Three Lessons We Can Learn From One Couple’s Quest to Make a Zero Net Energy Home

When Dan and Christine Fisher of Tampa built their South Tampa home more than 20 years ago, they knew they wanted it to one day be a zero net energy home. But they weren’t sure quite how to transform their home into one that produces an equal or greater amount of energy than it consumes. Twenty years later, after a series of trial and error upgrades and improvements, they’ve accomplished their goal. Here’s what we can learn from their quest to turn their 3,000 square foot home into a zero net energy dwelling.



1. A home any size can be a zero net energy home


A-home-any-size-can-be-a-zero-net-energy-homeAccording to 2010 U.S. Census data, the median square footage of an American home is just over 2100 square feet. The Fishers’ home is 42 percent bigger than that; it’s not exactly the type of floor plan one thinks when they think “energy efficient.” Many homes that are marketed for their energy savings are significantly smaller than even the average American floor plan. This makes sense logically: it’s easier to keep a small space warmer or colder than the outside environment.


But the Fishers’ journey shows us that size is not everything when it comes to energy efficiency. Their energy-saving measures—including the application of Madico’s Exterior 20 window film to all of their windows—brought their energy bills down a staggering 97 percent. You can accomplish this in your home, too, if you have enough patience, persistence, and know-how.



2. You don’t have to compromise


You-dont-have-to-compromiseThe Fishers knew that Florida’s tumultuous summer weather could pose a threat to their goal of a zero net energy home. A zero net energy home is all well and good, but it doesn’t count for much if a hurricane blows the roof off. Luckily, they invested in the kind of improvements that allowed for both a sturdy, hurricane-resistant structure and energy-saving goodness. When you’re considering energy-saving upgrades to your home, it’s important to remember that you can have it all.



3. Details matter


Details-matterWindow film might not be at the forefront of your mind when contemplating energy-saving upgrades to your home. But even small improvements matter a great deal in the long-term game of energy savings. The Fishers’ Madico Exterior 20 window film brought down their energy bill by four percent all by itself. If you’re smart like the Fishers and invest in a series of small but noticeable upgrades, you too can achieve the dream of owning a zero net energy home.


The Latest Building Trend: Passive Energy Homes

One of the most interesting and exciting trends in modern construction is the implementation of passive energy design in the construction of all kinds of buildings, including residential, commercial, governmental, and other structures. From a new massive housing project in Canada to an off-the-grid “Solar Earthship” in rural Colorado, passive home design is quickly becoming the go-to concept for architects and builders throughout North America, and indeed the world.



Introducing Passive Home Design


Introducing Passive Home DesignFirst, let’s take a closer look at what passive home design really involves. The core of a passive home design is solar energy. In the case of structures that are built from the ground up, the design of the structure is inherently and intentionally planned to reduce the heating and cooling loads that the building must carry, and then meet those needs either in whole or in part with energy derived from solar panels. Homes can also often be remodeled to take advantage of passive energy benefits, starting with a home energy audit to identify the most logical improvements.



Choosing the Right Build Site


Because of the unique nature of solar energy, the positioning of a passive structure is critical. Most importantly, the south side of the structure needs to have unobstructed access to the sun. Obstructions can also be generated over time, as new buildings are built in a neighborhood or community, or small trees grow into big trees. The windows that collect solar energy need access to the sun during the majority of daylight hours during the heating season, and should be shaded during cooling seasons to prevent overheating the home.



Choosing the Right Build SiteEssentially, passive home design works because the home or building collects heat as the sun shines through the south-facing windows and retains it in building materials that store heat, known to designers as thermal mass. The materials that serve as a passive home’s thermal mass often include common building materials such as concrete, brick, stone, and tile, but can also include more unusual materials such as water. This heat is then distributed to different areas via different methods, including conduction, convection, and radiation.



Passive House Principles


Passive House PrinciplesIt’s important to understand the fundamental principles behind passive home design before embarking on a project. The Passive House Alliance U.S. is a good place to start both to delve deeper into passive home design and to help identify architects, designers, engineers, and construction professionals who understand and have experience with this unique concept.


