Turning an Old House into a Net-Zero Home: A Complete Guide

By Tony Gilbert

Many homeowners are looking for ways to contribute to environmental preservation as everyone becomes more aware of how our actions affect the world around us. From everyday behaviours like recycling and composting to creating an environmentally friendly home office, everyone can find ways to do their part. One way to make a measurable and significant positive impact on the environment and your sustainability is by making your old home net-zero. A net-zero home produces as much energy as it consumes, hence the term.

However, transforming an older home into a net-zero home can seem daunting. It requires careful planning, expert advice, and a significant investment. But the benefits are undoubtedly worth it. Reducing your carbon footprint is good, and saving money long-term on your energy bills is a great bonus.

You’ll need to consider various factors to make an old home net-zero. This article will explore some of the steps you can take to make an old home net-zero. You’ll get tips and advice on improving your home’s insulation, upgrading your heating and cooling systems, choosing energy-efficient appliances, and installing renewable energy sources.

What is a Net-Zero Home?

A net-zero home is a type of sustainable housing that produces as much energy as it consumes. The net-zero home generates its energy through renewable sources, such as solar or wind power, and uses efficient appliances to minimize energy consumption. 

Why should you convert your old home into a net-zero one? The goal is to balance energy consumption and production, resulting in a net-zero carbon footprint.

Net-zero homes are important because they help reduce the environmental impact of households. Buildings are responsible for a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions, and net-zero homes help mitigate this impact by reducing or eliminating carbon emissions. Additionally, net-zero homes can help homeowners save money on energy bills by reducing energy consumption and generating their own energy.

To make your net-zero goal a reality, it’s important to prioritize energy efficiency in all aspects of the home’s design and operation. Using high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, insulation, and energy-efficient appliances are some examples. Implementing renewable energy sources, such as solar panels or wind turbines, to generate clean power is also central to achieving net-zero home status.

Homeowners should note that transforming an existing home into a net-zero home can be expensive but can provide long-term benefits. Building codes and regulations are also beginning to prioritize energy efficiency and net-zero standards, making it increasingly important for homeowners to consider the sustainability of their homes. There are many reasons to buy a condo instead of a single-family home, but the ability to completely re-vamp a home to make it net-zero is probably not possible with a condo.

Assess Your Home’s Insulation & Energy Efficiency

The critical first step in converting an older home to net-zero is to evaluate the insulation and energy efficiency of the building. In a net-zero home, there is no net energy consumption from the grid because it produces as much energy as it uses. Before installing systems like solar panel arrays or wind turbines, you must ensure your home is well-insulated.

Homeowners can perform a home energy audit or hire a qualified energy auditor to evaluate their home’s insulation and energy efficiency. During the audit, existing energy loss points will be found, including inadequately insulated attics, leaky windows and doors, inefficient appliances, and ineffective heating systems. Homeowners can take action to increase insulation and energy effectiveness once the areas of energy loss have been identified. This can involve upgrading windows and doors, adding insulation to the attic and walls, and swapping out inefficient appliances and heating systems for more modern ones.

The energy required to heat and cool the home will be reduced through improved insulation and energy efficiency, making net-zero status easier to attain. After installing the necessary insulation and energy-saving measures, homeowners can think about installing renewable energy systems to reduce their reliance on the grid even more. 

Net-Zero Home: Thermogram of a Passivhaus building, with traditional building in background.
thermogram compares the heat radiation of the windows and walls of two buildings: a sustainable, low-energy passive house (right) and a conventional house
Credit: Passivhaus Institut – Copied to Commons from http://en.wikipedia.org. Original source Passivhaus Institut, Germany – http://www.passiv.de

Invest in Renewable Energy Sources

The only two renewable energy sources that can currently be used in homes are photovoltaic (PV) panels—known as solar panels—and wind turbines. Once you’ve assessed your old home’s insulation and overall efficiency, you’re ready to upgrade with some alternative energy sources.

