Zero carbon homes, the future?

It has been very difficult of late to pick up a newspaper, or turn on the news without hearing further of the fate of the world thanks to climate change. We are being told that we need to reduce our ‘carbon footprint’, in order to help bring down the damaging levels of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent ‘greenhouse gas’, that is gathering in our atmosphere.

Recently a number of ‘zero carbon’ homes have appeared on the market – but are they a genuine step forward, or simply a neat and timely sales pitch?

Government requirements

The UK Government has decreed that, by 2016 – that’s just eight years away – all new homes built in this country must conform to zero carbon requirements. The Government have also offered incentives to builders, and buyers, to introduce the changes early by way of exempting buildings that comply from certain Stamp Duty levies.

What is a zero carbon home?

As carbon – in the form of carbon dioxide – is a product of much of our energy production and usage, a zero carbon home is defined as one that, in a given time, uses only as much energy as it is able to produce. This results in the property providing no extra carbon dioxide in that time – hence ‘zero carbon’.

How is it achieved?

Reaching zero carbon status is not a process that can be achieved by any one action but by many that should be carried out together inconjunction with one another.

The first is to do what we should all be doing in order to cut costs and that is to reduce our demands for energy. We can do this in many ways, such as:

  • Improved insulation at the time of building, particularly in the walls and roof
  • Paying attention to the airtight qualities of the home at the design and build stage
  • Improve the performance and construction of doors and windows
  • Improved attention to plumbing design and insulation
  • Use a lobby at the entrances, to keep draughts and heat escape when doors are opened
  • Position the house to take advantage of sunlight and protect from prevailing winds
  • Use low energy lighting, and other appliances.

As can be seen the above all entail elements of common sense, whether at the build stage or a later date.

Also important is to determine the best use of energy, in terms of peak energy demands. This entails not using a large number of appliances together – stagger, say, the washing machine and dishwasher – and incorporating energy saving electrical systems such as movement sensitive lighting that switches off when nobody is present.

Storage and renewable energy

Systems have been developed whereby energy that is not used can effectively be stored, these being known as kinetic batteries. They are becoming ever more efficient and will soon be installed as a matter of course in new homes. In addition, the practice of feeding back surplus energy to the national grid is becoming more and more common, and actively encouraged.

By incorporating solar energy systems and, in the future, wind powered systems as well as heat pumps and biomass heating systems, a zero carbon house can quite possibly be creating more energy than it is able to use. Triple Pundit wrote an interesting article on What Will Your Town Look Like When Zero Carbon Building Is The Norm?

Zero carbon homes are indeed the future and should be welcomed.

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