‘Net-Zero’ Homes Could Make Electric Bills Obsolete

Posted by · March 9, 2012 1:29 pm

After perusing the headlines this morning—predominantly saturated with reviews of Apple’s rather anticlimactic new iPad unveil and the looming antitrust suits against the same—I came across a story by TIME’s Brad Tuttle that, much to my relief, wasn’t one of the handful of stories that currently account for the lion’s share of tech coverage.

Entitled “Imagine No Electricity Bills,” the article speaks to a technological advancement that all-too-often sinks beneath the more exciting (and fleeting) headlines of new gadgets that will be rendered obsolete by the same companies who made these ones in a year. Coined “net-zero” homes, these green gadgets (if that’s what we should call them) depart greatly from the typical ebb and flow of many other tech gadgets—the same stream of impulses that are, at the very least, somewhat culpable for the problem these homes attempt to combat.

That is, instead of being all but guaranteed to go out of style or fall apart just in time for the latest new model to take its place, “net-zero” homes pose to render obsolete one of the greatest scourges plaguing those who frequent the world of light switches and wall outlets.

“If done properly, a smartly built green home featuring solar power, energy-efficient appliances, and proper insulation can result in the owner facing monthly electricity bills amounting to $0, or thereabouts,” Tuttle begins. “Now, one homebuilder is making such ‘net-zero’ features standard in several communities around the U.S.”

English: Front of the Tuttle House, located at...The company he’s describing is Shea Homes, a homebuilder that offered its first line of such homes in 1999 to San Diego residents. The interesting thing though, Tuttle notes, is that Shea is not targeting the demographic that one might initially think. When one thinks of being environmentally friendly, the human image that typically complements such a thought is usually someone from what Tuttle calls the “young, green-minded GenX and Gen Y” members of society. So, it is somewhat surprising to find that Baby Boomers are actually the target market.

However, the reason reveals the very sound logic behind this reality. While that generation, for the most part, is not generally as enthusiastic about the environmentally motivated side of the green movement, what the Baby Boomers can get behind is the big energy cost savings Shea Homes assures every “net-zero” home buyer they will reap. Known as the SheaXero concept, these homes have purportedly saved homeowners some $7 million in energy costs since 2007. This figure is particularly impressive given the fact that these homes are only found in 11 “Active Lifestyle and Trilogy Communities” across the entire country at present.

“It’s all relative, though,” Tuttle decides at the end of the article. “As with hybrid and electric cars, owners who buy net-zero homes pay a premium upfront, with the idea that they’ll save money down the line. Whether you actually wind up saving in the long run depends on a number of factors, including the price of gas (or electricity) during the course of ownership, and how you drive (or live).”

While there’s no escaping the essence of his conclusion, there are two points to keep in mind before any latent cynicism kicks into gear.

First, what Tuttle describes with regard to cost savings does not depart in any manner from the basic assumption of risk that is undertaken in any investment situation. That, after all, is what an investment is—an educated risk in hopes of recovering a net gain on that investment. Unfortunately, the idea of net gain has become inextricably and often exclusively tied to money, making progress dependent upon its profitability instead of the benefit that progress itself has to offer.

This brings me to the other point. If short term cost and profitability remain the deciding factors in the rate of progress we choose to endorse, we will always fall short of where we should be, and even shorter of where we could be.

If you’re interested in reading other articles I’ve written on green tech, I also write occasionally for the Green Living Press, a blog that discusses all areas of sustainable news and trends.