LIVE! Real estate real estate: Net zero homes

Over the past decade, architects, real estate investors and construction companies have been pouring money into constructing more and more houses that are net zero, or will capture and use 100% of the energy needed to run.

In their quest to build these net zero homes and businesses, developers have been designing highly engineered, environmentally friendly and energy efficient buildings — even in some cases, creating homes that use less power during the summer than they do in the winter, to mitigate the impact of heat or air conditioning.

Currently, the net zero building movement is focused on construction and is on a smaller scale. Because for a building to really reach net zero, it must consume only 85% of its energy requirements during a 24-hour day. Developers who have created residential buildings with net zero energy use have used other methods to achieve that level of efficiency.

It’s also important to note that, although net zero buildings use less power than those with an equivalent level of efficiency, it is not necessarily the case that fewer people will require energy from utilities. That is because a net zero building will use less air conditioning, which consumes a large share of energy used by other appliances in a home.

What’s more, a net zero building is an increasingly popular option because people are increasingly concerned about climate change and getting ahead of the curve when it comes to home building. Today, the majority of Americans, including 57% of millennials, strongly or somewhat support net zero energy buildings, according to the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.

So what does the growing focus on net zero energy mean for the future of the real estate market? To answer that question, we asked Barton Cosner, founder and CEO of TheStreet co-publisher Zillow Group and chairman of the American Institute of Architects. Zillow built Net Zero IRW. TheStreet also recently built its own headquarters in Seattle, which it says is the first building in the U.S. to achieve 100% net zero energy use.

What is the most important component for net zero homes?

The way to achieve net zero is to reduce energy use. In this case, one element that allows you to do that is to use renewable energy, but the most important element is to use solar energy. We believe that the greatest potential in lowering energy use is going to come from the photovoltaic (PV) panel design. This is technology that will become available to more homeowners, and will allow all houses to generate their own electricity and to cut the power supplied by the utility.

Do all of the money being put into net zero homes by developers and homeowners have the same impact on the local economy? What can that mean for the economy?

This discussion is in part about jobs. If you sell an efficient home and install photovoltaic systems, what you will do is essentially create a number of jobs directly related to the installation. For example, someone who is in the custom engineering and installation world will tell you that you can’t do any more or better than having a skilled, highly trained person on site to install the photovoltaic system that creates the green home.

What is important to note about this job creation idea is that you’re employing more people, including skilled people who are needed to install the photovoltaic technology. You’re also educating more people to understand solar energy and to go into the solar field. If you could put out one message today, it would be to encourage more people to go into the solar field. It takes more people. The solar field needs people to build it and people need training. These are all jobs that we’re going to create.

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