A Note From Sam Rashkin:

You can‘t start a movement if no one can agree on a name. Is it a Net-Zero Energy Home, a Zero Net-Energy Home, a Zero Energy Home, or a Zero Energy Ready Home? The first key question we need to ask is; why use the word ‘Net’ to modify the word ‘Zero’ or ‘Energy’? We’ve seen ‘Net’ used both ways extensively even though it deflates the power of the word ‘Zero’ or adds confusion to the term ‘Energy’? As is often said, “perfection is the enemy of the good.” We believe the interest in the word ‘Net’, while filled with good intentions about accuracy, undermines our ability to communicate the zero experience faster and better to the consumer audience. That’s why we say no to ‘Net.’

Sam Rashkin proposes finding an emotional connection between your customers and a Zero Energy Home.

Sam Rashkin proposes finding an emotional connection between your customers and a Zero Energy Home.

All this begs the next question. Why add an additional word, ‘Ready’, to the term Zero Energy Home? It’s because ‘Ready’ is a critical modifier that enables ultra-efficient homes with or without solar to be marketed with one effective ‘brand’. An ultra-efficient home without solar, is clearly not a zero energy home. But it is ‘Ready’ for zero with the future purchase of a solar electric system or carbon offsets. It’s especially ready for zero when simple low- and no-cost measures are included that allow a solar electric system to be installed in the future at minimal additional cost. Thus, ‘Zero Energy Ready’ is an effective way for ultra-efficient homes without solar to leverage the power of ‘Zero’ in a fair home label.

In ultra-efficient homes with a properly sized solar electric system, it’s still important to use the word ‘Ready’ in the name because there are a myriad of homeowner behaviors, occupancy levels, weather conditions, plug loads, and utility power-purchase service fees that can result in a non-zero utility bill experience. The term ‘Ready’ protects the builder from what is often an unrealistic promise of a zero utility bill implied by the name Zero Energy Home, sets homeowner expectations for the possibility of non-zero utility bills, and effectively starts the education process about the importance of how the home is used. This is a good thing. That’s why we say yes to ‘Ready.’

Why discuss these terminology rules now? It’s because zero energy is poised for substantial growth. Our program team is observing substantially more interest in the label, greater builder and developer commitments, and increasing requests for training and presentations all across the country. A common term and definition are critical for effective consumer awareness, understanding, and loyalty (branding ‘101’). The Zero Energy Ready Home program invites all zero stakeholders to join us using these important terminology rules for engaging consumers: lose the ‘Net‘, and never leave ‘Home’ without ‘Ready.’

About Sam Rashkin

As Chief Architect for the Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office, Sam’s primary role is leading deployment of proven innovations for new and existing high-performance homes. In his prior position, he managed the growth of ENERGY STAR for Homes from its inception in 1996 to more than 8,000 builder partners, over one million labeled homes, and over 25 percent market penetration nationwide. During his 20-plus years as a licensed architect, he specialized in energy efficient design and completed over 100 residential projects. He has served on the national Steering Committees for USGBC’s LEED for Homes, NAHB’s Green Builder Guidelines, and U.S. EPA’s Water Sense label. Mr. Rashkin has recently been recognized for his contributions to sustainable housing with the 2012 Hanley Award and authored a new book titled “Retooling the U.S. Housing Industry: How It Got Here, Why It’s Broken, and How to Fix It”.