are designed to prioritize energy efficiency. State and federal tax credits are providing additional incentives.  In certain areas, backlogged requests for so-called near-zero energy use homes have builders convinced that consumers Want and will pay for energy efficient housing.

Linda Burns, President of the Solar Energy Society of Oregon, explains the concept of zero-energy-use-housing.

Burns: Its homes whose overall energy use is zero.  They may produce more energy in the summer than they need, during the winter they may produce less but over the year it’s a net zero.

Burns, a Portland architect, describes some of the primary aspects of a near zero energy home.

Burns:  Well, first of all, you’ve got to reduce your energy use and they do that through energy efficient construction techniques, they do it by using renewable energy such as solar hot water.  A lot of them have walls that are over R-25, roof insulation that exceeds code, better windows, and they’re using energy recovering ventilators so that when they exhaust air from the house they’re not losing the heat that’s in that air.

Near zero energy homes have become a flagship for renewable energy proponents, builders and homeowners.  Rob Hammon and his company, Consul, from Stockton, California, specialize in helping builders create homes with energy and resource efficiency.

Hammon:  Homes are responsible for about 30 to 40 percent of the energy use in the United States and we can drive that to zero through combining energy efficiency and renewable energy in homes that are actually more comfortable than typical homes.  At the same time, we can also build our homes using more sustainable practices, better use of lumber for instance, recycled products, and when we’re building the homes, we can recycle the vast majority of the waste products.  This is a unique market in this regard in that the opportunity for sustainability is very, very large.

Hammon plans and designs near zero energy housing developments

Hammon:  In Watsonville, California, we built 257 near zero energy homes and that subdivision sold so well that the builder was finished with the project a full year ahead of schedule.  More recently, we worked with a builder in Sacramento and built a subdivision of nearly a hundred homes, all near zero energy homes and the consumers are very, very happy with these homes finding that every month when they get an energy bill, its nearly zero.    

Burns:  We’re finding that people have always been interested in solar and energy efficiency but with the zero energy homes, people have something really quantifiable, something they can measure against and I think its been very inspirational. 

Homeowners in rural settings and cities are also getting in on the action.  Chris Runyard, an airline pilot on sabbatical, has converted his Portland home into a very near zero energy home using common sense and simple technology.

Runyard:  Solar works really well…even in the cloudy climates.   I took a 1889 old Victorian and put solar panels on the roof, photovoltaics to create electricity, and I heat my water with the sun also.  Super efficient, works really well and then you don’t have to use natural gas or electricity to heat water.   Along with that, I catch rainwater and I landscaped my yard to produce food and also to provide native habitat for the local wildlife.

Risa Buck, of rural Ashland, OR, has been off the grid for over 20 years, learning about and using renewable energy to fuel her home.  She explains the commitment that many share.

Buck:  Once I began to learn about what is possible in terms of how one relates to their environment… once the possibilities became more clear about the multiplicity of things that one can do that are green, that are sustainable, that are friendly to the environment, basically there was no turning back.   …

For more information about the next generation of housing, please visit our website at

I’m Tami Graham and I’m Tom Bartels.  Thanks for joining us on Good Dirt Radio….digging up good news….for a change.

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