​Zero Net Energy Homes Development​​

By: | 07/25/2013 09:59 AM ET

The zero-net revolution is coming to offer free energy for homes in a development called The Preserve at Mountain Vista. These homes will feature thick walls, solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling systems.

Zero Net Energy Homes

It means that families should be able to generate more energy over a year than they consume. The homes under construction have costly green features. But the builders believe they are in tune with consumers increasingly concerned about the environment and fuel costs.

And there are homebuyers here and around the nation who are willing to pay more for savings down the line.

“I don’t have to worry about $6,000 worth of utilities to run a house,” said Gil Lobell, a current zero-net home dweller moving his family into a larger house in the new development. “I can use that money for other things, so we go on vacations because I’m not spending money on utilities. I don’t worry about oil bills. I don’t worry about electric bills. I don’t worry about gas bills.”

Zero-net homes require two things. They generate energy, typically solar, and they are designed in a way to reduce energy consumption through the use of energy-efficient appliances and insulation. Lots of insulation, in the case of these homes.

Exterior walls of the nine homes being constructed here by Greenhill Contracting Inc. include a 6-inch layer of poured, reinforced concrete sandwiched by about 21/2 inches of polystyrene (the stuff from which coffee cups are made). The castle-thick walls, combined with heavily insulated rafters above, an insulated concrete slab below and triple-paned windows create a “building envelope” that makes each house practically as airtight as a thermos — albeit with ventilation.

“The building envelope is the most important part of the puzzle,” said John Wright of Hudson Solar, which is working with Greenhill. “By sealing the envelope and controlling the ventilation, we can control the heating and cooling costs.”

Interior temperatures are kept comfortable year-round with a geothermal heating and cooling system that takes advantage of the steady temperature deep below ground. This is the same set-up installed in Lobell’s current home in New Paltz. In the middle of a recent sweltering summer day, the home was comfortably cool.

Zero-net homes are not new, but zero-net developments remain a niche. A big reason is the upfront costs.

Three-bedroom houses in this development start at $399,000. Each house has a $39,000 geothermal system and $29,000 solar system. Wright said the upfront costs are mitigated in New York by federal and state tax credits and rebates that bring combined costs down to $32,600. But just as it is for car buyers who pony up more for a hybrid, the real selling point is the long-term savings in energy costs