Getting to the level of energy efficiency exercised by passive home design can be a challenge. Maximizing gains in energy while minimizing the loss of energy isn’t necessarily a natural function of most homes. To that end, passive energy projects utilize very specific principles of design, including:


  • installing high-tech insulation throughout the entirety of the home;
  • making the building envelope airtight. Because the home is sealed most of the time, condensation and mold risks are reduced, but passive home owners can still open their doors and windows just as they would in a “traditional” home;
  • employing high-performance windows with low emissivity window glazing to minimize energy loss and maximize energy gain;
  • installing smart distribution mechanisms to collect and store solar energy, which may include items like sun-heated floors, heat transfer via air or water, and the use of different color palettes to absorb or reflect heat at different places in the home; and,
  • maximizing solar energy during the heating season and minimizing heat gain during the cooling season.


Examples of Smart Passive Energy Buildings


As builders continue to embrace passive energy design and net zero concepts, the number of passive design builds in North America and Europe continue to diversify.


In recent years, Canada has joined the Smart City movement in the goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. To that end, a massive passive home project is underway in Vancouver, with the goal of creating a six-story mixed-use building that combines street-level retail with 85 units of rental housing.


The project is called The Heights, and when complete will be one of the largest passive energy projects in North America, and the largest in Canada. The project uses a simple single envelope design to retain and distribute heat, meaning that each unit can be heated using a simple electric baseboard heater running on just 300 watts.



Examples of Smart Passive Energy BuildingsAnother interesting passive home project is nestled in the San Juan Mountains in southeastern Colorado, where the so-called “Solar Earthship,” is not only energy efficient but net positive, meaning it creates its own energy. In addition to implementing the passive energy principles detailed above, the home’s walls are nearly 100% thermal mass, having been constructed from 2,000 recycled tires packed with dirt, then covered with adobe.


Some inspired homeowners sometimes even retrofit their homes to fit the passive energy home design concept. From Quonset huts to antique farm homes, almost any structure can be assessed, reconfigured, and redesigned to take advantage of solar energy and passive home ideas, although introducing recycled materials into an existing structure may take more time and cost. Passive energy design has also been utilized in all kinds of non-residential structures including schools, office buildings, and even public swimming pools in order to better capture and utilize solar energy.



The Benefits of Passive Energy Design


The Benefits of Passive Energy DesignPassive energy buildings offer their occupants tremendous short-term and long-term benefits, not only in cost but also in comfort. Passive homes in general cost five to 10 percent more to build than traditional homes, but the long-term savings in energy costs more than offsets that investment. It’s worth keeping in mind that federal, state, or community tax credits or other tangible benefits may apply to your passive home project.


Regardless, the incredible efficiency of passive home design provides homeowners and occupants with unmatched comfort, excellent indoor air quality, extremely resilient construction, and the best opportunity to reach net zero and net positive energy standards.


How to Buy the Perfect Light Bulb for Every Room in Your House

Lighting is a vitally important part of any home. You may not realize it, but the way a room is lit can change the way you feel about that room—its objects, the activities you do in it, and even how much time you spend there. When lighting is that important to so many facets of a room, it should come as no surprise that different rooms require different lighting. Different lighting means different light bulbs. Here’s how to buy the perfect light bulb for every room in your house.



1. Know How Bright You Want the Room to Be


Know How Bright You Want the Room to BeDifferent rooms require different amounts of light. For rooms that often host activities that require intense concentration—think the kitchen—you’re going to want as much lighting as possible. For more laid back spaces—think living and bedrooms—the lighting doesn’t have to shine so bright.


A good word to add to your lighting vocabulary is “lumens.” The term refers to the brightness of a bulb; for example, a 700 lumen bulb is brighter than a 500 lumen bulb. A room’s brightness comes from the total of lumens provided by the lights in the room. LEDs and compact fluorescent bulbs are generally the brightest options, followed by incandescent bulbs, but check the packaging to make sure you’re getting bulbs with lumens to your liking. This useful article from House Logic gives the following room-by-room recommendations when it comes to brightness:


Kitchens: 5,000-10,000 total lumens
Bathrooms: 4,000-8,000 total lumens
Bedrooms: 2,000-4,000 total lumens
Living Rooms: 1,500-3,000 lumens
Dining Rooms: 3,000-6,000 lumens
Home Offices: 3,000-6,000 lumens



2. Know How Much You’re Willing to Spend in the Short and Long Term


Know How Much Youre Willing to Spend in the Short and Long TermLight bulb shopping is an exercise in short-term vs. long-term budgeting. The three major light bulb options are incandescent lights, CFLs, and LED light bulbs. Incandescent light bulbs offer more inviting light, and they’re the cheapest short- term option. However, they also use the most energy and last the least amount of time. CFLs are the second cheapest short-term option, and they offer more light than incandescent bulbs by a factor of six or seven. Finally, LED bulbs are expensive up front, but they use a startlingly low wattage, and they last upwards of 25,000 hours. The bulb you choose depends on what your needs are.



