As solar and heat pump prices fall, these highly energy-efficient homes are paying for themselves faster. Here’s how they work and why they’re spreading northward.
LAMBERTVILLE, Mich.—On a drive down a country road, builder Bill Decker gives an off-the-cuff seminar about energy efficient homes.
He shifts from carpentry to electrical engineering, and then to theology—his belief that his faith compels him to take care of the earth. Every few minutes, he pauses and points out a house his family-owned company has built.
He has been in business since 1981 and only now is his industry beginning to grasp something he has been arguing for a while: Net-zero-energy homes—homes that are so efficient a few rooftop solar panels can produce all the electricity the home needs—can be built almost anywhere, even in places with brutal winters.
His case is bolstered by a recent report from the Rocky Mountain Institute showing net-zero energy houses can make financial sense in much of the Midwest as costs for some of the key components fall. The initial extra costs of making a new home a net-zero energy home pay for themselves through energy savings in less than a decade in both Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, and in less than 14 years in most of the 50 largest U.S. cities, the report says.
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