Mainstreaming Zero-Energy Homes

Mainstreaming Zero-Energy Homes

Making high-performance homes easier to build and more affordable will convince both builders and homeowners to go net zero.
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Smart Sheathing. BASF’s Neopor rigid insulation is made of closed-cell polystyrene infused with graphite, which reflects and absorbs radiant energy. The R-value ranges from R-4.5 to R-4.9 per inch.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015 - 7:00am

CAMPAIGN: Building Science

CONTENT: Article

The concept of a building that generates at least as much energy as it consumes, as calculated on a net-annual basis, is one that more and more people outside of the building professions are getting their heads around.

Production builders are starting to offer zero-energy homes as upgrades, or are even creating entire zero-energy developments. The Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) program is providing examples of such homes in all regions of the country, supported by its Building America program research. With the drastic decline in the cost of solar energy and availability of solar leasing programs, achieving the zero-energy goal is becoming ever-more attainable.

It’s no coincidence that this is happening concurrent with increasing awareness of climate change. And in fact, many proponents of zero-energy buildings make the link explicit, pointing to the fact that buildings consume over 40 percent of the energy used in the U.S.

But barriers remain.

“We don’t think that green or high-performance construction—whatever you’d like to call it—can be sustainable unless it’s affordable,” says Rick Davenport, director of sustainable construction at BASF. It’s important to understand human psychology in order to fast-track high performance, he adds.

“Most people will not accept a 10 percent mark-up,” he says. “Where most people will take action is closer to 2 percent.” With this in mind, BASF launched its BEYOND.High Performance initiative in early 2013, with the aim of helping builders achieve high performance buildings without increasing costs significantly.

A High-Performance Formula

“We’re doing the same thing we did in the automotive industry,” says Davenport. “At some point, we realized it’s about ‘light-weighting’ the car.” BASF’s high-performance, or HP+ wall assemblies utilize BASF’s WALLTITE spray foam insulation, Enershield liquid-applied weather-resistant barrier and Neopor external rigid insulation to maximize strength while controlling heat, air and moisture.By exploring how to shift costs and merge features and benefits, rather than stacking them, BASF has come up with a holistic strategy that combines high-performance  envelopes with consultative services, through which experts can help builders with their specific issues.