Building an affordable, net zero energy home

| by Teena Hammond
Building an affordable, net zero energy home

Imagine having an electric meter that runs backward on some days. That's exactly what happens on cool, sunny days at one net zero energy house built by Potterhill Homes as solar panels generate more electricity than the home needs.

This particular home is certified LEED Gold and is one of many energy-efficient homes built by Milford, Ohio-based Potterhill Homes, a builder focused on creating affordable, energy-saving houses, said company president Carolyn Rolfes.

But the meter spinning backward came as a surprise even to Rolfes, since it was something no one at the company had ever seen before. "When we had first installed the system, the meter reader came one day while our housing consultant was working there, and he said, 'Ma'am, I'm going to have to change out your meter. I think it's broken. It's spinning backward.' She said, 'No, no, don't touch it, that's our solar panels working.' He said that's the first time in 20 years on the job he's seen an electric meter spin backward," Rolfes said.

Solar panels and geothermal

This house, also known as a net zero energy home, depends on solar panels and geothermal systems to tap energy from the sun and the earth for heating and cooling. It includes blown cellulose insulation and architectural features such as arched doorways to make it stand out from other houses.

Homeowners are attracted to the homes, often in sustainable communities, because they produce at least as much energy as they consume, by using renewable resources. Buildings use 73 percent of all U.S. energy consumed, so making a dent in the amount of energy used is becoming increasingly important to many.

Affordability and tax credits are key

"A lot of times, when you talk about green homes you immediately think of half-million-dollar houses and expensive systems," Rolfes said. "We've made the homes so affordable that even first-time buyers can afford them."

Potterhill's net zero energy houses begin in the upper $140,000s. Potterhill works with buyers to help them take advantage of federal tax credits that help pay for up to 30 percent of the cost to buy a geothermal heat pump and solar power system.

"It has been our goal all along to stay within about $3,000 of our competition from other homebuilders. We believe that the superior energy efficiency and unique architecture keeps us competitive. We have continually looked for new ways to stay ahead of the curve," Rolfes said.

This year Potterhill expects to build about 80 homes, and all will be Energy Star, and about 15 will be LEED certified at varying levels from silver to gold.

"A lot of builders aren't on the bandwagon yet but this isn't going away. This is here to stay," Rolfes said of energy-efficient, net zero homebuilding.

Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, Solar Power, Sustainable Communities

Teena Hammond
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.

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