My Biggest Regret Building a Net Zero Home

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There are a lot of different paths you   can take to get to a net-zero home. Everything 
from passive homes to earthships to modular and   factory built houses. You can retrofit an existing 
building or you can build a new one. All of the   options can make your head spin and there are 
pros and cons to each of them. In my case,   I’m building a new, factory built net zero 
home, which has been in the planning stages   for a while now, but is scheduled to start 
construction very soon. I thought it would   be interesting to share what I’m doing and 
why my wife and I chose the path we did. So   let’s see how we came to our decision 
… and if I have any regrets so far. Before I get into exactly what 
I’m doing for my new house,   there’s a little context I think is important. 
One of the reasons I named my channel, Undecided,   was because I have a lot of different interests. 
I’m very curious and like to learn new things and   try to keep an open mind.

It goes back to when 
I was a freshman in college and hadn’t declared   a major yet. At my college if someone asked 
what your major was in that case, you’d answer,   “I’m undecided.” If you’ve been watching 
my videos for a while, you may have noticed   that I go through waves of topics. Starting a 
couple of years ago I began publishing videos   on different net zero and sustainable home 
building techniques.

That was me following   different threads I found interesting and concepts 
many of you were sharing with me. As I learned and   shared what I was finding, I got motivated to do 
some of those building techniques on my own home. I see two main motivations for wanting a super 
energy efficient home. One of which shouldn’t   be surprising if you’re concerned about the 
environment. In the US in 2020, carbon emissions   from the residential sector equated to about 6.1% 
of total greenhouse gas emissions. The European   Union and U.K.’s residential sector had a greater 
share compared to the U.S. at about 12%. Although   the shares don't look that relevant compared to 
the emissions from other sectors, the amount of   CO2 emitted in both regions went above 360 
million metric tons of carbon dioxide. The   other big motivator for high efficiency 
homes is saving energy and ultimately,   money (at least in the long run).

These reasons 
aren’t mutually exclusive, and you most likely   have one or both of those motivations if 
you’re considering going net zero. For me,   I’m interested in both of those points … and 
I want to be financially responsible in going   net zero. Of all the concepts I’ve covered, 
like retrofits, passive house standards,   earthships, and modular and factory built 
homes, there are two that jumped out at   me when we started thinking about a new home: 
that’s passive house and factory built homes. Just for a quick recap, comparing a 
passive house to a standard built home:   the passive house can save up to 90% of the energy 
used for heating and cooling without cutting   back on comfort.

You can check out my Passive 
House video if you want to get all the details,   but in short, there are very specific and 
rigorous benchmarks you have to hit on   space heating, electricity consumption, 
air tightness, and more. For instance,   on air tightness you can’t exceed 0.6 
air changes per hour at 50 pascals of   pressure. For a point of comparison, a typical 
house might have 3 – 6 air changes per hour. While I’m interested in passive houses, I wasn’t 
completely on board with all the hoops you have to   jump through for official certification. The 
primary advantage of certification is strict   quality control. The first and most crucial 
step to getting this accreditation is finding   a competent Certified Passive House Designer 
or Consultant and incorporating them into your   process as early in the design sequence as you 
can. Then, with the help of your contractor,   you'll decide which certification you 
want to get — in the U.S., for example,   there's two certification bodies: the Passive 
House Institute (PHI) and the Passive House   Institute US (PHIUS).

Yeah, that’s not confusing 
at all. Basically, it’s two groups that disagree   on the “right” way to build a passive 
house. In general one isn’t necessarily   easier to get than the other one, but PHIUS is 
considered a little more adaptable than PHI. With the certification goal defined, it's 
time to run a detailed digital simulation of   the building’s performance — this is called an 
Energy Model. It will help to define aspects like   window glazing, shading, construction type, 
ventilation, and more by providing details   on heat and airflow, moisture, noise, light, 
etc. And the model is constantly updated as   the design team identifies changes that are needed 
based on the realities of the construction site.

After the home is built on the final site, the 
construction will be subjected to the ‘Blower   Door’ air tightness test, which uses a fan to 
pressurize and depressurize the building while   sensors are used to measure the quantity of air 
leakage through the house’s envelope. If your   home does well in the test, there are documents 
to be submitted to get your house certified. I’m not against any of that, but this is where 
going the modular or factory built route comes in.  Before I get to why I went 
with the modular approach,   I’d like to thank today’s sponsor, Icogni.  It wasn’t that long ago that I signed up for 
a newsletter from a company, I won’t name who,   but after I did I saw a major increase in the 
number of promotional emails I was receiving   from companies I’ve never heard of.

that’s because they sold my information   to a databroker. I’ve also had my information 
leaked through data breaches, like the one from   Target a few years ago which can end up in the 
same places. I’m sure you’ve experienced it too. Incogi can help with this. We have the right to 
request that data brokers delete our information,   but it takes a lot of time and effort. I 
signed up for Icogni, gave them the legal   right to work on my behalf, and then … just 
sat back and relaxed. You’ll see updates on   your account for which data brokers they’ve 
sent legal requests too and which ones have   complied. It couldn’t be easier. I’ve been letting 
Incogi stay on top of this for me for months now.  If you want to take back some of the control 
around who has access to your personal   information, give Icogni a try. The first 100 
people to use code UNDECIDED at the link below   will get 20% off of Incogni.

