new energy efficient homes - including zero energy buildings - haven't to be pricey; But You have to make the right choices
According to a CNNMoney article «there's something holding green [very energy-efficient homes, Zero Energy Homes] technology back: It simply costs more to include it than it adds to [the home] resale value (…). [Home] buyers need to come up with a bigger down payment».
Also according to data from the Energy Star program, Energy Star homes are on average 5% more expensive than conventional homes.
And according to the Australian Department of Commerce, 6 Star Australian homes are on average 2% more expensive than 5 Star homes.
But does this mean that it is impossible to build a very energy-efficient home (or a Zero Energy Home) at affordable prices? Do energy efficient homes have to be necessarily more expensive than conventional homes, as the CNN article states?
The short answer:
High levels of insulation, or high efficient windows and doors, or renewable systems of energy, cost money. Typically, green homes cost a little more (say, 5-10% more) than common buildings.
But energy efficient homes - including Zero Energy Homes - have not to be much more expensive than traditional energy-inefficient homes. With the right options, the upfront investments can be recovered in a few year time (and should be funded by banks, solar leasing companies, utilities.... See: Funding Zero Energy Buildings).
Very high levels of insulation and sealing;
Orientation to the sun and breezes, or protection from the sun (hot climates);
Siting, shape and size of the house;
Renewable source of energy to meet the remaining energy requirements
Making It Right
First, you must realize that energy efficient homes (even Zero-energy homes) are not a sort of futurist buildings with lots of smart and wireless features, or with solar electric photovoltaic panels all over their rooftops, or with radiant floor heating and expensive ground heat pumps, and so on.
Many of these features can be "green", or provide energy savings, but there are other alternatives, and some green features - radiant floor heating, a geothermal heat pump - are typically useless in very energy efficient single-family homes.
In other words: if you want to lower the costs of your new home, you have to be selective, and make the right options.
Making energy-Efficient homes cheaper through Insulation, Size, Orientation and Landscaping
Some of the features of low-energy homes do not cost anything… The energy consumption of a building depends significantly on elements like its orientation to the sun (or protection from the sun, in hot climates), the size and location of the windows, or on landscaping elements to protect the house from the harsh winds in the winter, or to get breezes and shading in hot climates, which is mostly cost-free.
On the other hand, a very energy-efficient home, with very high levels of insulation and air sealing, can manage without large central furnace systems and expensive air conditioners, or other central HAVC system; and it will not need a radiant floor heating system, or a ground-source heat pump (these heat pumps only make sense in large buildings, not in single-family homes). Which means that there are ways of reducing the costs...
And that’s very important to keep these facts in mind. They are critical.
Keeping costs Low
It’s possible to have an affordable green home; but you need to make the right choices. There is always trade-offs when building or buying a new home.
Choices widely regarded as essencial - without being absolutely essential - can increase prices sharply.
Two examples: Do you really need a basement? Do you really need a big house and all the expenses that go along with it — energy costs but also insurances, taxes, maintenance?
Keep in mind that comfort and low-energy consumption should be top priorities. Do not let be fooled by dreams of big houses, big kitchens and basements, large spacial volumes, high ceiling heights, and high levels of daylight with plenty of views to the outside.
You have to stick to your goals, your budget, and to the right choices. And to hire a competent and well-informed builder.