How to Design a Net-Zero Energy Building

How to Design a Net-Zero Energy Building

More industries are focusing on green, energy-efficient practices to lessen environmental impacts. Among these sectors, the construction industry uses many natural resources, so contractors have started looking into their building materials and methods for ways to improve. One goal in construction is creating net-zero energy buildings that reduce power use. A few minor changes in building practices can make these sustainable structures a reality. 

What Is a Net-Zero Energy Building?

A net-zero energy building consumes the same amount of renewable energy it produces yearly. By using renewable energy sources in buildings, contractors can reduce emissions to zero. Sometimes, net-zero buildings only use renewable energy. Buildings that take power from an electric grid and send the same amount of renewable energy back can also qualify.

Tips for Net-Zero Design

You can use several strategies for achieving net-zero design. Among these, some are active, like using renewable energy sources. Others are passive, like improving energy efficiency. By combining several methods, you get a building that uses minimal energy because it relies on power from renewable sources that don't generate large quantities of emissions. 

Account for Location

One passive method of achieving net-zero design is thinking about location before the building project. A building project in a warmer area will have very different energy needs than one in a cold climate. Be sure to think about factors like sun exposure, wind patterns and seasonal rainfall, as these all influence the energy needed to heat and cool a home or other building.

Plan Orientation

While significant location changes impact your energy use, small changes make a difference too. Once you choose a site, think carefully about which way the building should face. On a property with trees, you might place the structure where it can use natural shade for cooling. In a cooler climate, you might face a building toward a sunny area to warm and light the structure naturally.

You should also plan the orientation to account for any renewable energy structures that will be included. A house with solar panels will work best when it faces south.

Use Thoughtful Design

Once you decide where to build, you can start thinking about the materials and systems you might install to conserve energy. These passive strategies will reduce the power needed for heating and cooling.  Choose a high-quality insulation to seal in heat or cold. Triple-pane, well-sealed windows can keep a home more comfortable with less help from the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. High-efficiency appliances and HVAC systems can lighten your energy load as well. 

Another environmental strategy you can use is choosing sustainable building materials. This option can create longer-lasting buildings while using natural or recycled products. Some common choices include bricks, stone, sustainable concrete and bamboo flooring. 

Add Renewables

Once you’ve worked through various passive options, add renewable energy sources so your building project can rely on emissions-free power. Many homes and commercial buildings use solar power, which converts light from the sun into electricity. Other renewable energy sources include wind, hydroelectric and geothermal. 

If your renewable energy source produces inconsistent power, you can still connect to a local grid. Some areas allow buildings to use grid power as needed — like on cloudy days when solar panels receive insufficient sun exposure. When the renewable source produces more energy than needed, you may be able to lower your bill by selling the excess back to the utility. 

Install Energy Monitoring

When a building has an energy monitoring system, owners can track energy use more effectively. They can then use the information to plan for future improvements that reduce energy use and improve efficiency. With energy monitoring, contractors can ensure a building meets zero-energy standards long after construction.

Why Is Net-Zero Building Important?

Net-zero building is part of a sustainable building strategy that promotes a healthier planet and comes with numerous other benefits:

  • Savings: Buildings that meet net-zero goals have higher market values. They offer long-term value through lower energy and utility costs. 
  • Comfort: Homes and other buildings that use net-zero strategies create a comfortable atmosphere where extreme highs and lows won't impact the internal climate.
  • Compliance: A net-zero building allows contractors to meet regulations and navigate changing rules more easily, which will be even more important as energy rules grow stricter in the coming years
  • Reliability: Buildings with renewable energy solutions are more prepared to face unexpected outages because they have a power source other than the local grid. 

Rent Equipment for Net-Zero Building Projects

Cat® equipment helps contractors meet sustainability standards by delivering efficient performance with minimal emissions. With a rental from The Cat Rental Store dealer network, you can pursue your net-zero building goals in a way that fits your budget and timeline. Find your nearest rental location online to learn more.