Why The Zero Home Matters

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Guest article by David Glenn

Heads should turn when someone says “America’s most energy-efficient home.” That’s exactly what TechHive called Vivint’s “Zero Home” which was unveiled earlier this year. Partnering with Garbett Homes, Vivint claims the very first climate 5 “net zero” smart home. This means it produces as much energy as it consumes. What makes it all the more impressive is that it’s pulling it off in an unusually cold and dry climate.

Located in Herriman, Utah, the Zero Home achieved a HERS rating of 0. This rating, established by the Residential Energy Services Network, is meant to rank the energy efficiency of any given home. The lower the ranking the better, and prior to the zero home, no one had received a rating of 0. So is the Zero Home a one-time miracle, or will we be seeing more of them in the future?

It’s affordable

One of the biggest reasons people may be skeptical about the rise of smart homes is cost. Yes, they are efficient, but don’t they cost a fortune to construct? In the past the answer may have been yes. Vivint’s Zero Home however is actually quite affordable. Garbett’s marketing explained that the home cost $150 per square foot to build, which is about the same as any other traditional home. A buyer could expect to pay $400,000, the same as any other home in the same neighborhood.

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The construction techniques of the Zero Home reveal it as something that could be replicated on a mass basis.

One of these techniques is an unconventional approach to framing. In the construction of the home, Garbett used 2×6 lumber as opposed to the traditional 2×4. The extra space provides greater insulation, keeping the home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

After the framing, the builders layered the house in a water resistant material, giving the home a barrier for moisture and vapor. In addition, at every point of the framing where wood touched wood, construction workers applied a sealant that forms a moisture and air proof gasket. Foam insulation on the interior side of the exterior walls provided an extra layer of protection.

Large windows provide natural light for the airtight home. All of the glass is double paned and has a layer of argon gas between the layers, providing added insulation.

Renewable energy

One of the biggest advantages of the home is the use of a photovoltaic system. Solar energy is becoming more popular in the United States and Vivint is a top provider. The Zero Home’s roof comes equipped with 40 solar panels, providing 10 kilowatts of electricity.

Vivint’s approach to solar installation may be the answer to home energy problems across the country. While many companies sell solar panels for an upfront cost of upwards of $40,000, Vivint installs the panels for free and maintains ownership. Homeowners simply agree to pay for the energy the panels produce. They are incentivized by the fact that energy from the panels costs approximately 20 percent less than the public utility. As a backup, homeowners can still purchase energy from the public grid, depending on their needs.

Why does it matter?

There’s a lot of talk about America’s dependence of fossil fuels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States consumes nearly 19% of the world’s energy. With energy sources depleting, this is likely not a sustainable trend. Change needs to happen and innovations involved in the Zero Home could play a big role.

If a state like Utah can lead the way in energy efficiency, there is certainly hope for the rest of the country. Garbett Homes’ marketing director Rene Oehlerking said, “Utah is not a tree-hugger state. Every one wants to go green, but no one wants to pay to go green. We’re a small builder, but we’re not a custom builder.” If homes cost the same but provide greater energy savings, everyone will want to be a part of it.

As for Vivint, it is likely to gain even greater traction in coming years. Just last year it was named on the Forbes list of “America’s Most Promising Companies.” In 2011 the company began installing solar panels and quickly moved to the number two spot for solar providers in the United States. Vivint is proving that companies succeed when they adapt to fit the needs of the consumer.

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