Austin Eyes Making New Homes Zero-Energy Ready
The Austin, Texas City Council has created a zero-energy task force to look at adopting a building code change that would require all new single-family homes to be “zero-energy capable” by 2015.
Ray Tonjes, chair of NAHB’s Green Building Subcommittee, is serving as a task force member.
Zero-energy homes are able to generate their own power, usually through the use of solar panels or wind turbines. They are connected to the existing utility grids so that they can use regular electric power on cloudy days, for example, and “sell” the power back on especially sunny days.
While Austin is the first city to consider such an initiative, it makes sense in a community that is considered a pioneer in the green building movement, say NAHB’s green building leaders.
“It really tracks with what the Department of Energy is advocating,” said Tonjes. “The value of having a midsized city starting this initiative is you have a very receptive building industry and community that can realistically make it happen. With that being said, it’s going to take a whole lot of dedicated involvement and a very strong position of public-private partnership to be able to do it.”
The initiative is tied to a program called Vision Texas, which works to provide affordable workforce housing. High-efficiency “starter” homes would be of great interest to builders elsewhere in the country and a great step forward for mainstream green building, Tonjes said.
“I expect to see a lot of energy efficiency jumps to be taken at the municipal level through new or existing green building programs,” agreed John Ritterpusch, green building and energy codes director for NAHB. “The key phrase is ‘zero energy capable,’ which means the house will be made zero-energy by plugging in a future photovoltaic or wind generator or combination of renewable energy units down the road.” In the meantime, the houses can run on conventional power.
Consumer behavior is key to true zero-energy capability, he noted. Dishwashers run half-full and other examples of inefficient appliance use will quickly erase any benefits that are gained.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.