Thanks to Icogni 
and to all of you for supporting the channel. Now back to why I went the modular/factory 
built approach. I’m sidestepping a lot of   the certification craziness because I’m 
working with a company that’s hitting many   of the passive house standard’s benefits, 
but without the need to strictly follow the   standard. For me the most important criteria 
was reducing thermal bridging in the structure,   having ample insulation to hit extremely 
high R-values for the walls, roof,   windows, and foundation, as well as being 
airtight to control air leakage.

I’ll be   going much more in-depth on the actual 
construction process in a future video,   but I’m working with the company Unity Homes, 
which is a sister company of Bensonwood Homes. They have a modular approach to their 
house design to reduce the amount of   custom design and engineering required for 
each project. Basically, they’ve already   taken care of all of those pre-planning, 
engineering, and modeling steps. Also,   building the walls and structure in a climate 
controlled factory setting speeds up construction   and reduces waste. I’m still working out the 
details with Unity, but I should have videos   coming up showing the entire process within the 
factory, as well as the construction on site.   The reason I’m not too concerned about getting 
official passive house certification is because   of Unity’s track record and design.

houses achieve near passive house level results.   I’m going to be doing the door blower test on 
the house immediately after onsite assembly and   later on in the finishing stages to make sure I’m 
hitting an ACH below 1 … ideally 0.6 or below. That brings me to the HVAC system 
I’m going to be getting installed,   which will be a WaterFurance geothermal 
setup with a desuperheater to produce   hot water. A desuperheater basically 
strips away a small amount of heat from   the geothermal system to help produce the 
hot water in a very energy efficient way. Some of the benefits for striving for a 
passive home are that they have cleaner   and fresher air since the air intake and exhaust 
are tightly controlled with an energy recovery   ventilator (ERV), which my house will also have. 
It exchanges fresh outside air with stale inside   air and recovers the heat in the process.

It’s a 
little strange, but I’m probably the most excited   about the ERV setup in my house. I suffer from 
pretty bad seasonal allergies and with systems   like this and extremely airtight houses, it 
can provide some excellent allergy relief. Okay, I may have lied. I’m actually as excited 
about hitting net-zero as I am about indoor air   quality. Net zero is when a house generates as 
much energy as it uses over the course of a year,   which means solar panels and, in my case, 
a battery system.

I’m still hashing out   the exact details of the system, but it will most 
likely be a 15-18 kW solar panel array with 15-20   kWh of battery storage. It’s a little difficult 
trying to model our energy requirements before   we’re actually living in the house to see what we 
need, but it may be the type of thing where we add   onto the existing system a year or two down the 
road if we’re falling short on our net-zero goal. And for homeowners interested in getting 
solar, Energysage is great and you should   use it (I'll put a link to my Energysage 
portal below), but I’m actually working   on my own complementary project that will be 
launching soon (not exactly sure when yet),   but it’s meant to help demystify getting solar 
for your home and answer a lot of questions.   The goal is to pass along what I’ve learned 
over the years so you feel confident in your   decisions on getting solar and achieving 
your goals.

If you’re interested in being   part of the beta launch group, you can join 
the waitlist at the link in the description. And for long time followers of the channel, 
it won’t be a surprise to hear this, but I’m   going to be building out a pretty extensive 
smart home. I have plans for smart shades and   blinds to help control how much sunlight and 
heat comes into the house at different times   of the day and year. Smart controls for the 
HVAC system and lights, a smart electric panel,   as well as a pretty extensive home network 
and security camera setup. I’m a big believer   in smart homes and how the internet of things 
can benefit a home’s energy efficiency. Again,   I’ll have more videos coming down the 
line on what exactly I’m doing there. But will all of this be worth it? Obviously, the 
jury is still very much out on my specific build,   but passive homes, and energy efficient homes 
in general, can provide a lot of value.

