What's in a name? Zero Energy Ready Homes and the strategy behind the name

July 14, 2015

As the U.S. Department of Energy rolls out its Zero Energy Ready Home program, building professionals and homebuyers are getting used to the new name.

The program is based on the DOE's previous Challenge Home program, but emphasizes the fact that home would be capable of generating as much energy as it uses if it were equipped with adequate solar panels.

Sam Rashkin,  Chief Architect of the DOE's Building Technologies Office, discussed in a recent message the thinking behind the name "Zero Energy Ready Home."

You can‘t start a movement if no one can agree on a name. Is it a Net-Zero Energy Home, a Zero Net-Energy Home, a Zero Energy Home, or a Zero Energy Ready Home? The first key question we need to ask is; why use the word ‘Net’ to modify the word ‘Zero’ or ‘Energy’? We’ve seen ‘Net’ used both ways extensively even though it deflates the power of the word ‘Zero’ or adds confusion to the term ‘Energy’? As is often said, “perfection is the enemy of the good.” We believe the interest in the word ‘Net’, while filled with good intentions about accuracy, undermines our ability to communicate the zero experience faster and better to the consumer audience. That’s why we say no to ‘Net.'

All this begs the next question. Why add an additional word, ‘Ready’, to the term Zero Energy Home? It’s because ‘Ready’ is a critical modifier that enables ultra-efficient homes with or without solar to be marketed with one effective ‘brand’. An ultra-efficient home without solar, is clearly not a zero energy home. But it is ‘Ready’ for zero with the future purchase of a solar electric system or carbon offsets. It’s especially ready for zero when simple low- and no-cost measures are included that allow a solar electric system to be installed in the future at minimal additional cost. Thus, ‘Zero Energy Ready’ is an effective way for ultra-efficient homes without solar to leverage the power of ‘Zero’ in a fair home label.

In ultra-efficient homes with a properly sized solar electric system, it's still important to use the word 'Ready’ in the name because there are a myriad of homeowner behaviors, occupancy levels, weather conditions, plug loads, and utility power-purchase service fees that can result in a non-zero utility bill experience. The term ‘Ready’ protects the builder from what is often an unrealistic promise of a zero utility bill implied by the name Zero Energy Home, sets homeowner expectations for the possibility of non-zero utility bills, and effectively starts the education process about the importance of how the home is used. This is a good thing. That’s why we say yes to ‘Ready.'

Why discuss these terminology rules now? It’s because zero energy is poised for substantial growth. Our program team is observing substantially more interest in the label, greater builder and developer commitments, and increasing requests for training and presentations all across the country. A common term and definition are critical for effective consumer awareness, understanding, and loyalty (branding ‘101’). The Zero Energy Ready Home program invites all zero stakeholders to join us using these important terminology rules for engaging consumers: lose the ‘Net‘, and never leave ‘Home’ without ‘Ready.'

Watch Sam Rashkin, Chief Architect of the DOE's Building Technologies Office, discuss some of the changes in the agency's programs for home builders.

Read more about green home certifications.


Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, Energy Audits, Energy Star


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