Modern Net Zero House. Photography by Cody Board
Modern Net Zero House | © Cody Board, via Unsplash

If you haven’t already heard of a net-zero home, chances are you will sooner than later. For a home to be considered net zero, it must produce as much energy as it consumes (hence the term). The net-zero home has a minimal carbon footprint, is exceptionally energy-efficient, and typically employs cutting-edge renewable energy production technology.   

The growing interest in and popularity of net-zero homes has inspired architects and builders to figure out what types of buildings and features are best suited to make net-zero. And with sustainable architecture changing the face of real estate development, far more advances are undoubtedly in the works. 

Factors Affecting Net Zero Conversion

Homeowners who want to convert their existing home to net zero must begin by assessing the different factors that impact energy efficiency. The home’s heating and cooling systems, windows, major appliances, and insulation are all integral to its energy efficiency; an expert analysis of how they’re functioning, problem areas and room for improvement will go a long way in helping you determine how efficient the home is at present. 

The age and condition of the home are also factors impacting conversion to net zero. While they can’t be improved upon as quickly and easily as inefficient appliances can, they do go a long way in predicting the size, scope, and complexity of the undertaking. 

Finally, the home’s physical orientation plays a significant role in the possibility of net-zero conversion. If your home is positioned such that it receives little to no afternoon sunlight, heating the home efficiently during wintertime will be extremely difficult. Thankfully, a growing interest in and market for at-home energy efficiency has been driving the evolution of sustainable home-building trends, and newly built homes should be easier to convert to net zero on average.

Conversion of Different Architectural Styles

Victorian House to Net Zero. Photograph by juliana chyzhova
Victorian House | © Juliana Chyzhova
Bungalow House to Net Zero. Photograph by kristin ellis
Bungalow House | © Kristin Ellis

Depending on a home’s orientation, building materials, and architectural style, the process of conversion to net zero can vary greatly. Generally speaking, though, different architecture demands certain approaches. Here are some of the most common residential architectural styles and a few words on what a conversion might look like.

  • Bungalow & Craftsman Homes: These cozy and compact styles lend themselves to net-zero conversion. The process will likely involve improving insulation, upgrading windows and door seals, and installing some renewable energy production technology.
  • Modern & Contemporary Homes: Simple design makes them generally well-suited for net zero. Harnessing the natural light and passive solar heating from their large windows will increase efficiency greatly; adding solar panels and energy-efficient appliances can get homeowners close—if not all the way—to net-zero status.
  • Ranch Homes: Sprawling layouts and low-pitched roofs can make conversion a challenge, so they typically require the addition of advanced insulation and geothermal heating and cooling systems. 
  • Colonial Homes: Symmetrical, formal design presents challenges. Improvements such as air sealing, insulation, solar panels, and geothermal heating can reduce energy consumption and, depending on the home’s orientation, reach net-zero energy efficiency.
  • Victorian Homes: Ornate details and complex rooflines make net-zero conversion a challenge. Owners of these homes who are attempting to achieve net-zero status will likely need to employ virtually all the efficiency tools available. Geothermal heating and cooling, advanced insulation, and efficient appliances will all make a difference. Owners may also consider upgrading to natural materials for certain areas and even look into installing a green roof.

The Best Styles for Net-Zero Conversion

In the broadest sense, the simpler and more compact the home design, the better. The building materials and insulation are also critical, playing a significant role in any home’s energy efficiency. It’s clear, however, that there are standout residential architectural styles that homebuyers interested in converting to net zero should target.

Homes built in bungalows, craftsman, modern, and contemporary styles are among the top tier of architectural styles to target for net-zero conversion. There are many variables to consider, but these will generally require the smallest financial investments to reach net-zero energy efficiency. The upgrades that will be required are also typically less invasive, which is a major benefit if you’ll be living in the home during conversion.

The second tier of architectural styles to convert to net zero includes ranches and colonial homes. Converting these homes is typically a more complex and invasive undertaking, with things like the installation of geothermal heating systems and advanced insulation almost always required.

Converting Today for a Better Tomorrow

With the rapidly-growing movement to increase residential energy efficiency and sustainability, almost anything is possible, and virtually every home can be converted to net zero—it’s just a question of time and financial resources required to do so. Even a beautiful Victorian home can achieve net-zero energy consumption if the homeowner has the time and budget the process demands. As the technologies and processes advance and more options are available to homeowners, net-zero conversion should become accessible to the average homeowner, no matter the style of their home, and the earth will be all the better off for it.