It can   vary greatly depending on where you'll be 
building your passive home. For example,   in Salem, Oregon in 2010 a new 1,885 sqft² (175 
m²) passive house project had a building cost   of $159/sqft² ($1,711/m²) — about $300,000 in 
total — while the average price per sqft² in   the U.S. at that time was $84/sqft² and a single 
family home in Oregon at that time cost about   $250,000. Even though their passive home 
cost about 16% more than a conventional home,   the energy savings for just heating 
was estimated at $800 per year.   All of this is highly dependent on 
where you live and are building. It’s not that different from getting solar 
panels for your home. In that case you’re   basically prepaying for your electricity 
for the next 20-30 years. While it’s a   little pricey up front, you’ve locked 
in your costs and will benefit from that   over time. A passive house is the same 
thing. I’ll be paying more up front,   but will benefit from the energy savings of the 
house over time. How much is the big question,   especially because we’re building at probably 
the worst possible time.

The prices of   building materials and labor have increased 
dramatically over the past couple of years. While building new was the right fit for my 
wife and I, it’s not a requirement to get a   passive or net zero home. There are 
also certifications for retrofitting   old construction that you can try and get. 
Since it's not always practical to renovate   old buildings to the Passivhaus Standard, 
the Passivhaus Institute created EnerPHit,   which performs an analysis of 
Passivhaus components for retrofits. ![]( Like a brand new passive home, a retrofit house 
offers high energy efficiency, thermal comfort,   and healthy air circulation. In addition, older 
buildings offer more possibilities for energy   savings and corresponding reductions in CO2 
emissions because they use more energy than   the typical new build. Some EnerPHit reports show 
a 93% reduction in energy loss for retrofits. But,   there are also challenges in Passive House 
refurbishment, such as conservation and external   insulation issues, as well as space limitations 
for both internal insulation and ventilation   systems. You don’t always know what you’ll find 
on any home retrofit until construction starts,   so costs can easily balloon.

It’s one of 
the reasons we opted to build new instead. However, a good friend of mine is going the 
retrofit approach on his house. It’s going to   be fun to see how both of our projects compare as 
we progress. If you haven’t seen what Ricky Roy is   up to on the TwoBitDavinci YouTube channel, 
here’s a quick rundown of what he’s doing. Hey, Matt.

What's up Undecided viewers? I'm 
Ricky with Two Bit da Vinci, and like Matt,   I'm also working on a net zero house, but unlike 
Matt, I've decided to retrofit an older house.   And the main reason for this is because where 
we live, there weren't that many open available   lots. And for school districts and stuff, we 
were kind of forced having young kids to pick   a place around here. So this is the best that 
we came up with. Now we're going to have some   challenges that Matt will not. For example, 
the house is very poorly insulated, so we'll   have to rip out all the drywall, get behind the 
studs and check out the piping, the plumbing,   electrical, and definitely insulate 
the house better.

Being in San Diego,   most homes back in that era just weren't 
insulated very well. The weather here is   not as bad as Matt has to face, and so as 
a result, they kind of skimped out on that. Another problem is our roof needs to be replaced 
in the next three to five years. And so,   as a result, we can't put solar panels on 
there. Instead, we're going to go with a   ground mount system off in the corner. So we'll 
make videos about that. But the big difference,   I think, between the two of us is going to 
be logistics, because we're going to have   to plan when to do these projects and find 
a way to do it without losing our minds,   because we're going to be living here while we 
do it.

Matt and I will also be covering some   of the same technologies like geothermal 
HVAC systems, for example, and for him,   he'll know exactly where it'll be and placed. 
And for us, we'll have to figure out where to   do it and what to do about it. So depending on 
what kind of a viewer you are and what kind of   house do you have, you'll probably learn a 
lot from both of us, so definitely subscribe   and stay tuned for both channels. And we'll 
have a ton of content coming in the near term. I’m pretty excited to see how his house turns out.   Be sure to follow both of our projects 
because it should be a fun comparison.

So … do I have any regrets so far? Only one: the 
timing. My wife and I are building our dream home   and are settling in for the long term, which 
is why we’re willing to go a little above and   beyond on the upfront costs for the long term 
benefits. This house should be low maintenance,   low operational costs, and be more 
comfortable and healthy than any house   we’ve lived in before. But again … the timing. 
Between the pandemic and inflationary pricing,   it’s jacked costs up much higher than we 
originally expected, but those costs are   across the board no matter what you’re doing right 
now. Should we have waited? I don’t think so. If   anything, we probably should have started this 
project sooner than we did. That’s my regret,   but I’m really excited to see how this 
turns out and to share it with all of you. So what do you think? Are you still 
undecided? Would you want to build new   or go with a retrofit? Jump into the comments 
and let me know and be sure to check out my   follow up podcast Still TBD where we’ll be 
discussing some of your feedback.

And don’t   forget to check out Icogni if you want to take 
back some control of your privacy … the link is   in the description. If you liked this video, 
be sure to check out one of these videos over   here. And thanks to all of my patrons for 
your continued support and welcome to new   producer Sahb Kumar. And thanks to all of you 
for watching. I’ll see you in the next one..

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