Highly energy-efficient, zero energy homes and apartments are an important part of the solution to providing affordable housing. These homes offer many benefits for buyers and renters that can’t afford market-rate housing. Even though zero energy homes cost a bit more to build, there are many benefits to low income homeowners that more than compensate for the initial added investment.

The number one benefit of zero energy homes is that these highly energy-efficient homes have zero energy bills. Since energy costs disproportionately burden those below the median income, eliminating energy payments relieves them of a significant financial stress. As a result, they are more likely to make their payments, keep their homes, and keep their cash for other necessities. If the added costs to get to zero are included in the mortgage, the energy savings each month will, in most cases, more than pay for the slightly higher monthly mortgage payments. The result is that these zero energy home owners will actually have a lower cost of ownership than in a typical home. These long-term savings support a key objective of most affordable housing programs.

The second important benefit of zero energy homes is that they have improved air quality, reducing the risk of respiratory illnesses, allergies, and missed days from work or school. The improved air quality results from eliminating natural gas combustion inside the house, sealing all the air leaks to keep external air pollution out of the house, and including controlled ventilation that exhausts indoor air pollutants and provides fresh, filtered air.

The third important benefit of these highly efficient homes is that, because they are all electric and use highly energy-efficient, mini-split heat pumps, they have both heating and cooling. Residents of zero energy homes can be warm during cold winters and comfortable during hot, summer weather, too. As summers get warmer, this type of low-cost cooling will be an essential element of safe, decent, dignified housing – three important elements of housing for all income levels

The fourth benefit of zero energy homes should ring loud and clear to anyone who has ever paid a utility bill before. Utilities charge administrative fees each month in addition to the cost for actual energy usage. Because electricity is required for multiple purposes in a home, electric service is a must. While natural gas is considered a low-cost fuel, it is not a necessity. Highly efficient electric heat pumps can provide a home with comfortable heating and cooling as well as hot water at a similar cost to natural gas, but without the additional monthly utility fees – not to mention the additional cost in greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Choosing NOT to install gas service to a home saves on installation costs for builders and monthly administrative fees for occupants.

A fifth important benefit applies to those living in wildfire-prone areas. Zero energy homes keep occupants more comfortable and breathing easier during hot, smoke-filled days thanks to their airtightness and air conditioning.

A sixth benefit is that zero energy homes are very quiet and comfortable. Because they are airtight, well insulated and have higher quality, energy-efficient windows, zero energy homes offer even temperatures, no drafts and protection from outside noises.

Seventh, zero energy homeowners can enjoy a sense of pride because they are making a significant impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And an eighth potential benefit applies to both lenders and borrowers. Research shows that borrowers living in energy efficient homes have a lower loan default rate than those living in conventional homes. Defaults increase a lender’s overhead costs and reduce funds available for other potential borrowers.

Agencies that provide low-cost housing, such as Habitat for Humanity, have a long history of building energy-efficient homes for good reason. Many affordable housing agencies have experimented with zero energy techniques and found that they are well within their budgets and capabilities. Low-cost zero energy housing should become the new normal since it is healthier, more comfortable and more affordable to own than standard low income housing.