musingsheader image

Building a Low-Cost Zero-Energy Home

Follow these guidelines to keep costs as low as possible

Posted on Oct 6 2017 by Martin Holladay

Let’s say that your goal is to build a simple net-zero-energy home for your family. You insist that the home be energy-efficient, and you plan to include a photovoltaic(PV) Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. (PVPhotovoltaics. Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic (PV) cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow.) array that is large enough to balance your annual energy needs.

Your main stumbling block is that your budget is very tight. Is your goal attainable?

Perhaps. Many builders have managed to complete a net-zero home that costs only a little bit more than a conventional house. If you want to take a similar approach, consider the following principles.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Image Credits:

  1. Fine Homebuilding

green-architects-loungeheader image

Making Green Affordable, Part 2

To keep costs down, skip the basement, specify double-stud walls, design a simple truss-framed roof, and stick with double-glazed windows

Posted on Oct 29 2013 by Christopher Briley

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialise correctly.

Download .mp3

Part Two of this episode brings us to construction details for high-performance affordable homes. Again, I feel the need to point out that we are not talking about low-income housing or housing that makes a difference between shelter and non-shelter. I'm talking about high-performance homes that will compete, on a financial level, with those cheap vinylCommon term for polyvinyl chloride (PVC). In chemistry, vinyl refers to a carbon-and-hydrogen group (H2C=CH–) that attaches to another functional group, such as chlorine (vinyl chloride) or acetate (vinyl acetate). boxes that litter suburbia and urban areas alike.

Phil and I have refreshed our drinks and are ready to talk about building envelopeExterior components of a house that provide protection from colder (and warmer) outdoor temperatures and precipitation; includes the house foundation, framed exterior walls, roof or ceiling, and insulation, and air sealing materials. construction from the bottom up. Let's get started.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Image Credits:

  1. Chris Briley
  2. Bright Built Homes

green-building-newsheader image

Net-Zero For a Competitive Price

A California model home comes in at $150 a square foot — demonstrating that net-zero doesn't have to cost much more than conventional construction

Posted on Nov 26 2012 by Patrick McCombe

The designers of a 1,700 square-foot net-zero-energy demonstration home in Irvine, California, claim that a similar home can be built by virtually anyone for less than $150 per sq. ft., a figure that’s price-competitive with conventional homes in this market.

Tags: , , ,

Image Credits:

  1. ABC Home

green-building-curmudgeonheader image

Affordable Housing is Leading Green Building

How I learned more than I expected at an affordable housing conference

Posted on Oct 11 2011 by Carl Seville

I recently learned that in Georgia, as well as much of the rest of the country, Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), the fuel that drives much of the affordable housing industry, strongly encourages green building certification for projects that obtain these credits. Without this connection to tax credits, we would see many fewer certified green homes and apartments, and these affordable developers would not be the leaders in green building that they are today.

Tags: , , ,

green-building-newsheader image

An Affordable Passivhaus in British Columbia

The design-and-construction team that built the Austria Passive House for the winter Olympics applies PHPP modeling to an affordable-housing duplex

Posted on Jun 7 2011 by Richard Defendorf

UPDATED: To reflect clarification of interior sq. ft. for each unit in Rainbow Duplex.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Image Credits:

  1. Marken Projects

green-building-newsheader image

Assorted Signals from the Green Building Market

Homebuyers and builders wrestle with perceptions about costs and benefits of energy efficient homes; meanwhile, a notable increase in the number of certified Passive House consultants suggests the standard will gain a firmer foothold in the U.S.

Posted on Nov 17 2010 by Richard Defendorf

Even if they are not entirely clear about its potential benefits or what it should cost, more consumers than ever seem to think green building is a good idea. That’s one of the broad conclusions of two National Association of Home Builders Research Center surveys conducted for Habitat for Humanity and Whirlpool Corporation.

