A Closer Look at Connecticut's Zero Energy Homebuilding Competition

At the Better Buildings By Design conference, Ann Edminster spoke about the growing interest in net-zero-energy buildings saying, “This [net-zero-energy construction] is a market opportunity. This field is going to explode.”

Edminster was right. According to the Net-Zero Energy Coalition’s 2016 Zero Energy Residential Building Study, there was a 33 percent increase across the United States and Canada in zero-energy single and multi-family housing from 2015 to 2016.

Many skeptics believe that this is a niche market for custom home builders. However, Energize Connecticut’s Zero Energy Challenge, along with Net-Zero Energy Coalition’s study, proves that while net-zero-energy residential construction may be in its infancy, it will and is revolutionizing the homebuilding industry.

In 2007, Connecticut’s General Assembly enacted progressive energy efficiency statutes that included modifying its commercial and residential building codes. Eversource and the United Illuminating Company realized an opportunity to further the state’s energy efficiency goals by investing in residential new construction initiatives, and, in 2009, the companies established the CT Zero Energy Challenge (ZEC), a design and build competition for single and multi-family homes.

ZEC is the only competition of its kind nationwide. Unlike other net-zero competitions where students design buildings and homes, ZEC participants are fully-involved in the entire process. Homeowners, builders, architects, designers, HERS raters and contractors work closely together to design and build a home that is suitable for a homeowner’s budget and lifestyle – and most importantly, achieves the net-zero-energy home classification.

The ZEC homes serve as examples to all homeowners that building super high efficiency (near zero energy) homes is achievable, and showcases energy-efficient methods that can be used in older homes or remodels. 2016 winners, Steve and Janis Moser and the Passive Lodge at Silver Lake are two testaments of that. Through their research, attention to detail and commitment to an integrated design process, the amateur builders constructed award-winning dwellings.

ZEC also exemplifies how new technology and advancements in building practices affect a home’s energy performance. Through the Challenge, a home’s Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index, cost effectiveness, and demonstrated thermal envelope efficiency are evaluated to identify which homes are the most efficient. In 2010, the Overall Winner, Keithan Residence, achieved a HERS rating of -7. With advancements in ENERGY STAR® appliances, renewable energy technology and building practices, the Moser Residence, recipient of this year’s Overall Lowest HERS rating, achieved a -14. This is proof that these homes are more affordable, comfortable and energy efficient than a new code-built home that has a HERS rating of 100.

In addition to home performance, building techniques and technologies, the Zero Energy Challenge, along with Connecticut’s energy efficiency job market, saw a significant increase in participation and new hires. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the design, installation and manufacturing of energy efficiency products and services in Connecticut account for nearly 34,000 jobs. For ZEC specifically, the number of builders constructing zero-energy homes exclusively has grown. In its first year, the Challenge had two builders. Last year, the program had a record number of entries – a total of 17, including multi-use properties and farmsteads, from 14 builders.

From installing basement root cellars and fireplaces to solar shingles and Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) systems, the ZEC builders continue to push the boundaries of energy-efficiency homebuilding, and prove that these homes are affordable and can compete in the general housing market.

In the next two articles, we’ll take a closer look at the 2016 Energize Connecticut Zero Energy Challenge winners and their accomplishments.

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