A Guide to Zero-Energy Building

A black chalkboard with a drawing of a white house and rainbow arrows.

What if your home could produce enough renewable energy to completely cover the amount you consume? This is the basics of zero-energy building (or net-zero energy building) and with a few construction steps, you can bring your home closer to this possibility.

Building a home that produces all the energy you will consume is a big project, but it comes with a lot of rewards—namely, extremely reduced utility bills and the knowledge that you’re helping to improve the environment. Upfront costs can be daunting in zero-energy building, but in a short amount of time all that investment will start to pay off in big ways. Integrate as many zero-energy construction methods into your new build or remodel as you can, and start saving as much energy as you can right away.


If you're going to practice zero-energy building, you're going to practice super-sealing. There are many different methods for doing this, so choose based on the climate where you're building. Sealing your home well means you'll consume less energy and lose less energy, and this is the first step toward building a zero-energy home. Caulking and weatherstripping are well-known methods of air sealing that work.

After the house has been sealed, give it the best possible insulation to keep all the energy your home generates inside your home. Make sure doors and windows are especially well-insulated and airtight because it's around these areas that a lot of energy is needlessly lost. Use window glazing on the panes to prevent sunlight and cold air from stealing away excess energy, too.

Install Solar Panels

Solar panels on a red tile roof.

To provide renewable energy to your home, install solar panels on the roof. The panels will capture the natural energy of sunlight, and use this to power your home rather than natural gas, coal, or other fossil fuels. Solar panels are one of the biggest expenses when it comes to building a zero-energy home, but they will also pay off in the biggest way because they will help to continuously power your home. Newer technology provides solar panels that are now much easier for average homeowners to install.

Focus on Your Water

Heating water is one of your biggest energy costs. A solar water heating system runs totally on renewable energy. Supplement the system with a tankless water heater when the sun's power isn't quite enough. Install the solar heating system on a south-facing roof. Pair this heating system with a radiant floor, and the sun-heated water will actually help to heat your home, as well as power it. A water recovery system or rain-collecting water system integrated into the design can help you recover some of the water you use.

Control Your Sun and Shade

A shaded window on an orange house.

Take advantage of the sun by capturing it and keeping it away when needed, and invest in good window shades that you can raise and lower easily. For instance, south-facing windows should be unshaded in the winter to capture sunlight and help heat the house. Those same windows must be well-covered during summer to keep your house cool inside. Control the amount of sunlight that gets into your home, and you'll find yourself using much less energy to keep your home comfortable.

Install Ventilation

When your home is sealed and heavily insulated, you're going to need to add a ventilation system to get the fresh air you need while you're inside. Otherwise, the air inside your home will feel stale. Install an energy-efficient ventilation system that's designed for heat recovery. This system is made to recover the heat in the stale air that it pushes out of your home. Meanwhile, the system heats the fresh air that's brought inside.

Choose Energy-Efficient Appliances

An energy-efficient dishwasher.

Fill your home inside with energy-efficient appliances to reduce your energy costs. Wherever you can save energy and conserve water, do it! This will help you consume less energy, so you can more easily live using the energy that your home produces. Older appliances that aren't energy-efficient will gobble up your supplies of energy and take you further from your net-zero energy goal.