3. Know When to Trust the Experts!


Know When to Trust the ExpertsSometimes, experts make energy planning simple for all of us. Real Simple gives us a wonderful, comprehensive room-by-room guide on which light bulb to buy. Here are their recommendations:


Kitchen: GE Lighting Reveal High-Definition Dimmable Bulb ($10 for two) OR EcoSmart Bright White Dimmable LED Bulb ($33 for six)
Bathroom: EcoSmart Soft White G25 Dimmable Frosted LED Bulb ($20 for three)
Bedroom: Philips Dimmable LED Warm-Glow-Effect Bulb ($8)
Living Room: Utilitech Soft White LED Decorative Bulb ($9)
Hallway: EcoSmart Soft White Dimmable LED Bulb ($30 for six)
Dining Room: Bulbrite 776609 7W LED Bulb, ($13)



You can’t go wrong when consulting the experts. You’ll notice they recommend LED bulbs for every room in the house, which go a long way toward saving energy. So for an easy way to save energy, try LED bulbs if you haven’t already. And learn more about the energy-saving power of LED lighting here.


Quiz: Energy Efficiency IQ – Which is the Most Energy Efficient Decision?

It’s not news to you that the less energy you consume, the better. Any environmentalist will tell you that the less we use energy, the less we burn fossil fuels that pollute our air. But frankly, all the reason you need to conserve energy is the hole your energy bill is burning in your pocket. Let’s see how much you know about conserving energy with this brief quiz:


Which is the most energy efficient decision? (Look out for the answers at the end!)



1. You want to save energy. Should you charge your phone overnight?


A: Yes. Charge it whenever you want for as long as you want.
B: No. Even a fully charged phone uses energy.
C: It doesn’t really matter. Worrying about it only saves a small amount of energy.



2. You’re going on a long vacation. Should you unplug your refrigerator?


A: Yes. It costs several dollars per month to keep a refrigerator running.
B: No. Running a refrigerator is a negligible cost.
C: No. It costs more energy to plug in a fridge once you’ve unplugged it.



3. You’re looking for a quick way to heat up food, and you’re considering whether to get a toaster oven or a microwave. Which is more energy efficient?


A: Microwave
B: Toaster oven
C: They’re equally energy efficient



4. How much money can you save every year by air drying your clothes?


A: Around $20
B: Around $50
C: Around $100



5. Which energy-saving measure is the most efficient way to save money on your energy bill?


A: Turning off your lights before you leave the house.
B: Opening a window instead of turning on the air conditioning.
C: Hand washing dishes instead of using a dishwasher.





1. C. It doesn’t really matter.
2. A. The savings aren’t much, but they can add up.
3. A. Microwaves use a fraction of the energy of a toaster oven.
4. A. You can save around $20 per year if you dry one small load of laundry each week.
5. B. Manage your home climate!


Fannie Mae Finances Energy Efficiency

If you’ve ever considered energy efficient upgrades for your home, you now have an added incentive. In addition to federal tax credits and rebates, you can now get assistance for financing the improvements with help from Fannie Mae, reports DWM Magazine.



HomeStyle® Energy Mortgage


HomeStyle® Energy Mortgage-In-Text ImagesHomeStyle® Energy mortgage is a new Fannie Mae option that allows borrowers to finance energy-efficient improvements, such as insulation or window enhancements. Homeowners can borrow up to 15 percent of the appraised, as-completed value of the home in order to purchase the upgrades. Financing is available to both those looking to purchase homes and those who want to update their current homes.



Where to Find It


Where To Find It-In-Text ImageHomeStyle Energy mortgage is available from all approved Fannie Mae lenders. Borrowers can finance up to $3,500 in upgrades without an energy report, or upgrades above this limit with an energy report. Lenders are required to place funds into an escrow account.