Tags: , , , , ,

Image Credits:

  1. Passive House Institute US

Greening the HOME Rochester Program

Rochester, NY

Apr 20 2010 By Peter Yost | 0 comments

General Specs and Team

Location: Rochester, NY
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 2
Living Space : 1500 sqf
Cost (USD/sq. ft.): $36/sqf

Homes in the program vary from 1,000 to 2,600 square feet, but average around 1500 square feet. After high performance retrofits, the 50 green homes in the program range in market price to qualified buyers from approximately $50,000 to $60,000.

- Enterprise Community Partners Upstate New York
- Greater Rochester Housing Partnership
- NCS Community Development Corporation
- Rural Opportunities, Inc
- Livable Housing, Inc.


- 90+ AFUE sealed combustion Trane or Rheem sealed combustion furnace
- .62 EF power-vented 40-gallon AO Smith or State tank water heater
- Energy Star lighting throughout interior and exterior
- Air tightness: Post-retrofit 100% testing at 1500 cfm50 or less
- Low-e insert replacement windows: MI 1550 Seriesl U-value = 0.30; SHGC =0.29 ; VT =0.53

Water Efficiency

- Toilets – 1.6 GPF or better
- Showerheads – 2.0 GPM or better
- Kitchen faucets if replaced – 2.0 GPM or better
- Bathroom faucets if replaced – 2.0 GPM or better

Indoor Air Quality

- Low VOC paints, caulks and sealants
- Low VOC floor finish
- Seal carpet and pad
- Edge seal of all kitchen and bath cabinetry
- 80 cfm bath fans, 100 - 150 cfm kitchen exhaust (all to the exterior)
- Skuttle-based central fan-integrated supply ventilation system

From vacancy to vibrancy in the City of Rochester, NY

How HOME Rochester works
The HOME Rochester Program acquires vacant single-family homes in Rochester NY, typically foreclosures, and rehabilitates them for resale to qualifying first-time homebuyers earning less than 80% of area median income. The program began in 2001 and is recognized as an effective neighborhood stabilization model.

Lessons Learned

The original Green Design and Development Team continues to meet and review program successes and challenges.

Mechanical equipment
HOME Rochester has long-standing success with Trane sealed-combustion furnaces and both State and AO Smith power-vented water heaters. Recently, in an uncharacteristic slab-on-grade home with a very tight utility room, HOME Rochester installed for the first time a sealed combustionCombustion system for space heating or water heating in which outside combustion air is fed directly into the combustion chamber and flue gasses are exhausted directly outside., wall-hung, tankless water heater by Baxi (distributed by Marathon International) that serves both domestic hot water and space heating. Stay tuned for how this unit works out.

Low-VOCVolatile organic compound. An organic compound that evaporates readily into the atmosphere; as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs are organic compounds that volatize and then become involved in photochemical smog production. paints
This has been an easy change; both Glidden and Behr have complying product, locally distributed, with performance more than comparable to the conventional paints specified by HOME Rochester in the past.

Carpet and carpet pad
Although some on the development team would have liked to move away from wall-to-wall carpet and pad use in their green homes, it simply was not possible for cost and customer expectation reasons. However, CRI-certified, Green Label carpet and pad from Shaw Industries, locally distributed, is being used with great success.

Energy StarLabeling system sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy for labeling the most energy-efficient products on the market; applies to a wide range of products, from computers and office equipment to refrigerators and air conditioners. fluorescent lighting
Both realtors and homeowners have expressed disappointment with some of the fluorescent fixtures and compact bulbs: they take too long to “warm up,” the quality of the light is not the same as incandescent, and the replacement costs are too high. Armand Magnelli puts it this way: "It’s an unfortunate reality that a few bad apples can spoil the barrel when it comes to Energy Star lighting products. There have been issues with the quality of both flight fixtures and the fluorescent lamps. The cost of the lamps has also created resistance on the part of some homeowners."

