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Earth Notes: Net-Zero Buildings


Our homes and buildings use a lot of energy. Up to 40 percent of energy bills and carbon dioxide emissions are tied to private homes and commercial buildings. Experts say nearly one-third of this money and energy use is wasted, because many structures were built before modern materials and standards were around. 

A new effort is underway toward what’s called net-zero building. The goal is to construct homes and businesses that make as much energy on site as they use. Many harvest sun, wind, or earth energy for their electricity, heating, or cooling, and include water-conserving practices.

Net-zero design may incorporate passive solar features, high thermal mass, thick insulation, tight seals, and natural light. Certification standards are rigorous. Because sun and wind resources are variable, net-zero structures  at times do consume more energy than they generate. But the  intention is to strike a balance over time so the net result is zero, or close to it. One good example is the Badger Springs home, designed by University of Utah architecture students in the DesignBuildBLUFF program, built for a Navajo family in southern Utah.  

A decrease of only twenty percent in energy use in buildings in the U.S. could save $80 billion  a year, reduce greenhouse gases, lower dependence on fossil fuels, create jobs, and delay the need for new power plants. 

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