Why It Makes Sense


Why It Makes Sense-In-Text ImageAccording to Fannie Mae senior vice president and chief credit officer, Carlos Perez, “HomeStyle Energy mortgage will be particularly helpful to borrowers who want to pay off debt for existing energy improvements. It will also benefit homeowners who want to make their home more comfortable and efficient.”


An article in Mother Earth News further validates the investment, explaining that, “Home energy efficiency improvements are good for your bank account, too, because money you invest in energy efficiency or renewable energy systems will pay off over time in reduced energy bills.”



What You Should Know Before Applying


What You Should Know Before Applying-In-Text ImageIn addition to making these loans available, Fannie Mae also makes them more affordable than typical home equity lines of credit, unsecured loans or vendor loans. Although most Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans aren’t eligible for Fannie Mae mortgages, they can be paid off using this option.



Learn more about HomeStyle Energy mortgage from Fannie Mae, or explore additional financing options and federal incentives offered for energy efficient upgrades.



Smart Buildings Save Energy

What if the buildings we live and work in could understand our habits and use this information to conserve energy? That’s the idea behind Human-Building Interaction (HBI), according to a recent Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) report.



What is HBI?


What is HBIHBI is a way of thinking about the design of a building based on its use. The process studies the way occupants interact with the building to determine ways to encourage energy savings. By understanding the motivations that drive the occupants’ actions, the building’s designers can respond with innovative solutions to promote more efficient energy use within the building.



The HBI Process


The HBI ProcessSpecifically, HBI involves a five-step process of empathizing with users, defining problems, coming up with possible solutions and then prototyping and testing the results. The process requires an understanding of factors like user motivation, ability and triggers, so that these can be incorporated into effective, energy-saving product design.



How HBI Developed


How HBI DevelopedThe concept behind HBI is similar to one created by Tony Fadell, a former Senior Vice President at Apple. Fadell became frustrated by ugly, complicated-to-use thermostats while building a “super-energy efficient” house. Working together with former Apple colleague, Matt Rogers, Fadell developed a new way for occupants to interact with a building’s thermostats. The result was the Nest Learning Thermostat, which created a whole new market for smart thermostats. The company was later purchased by Google for $3.2 billion.



The Future of HBI


The Future of HBIThanks to tech-savvy consumers accustomed to smart technologies, advanced automation and social media, the CEE report predicts that the Human-Building Interaction movement will continue to grow. It’s entirely possible that, in the future, HBI will delve even deeper into our use of buildings to develop even smarter, more effective ways to conserve energy.


“Understanding these trends and anticipating the changing landscape of how we interact with buildings,” the report explains, “is crucial to creating innovative energy efficient products and facilitating and maintaining energy saving practices and services.”



Here’s where to learn more about the Nest thermostat and Human-Building Interaction.


Home Energy Quiz & Summer Links

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably learned quite a bit about energy conservation. So now it’s time to test your knowledge! Take this quiz from the Department of Energy that covers everything from what accounts for the most energy use in American homes to LED lighting myths.



Take the Quiz


Maybe you’ll discover that you already know a lot about energy conservation – or maybe you’ll learn something new? Either way, you can never know too much about energy conservation!



Links for Summer


Links for SummerSummer brings us hotter temperatures and high travel season, so we’ve compiled a few links with some summer energy-saving tips for your reference below. Stay cool and happy travels!






Keep Your Cool with Heat Rejection

Heat rejection is a smart, efficient process that keeps cooling costs down by preventing excess heat from entering a building’s interior. According to the International Window Film Association (IWFA), window films are an effective way to achieve this, obtaining up to 80 percent solar heat rejection.



Heat Rejecting Window Films


Heat Rejecting Window FilmsApproximately 40 percent of a home’s heat comes through its windows. By bouncing solar energy back and away from the interior, window films provide a home or other building with a “solar shield,” cutting cooling costs by as much as 30 percent.



Keeping It Light


Keeping It LightWhile almost any window film will provide heat rejection, today’s modern, high quality window films filter out damaging UV rays yet still allow visible light to penetrate the film’s surface. Although heat-causing solar energy is reflected back outside, creating energy savings, light is allowed to penetrate the film, preserving interior aesthetics. Not to mention preserving the enjoyment of beautiful views!



Long- and Short-Term Benefits


Long- and Short-Term BenefitsThe harmful effects of sunlight add up, not just in terms of energy costs, but also in damage to furnishings. Window film protects valuable fabrics and art from damaging ultraviolet rays that cause fading. This can potentially save thousands of dollars in replacement costs. Also, a variety of styles and hues make window films an architectural enhancement that can increase a building’s design value. Some homes will even qualify for a tax credit.



