At this stage in the history of zero energy, prospective developers are pioneers. Although there are a handful of courses and programs available, for the most part, builders will be self-taught and home buyers will have to take on the role of general contractor. This in itself is not an unusual role for homebuyers to be in. Enough information is available so that there need be no mystery to developing a house that is extremely efficient and produces as much energy as needed at a price middle-class buyers can afford. Production information, builders, and even designs are a click away. Attics loaded with insulation are readily obtained. Low-flow plumbing fixtures’ time has come. The advantages of buying the most efficient type of mass-produced refrigerator should be indisputable. More than a few tasks should be routine, cost effective, and supremely satisfying. It will take some adjustments. Size will likely have to be scaled back.
Compromises in layouts may be needed, though moving exposure to sunlight up the wish list should be easy to accept. Behavior may also need to be modified. The neighbors will probably have more electronic gadgetry. Zero energy will need to be seen as “cool”—the way giving up smoking became a goal worthy of the effort. This will come, many behavioral scientists and economists think, when enough Joneses live in zero energy homes and many others have to strive to keep up with them.
Not that the homeowner or buyer has to go all the way all at once—or ever. While the aim is to hit zero, anyone taking on the job can pull up short, or pick and choose what they want to do knowing that no more than a handful of builders have even gotten halfway there. Given the low risk of failing to beat the pack, there’s no better place to start than the beginning with nothing, or rather zero, to lose.
Barry Rehfeld has been a journalist for more than 30 years and is the editor of ZeroEnergyIntelligence.com, where he writes about everything you need to know to build, buy, or renovate a home that produces as much energy as it uses. This article was excerpted with permission from Home Sweet Zero Energy Home (2011, New Society Publishers).