Homeowners can generate energy and lessen their reliance on the grid by installing wind and solar power systems. Wind turbines use the wind’s energy to turn an electricity-producing generator; solar panels use sunlight to generate electricity. Both renewable energy sources offer a safe, dependable power source that can lessen a house’s carbon footprint. Wind turbines can only be installed in locations with reliable wind, of course, but homeowners can install solar panels on their roofs or yards as long as there’s consistent sunlight.

The installation cost can vary, but numerous government incentives and rebates are available to help offset the cost. Solar and wind energy sources can supply power for many years and significantly lower a home’s reliance on the grid with proper installation and upkeep. As part of their efforts to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, homeowners ought to think about installing renewable energy systems.

Automate With Smart Home Technology

Making an old home net-zero can be challenging, but smart home technology can be a huge help. You can effectively manage energy use by using smart appliances, lighting, and thermostats.

Smart home technology provides instantaneous data on energy use, enabling homeowners to pinpoint areas where they can cut back on their usage. This technology can also automate processes like turning off the lights and adjusting the thermostat, and such automation can significantly reduce a home’s carbon footprint. Homeowners can significantly lower their energy consumption and transition to a more sustainable lifestyle by integrating smart home technology into their residences.

Ensure Adequate Ventilation

The home must have adequate ventilation to increase sustainability and move toward net-zero status. Fresh air is circulated with proper ventilation, which also aids in removing pollutants and maintaining healthy indoor air quality. Insufficient ventilation can lead to contaminants like carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds building up in the house; these contaminants pose health risks and reduce the home’s sustainability.

Additionally, good ventilation can assist in controlling humidity and temperature, lowering the energy needed for heating and cooling. Enhancing indoor air quality, reducing energy usage, and supporting a sustainable living environment all become possible by ensuring the home has adequate ventilation.

Financing Options & Government Rebates

Governments around the world are offering rebates and financing options to encourage homeowners to make their old homes net-zero; policy experts are even predicting mandatory net-zero progress for old condo buildings, so homeowners may want to take advantage of the carrot before the inevitable stick arrives. These incentives aim to promote sustainable living and reduce carbon emissions.

Rebates for installing renewable energy systems such as solar panels and wind turbines and for implementing energy-efficient measures such as insulation upgrades and high-efficiency appliances are available. In some cases, tax credits and grants may also be available.

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, for example, offers tax credits for up to 30% of the cost of installing solar panels or wind turbines. This can translate to thousands of dollars in savings, and it can make a serious expenditure much more manageable. Other notable tax credits provided by this act include $300 credits for installing heat pumps or efficient air conditioners and 10% of the cost of insulation materials and efficient windows.

Financing options to help homeowners make their homes net-zero are also worth exploring. These options may include low-interest loans, energy-efficient mortgages, or property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing. PACE financing allows homeowners to repay the cost of energy-efficient improvements through their property taxes, making the financing more accessible.

The availability of rebates and financing options can vary depending on the location and the type of improvement. Homeowners should research the incentives available in their area and consult with professionals to determine the best options for their specific situation.

The Value of Net-Zero

It has never been simpler to become net-zero than it is right now.

Using current market advancements, technological solutions, and government incentives, you can retrofit your existing home for greater efficiency and sustainability. Accessible options for making your home more environmentally friendly are available, including evaluating your home’s insulation and efficiency and using renewable energy sources.

Government rebates and financing options are also available to help with the cost of home renovations. Additionally, while becoming net-zero may initially seem difficult, the advantages are endless, ranging from lower utility bills to reducing the global carbon footprint—and significantly improving the environment. You can make your old house net-zero by using these tips, and you might even get some money back for helping the environment!

Sources

Planning for Home Renewable Energy Systems. Energy.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/planning-home-renewable-energy-systems 

Inflation reduction act of 2022 – what it means for you. Energy.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/articles/inflation-reduction-act-2022-what-it-means-you 

Net Zero and Condominiums: Emerging US Policies and Practices. E. Mckenzie. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/blog-post/2023/03/net-zero-and-condominiums-emerging-us-policies-and-practices

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