Additional Advantages


Additional AdvantagesAside from its heat rejection capabilities, window film offers a number of valuable benefits. First, it protects occupants from damaging UV rays and the glare that leads to eye fatigue. These same films allow more natural light to filter through and help reduce the need for artificial lighting. Second, window film helps to eliminate hot spots within a space, regulating the temperature and eliminating the need to run the air conditioning as frequently.



If you’re considering adding window film to your home or building, make sure you gain the maximum benefits by having them installed by a professional window film dealer. To find a Madico Window Films dealer in your area, call 888-887-2022 or email





ENERGY STAR Announces Top Cities for 2016

The Environmental Protection Agency recently disclosed what it considers the nation’s most energy efficient cities. The 2016 ENERGY STAR® Top Cities rankings reflect how a city’s buildings contribute to “stronger economies, healthier communities, and cleaner air for all of us.”



Number One


Number OneFor the second year in a row, Washington, D.C., took the top honor as the city with the most ENERGY STAR buildings for 2015. It was followed by Los Angeles and San Francisco. Atlanta and NYC rounded out the top five.


On a side note, The Washington Post reported Boston as the “top city in the country for saving energy” in 2015, based on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) City Scorecard. The ACEEE placed the nation’s capital in third place.



The Ranking Process


The Ranking ProcessThe ENERGY STAR survey ranked each city on the energy efficiency of its buildings. The top cities’ energy savings added up to millions of dollars, while also sparing the environment. The EPA claims that city buildings consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy, even while taking up just two percent of the global landmass.



What’s at Stake?


What’s at StakeBy reducing emissions via energy efficiency, ENERGY STAR rated buildings have saved more than $3.8 billion since 1999. The EPA explains, it would take roughly 2.6 million homes to prevent the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions.



Healthier Environment, Healthier Economy


Healthier Environment, Healthier EconomyEnergy efficiency in city buildings not only contributes to cleaner air and healthier communities, it also improves the economy. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy explains, “Money saved on energy bills can boost the bottom line and be reinvested.”



On a Smaller Scale


On a Smaller ScaleIt’s not just the major metro areas making an energy impact. Smaller cities are doing their part, too. San Jose, Honolulu, and Virginia Beach took top honors for mid-size cities. Midland, Texas, Sioux City, Iowa, and Martinsville, Virginia, were the top three small cities.



See where your city ranks in the 2016 ENERGY STAR Top Cities.


Artificial Grass Takes Root in California

California, hit hard by record drought, has become fertile ground for artificial grass. Here are some pros and cons of synthetic lawns.



A Greener Alternative to Natural Grass


Artificial Grass Takes Root in California - In-Text ImagesGreener, albeit fake, grass has quickly become an acceptable alternative to natural grass for many Californians. The artificial turf business in the Golden State is booming as a result, according to an article in The Washington Post. Those who want greener lawns without incurring the wrath of water conservationists or the state government, see artificial grass as a smart solution.



What’s Driving Growth?


Whats Driving GrowthGovernor Jerry Brown last year ordered the state’s first mandatory watering restrictions in history. Lawn watering typically accounts for one-third of urban water use, so lawns are a natural choice for reducing water consumption. Since the restrictions took effect, business has grown nonstop for local turf manufacturers and retailers.



Who’s Buying It?


Whos Buying ItThe market ranges from celebrities to the middle-class – pretty much anyone who values a greener lawn while staying within the state’s stringent watering restrictions. Those who’ve tried artificial grass claim newer versions far surpass the original AstroTurf, bearing a much closer resemblance to lush, natural grass – only without the constant need for watering and mowing.



Who’s Not Buying It?


Whos Not Buying ItNot everyone thinks artificial grass is a good solution. Oddly, they cite the environment as the reason. Many conservation groups insist that artificial turf does little to foster soil health. Nor is it easily recycled. Some argue it can lead to excessive water runoff. To add to these concerns, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun an investigation into the possible health risks of artificial turf used on playing fields.



Another recent Easy Energy Saving Tips article discusses rain barrels as another method of conserving water. You can learn more about installing artificial grass with step-by-step instructions from DIY Network. Or, find out more about the potential health risks from the EPA.