How Much Does a Net Zero House Cost?

Evelyn Long

Mar 12, 2021

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The idea of living in a home that requires no external energy and is entirely self-sufficient sounds like a total dream. Net zero homes are notoriously amazing for the environment, and the elimination of any energy bills sounds almost too good to be true. Net zero homes are the way of the future, and while there is a spectrum of eco-friendly home building, going completely net zero is best for the environment — and perhaps for a homebuyer’s wallet, too.

The costs involved can vary widely. Just like the cost of any home can depend on several factors, the list of factors grows when net zero energy or energy efficiency comes into play. However, a net zero energy house concerns more than the upfront cost, but the long-term benefits and savings, too. 

This is actually one of the primary motivators in the move toward more sustainable energy in the private sector since being kind to the environment isn’t always worth spending more money to many consumers. This is especially true for long-term investments like a home. 

Just like with any home purchase, build or renovation, there are ways to account for budgeting and work with the top priorities. Going net zero can even be viewed as a feature of a standard home rather than its primary focus, as a house is a house before anything else.

What Is Net Zero Energy?

Before diving into the cost breakdown of net zero energy, it’s important to understand what it entails. Essentially, net zero energy homes can generate enough power to be fully self-sufficient and not rely on outside sources of nonrenewable electricity to function. This means having an eco-friendly home doesn’t necessarily mean it’s net zero, and the same goes the other way around. 

However, eco-friendly features in net zero homes often aid their functioning. And while certain features like appliances and electrical wiring may come at the end of the building process, there are other important features that make a net zero home work.

All the Moving Parts

One of the most important and cost-effective pieces of the puzzle when building or investing in net zero energy in a home is the insulation — often referred to as “sealing the envelope.” While the best option is always to discuss the situation with a professional — as each home and climate is unique — standard insulative materials can work for this purpose. The process is all about being thorough and having an established goal of air tightness, usually below 2.0 ACH50. 

Corners, doors, windows and even floors are often a part of the insulation makeup. Many net zero homes are also double insulated, though insulation requirements for net zero energy can sometimes change depending upon climate. Insulation isn’t always the most important factor in warmer areas. The insulation process can make net zero homes more expensive, but it keeps temperatures — and therefore energy — inside, which pays off in the long run.

Perhaps the most obvious cost involved in net zero housing is the energy production itself. No matter how eco-friendly a home may be, the only way to go completely net zero is for a house to generate its own power. Unless a house has an unorthodox energy source nearby, solar panels are the way to go for net zero homes. 

Solar panels are an investment, and there’s no way around it. They cost a significant amount of money upfront, but they pay themselves off in energy savings. The cost of solar panels for an average-sized U.S. home range between $11,144 to $14,696, though factors like the state, home size and other things can impact this price.

Energy-efficient appliances and other details are another cost associated with net zero homes, and this one can vary significantly. For families who need new appliances anyway, the small financial difference can usually pay itself off and be considered alongside other factors when buying appliances. However, when making a full switch, investing in new appliances can add another major cost.

The Savings

Other than the environmental aspects, why do so many people love the idea of net zero energy? Even though it is an investment upfront, going with a net zero home provides long-term savings and pays for itself in the long run. Since most net zero homes rely entirely on solar energy, and electricity rates and building codes vary by location, the amount of time it takes for a net zero home to fully pay for itself can vary. 

While it takes an average of 7.8 years for a net zero residence to pay for itself in San Francisco, it can take 12.7 in Kansas City. Regardless, saving the bulk of an electric bill every month and having the upfront costs covered in a few years’ time makes net zero an appealing option.

Tiny or Full-Sized?

Another consideration for determining how much does a net zero house cost, which can often reduce the price of any home. Much like standard real estate, the cost tends to increase by square footage — and with net zero houses, the cost per square foot is higher than in standard homes. Therefore, going tiny could solve a lot of conundrums. 

Since tiny homes take a lot less power to run, many people live in completely off-the-grid tiny houses, which usually run much cheaper than standard real estate.

Where the Money Is

When tackling the question of how much does a net zero house cost, it’s essential to remember that net zero housing is an investment that varies, just like any home purchase. It depends on the budget and priorities. With everything accounted for, net zero energy homes cost on average $9.80 more per square foot than typical residences. 

However, it only takes a few years to make up the difference in savings. Buying one of these sustainable homes largely depends on having the money available for an upfront investment. If that’s the case, making that investment is usually worth it.

The Cost of Going Net Zero

Net zero homes are an investment like any other residence. While going net zero can sometimes be a slightly bigger investment than a regular home, it can pay itself off in a few years. With benefits to the Earth as well as the savings it can bring to those who choose it, net zero energy sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

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