Low-VOC floor finishes
Homeowners have expressed concern over the lack of gloss and overall durability of the water-based polyurethane finish used in the 50 homes. HOME Rochester is working with Livable Housing to identify water-based floor finish products that have shorter drying times, better coverage, and greater service life.

Low flow toilets
Magnelli would like to move HOME Rochester to EPA WaterSense labeled toilets, all of which are at least as low as 1.3 gallons per flush (GPFGallons per flush. Measurement of water use in toilets. Since 1992, toilets sold in the United States have been restricted to 1.6 gpf or less. The standard for high-efficiency toilets (HETs) is 1.28 gpf.) and performance-tested using the MaP test. “My personal choice would be American Standard’s Compact Cadet 3 because I know it works well, is reasonably priced, and widely available,” says Armand Magnelli. (NOTE: There are many AS Cadet 3 models; use the EPA WaterSense toilet search tool to verify WaterSense labeling.)

Mechanical ventilation
The new green Home Rochester homes are sufficiently airtight to require mechanical ventilation. The program has been using the Skuttle system, a type of central fan integrated supply (CFIS) ventilation system, but is considering a switch to a continuous exhaust system using Panasonic’s Whisper Green unit to more appropriately slightly depressurize Rochester’s cold climate homes.

Construction waste management
The HOME Rochester program currently recycles all of its cardboard. Given the quantity of tear-out carpet in the program, they are investigating what it would take to get a carpet recycling outlet set up in the greater Rochester area (under the CARE program, the closest carpet recycling center is in Buffalo, NY).

One closing lesson learned
It is going to be hard for HOME Rochester to document and then fully capture just how much better performing their green homes are. Without any history of water and energy utility bills or arrangements with their homebuyers to share their utility bills after their first year in the home, both Alma and Armand feel that a big part of their Step 7 evaluation and adjustment process will be hindered. "We need to work with our homeowners and perhaps the local utilities to close the loop on this issue. Performance numbers will help just about all stages of our process, from product specification to our homeowner's manual and training."

Peter Yost

Tags: , , , , ,

Image Credits:

  1. Armand Magnelli
  2. Alma Balonon-Rosen

green-building-newsheader image

Home Depot Foundation, Habitat for Humanity Expand Green Program

The five-year initiative will provide grants of as much as $5,000 for each Habitat home built to green standards

Posted on Aug 4 2009 by Richard Defendorf

A pilot program launched last year by Habitat for Humanity International and the Home Depot Foundation offered grants for Habitat homes built to green standards. Some 30 Habitat affiliates participated and more than 260 homes were built under the program.

Tags: , ,

Image Credits:

  1. The Home Depot Foundation

green-building-newsheader image

Affordable Urban Green in Philly

Posted on Jun 5 2009 by Richard Defendorf

Construction costs for developer Postgreen’s flagship project, the 100K House, came in at just under $100,000. The 1,150 sq. ft. home is aiming for LEED Platinum certification

How inexpensive can urban green building get? There are a bunch of builders, architects, and developers out there trying to figure that out. One of them, a Philadelphia-based developer called Postgreen, took a shot at building a 1,150 sq. ft. townhouse in that city for just under $100,000 in construction costs.

Tags: , ,

Image Credits:

  1. Sam Oberter Photography for Postgreen

green-building-newsheader image

Farmworker Housing Gets Green Treatment

Posted on May 19 2009 by Richard Defendorf

Seattle-based architectural firm designs affordable, green housing for agricultural workers in Washington state

Housing shortages for the agriculture industry’s seasonal workers are, in many parts of the country, as abundant as the crops they harvest. As architectural and planning firm Mithun notes on its website, tens of thousands of farmworkers in Washington state are forced to compete for a limited supply of affordable housing, and many end up in overcrowded, substandard units, or resort to camping out in cars or tents.

Tags: , ,

Image Credits:

  1. Mithun Inc.

Register for a free account and join the conversation

Get a free account and join the conversation!
Become a GBA PRO!

Syndicate content