Net-Zero: The Definitive Guide to Energy Savings

Net-Zero: The Definitive Guide to Energy Savings

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1: What is Net-Zero?

Chapter 2: Why Do I Need a Net-Zero House?

Chapter 3: How Do I Go Net-Zero?

Chapter 4: Installing a Clean Energy Source – Solar Panels

Chapter 5: Insulation for a Net-Zero House

Chapter 6: Reducing Your Phantom Loads

Chapter 7: Energy Saving Systems and Appliances

Chapter 7A: Mini Splits

Chapter 7B: Sunstar Freezers

Chapter 7C: At Home LED Lights

Chapter 8: Putting Net-Zero Into Action


In early 2020, a family approached Belmont Solar with the desire to improve their already solarized home to the point of becoming a Net-Zero House. The family of four lives in a quiet suburb of West Chester in Birmingham township. The parents had concerns about how the health of the planet will affect the future lives of their two children, which contributed to their wish of reducing the carbon footprint of their home. The family also wanted to prepare for the possibility of more unsettling times (like the 2008 recession and the Covid-19 pandemic) by reducing their monthly costs.

Back in 2010, these factors motivated their initial steps toward reducing their carbon footprint and creating a Net-Zero House. In that year, they installed their first solar system of 2.4 Kilo Watt. That system is now considered small by 2020 standards, but in 2010 it was a good start.  After ten years, the family has concluded that going solar was a worthwhile move, from both a financial and environmental viewpoint. They feel great knowing they reduced their carbon output by 433,000 pounds in a decade! Financially, their solar system turned out to be wise investment. The returns are steady and not influenced by market changes. Solar’s ability to avoid the politics and price volatility that increasingly characterize fossil fuel markets is a major advantage. 

The home-owner stated it this way: “I see my solar system as a 401K plan. This plan pays me on a monthly basis through my utility bill and through the SREC payments a couple of times per year. The solar system readies me for my retirement by reducing my monthly bills and gives us power security with the planned battery backup.”

This family’s story is not rare. Many people have been reducing their carbon footprint and turning their homes into Net-Zero Houses. And the truth is, you can do the same! By applying simple energy saving tips and tricks, you can help promote a cleaner and healthier environment, while at the same time lowering your monthly energy bill from the electric company. Your actions do have an impact. That’s why we have written this extensive article to help guide you in reducing your energy consumption and obtaining a Net-Zero house.

Chapter 1: What is Net-Zero?

What exactly is a Net-Zero House? At its most basic definition, the term “Net-Zero House” refers to a home that yields an energy bill of $0.00 over the course of a year. In other words, the house is so energy efficient that it produces as much renewable energy (on or off site) as it consumes, making it a self-sustainable structure that is carbon-neutral. You may have also heard the terms Zero Carbon Building or Net-Zero Energy Building, which also refer to this same concept.

Many people think that the topic of Net-Zero only consists of placing solar panels on your house roof. While Net-Zero is definitely possible through solar alone, it doesn’t encompass the whole picture. Net-Zero involves much more than that. Going Net-Zero involves superior building construction, utilizing new technology, practicing energy saving tips, and thinking outside the box. If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. We will cover all these aspects as we progress through the article. Remember, trial and error will be part of the process, but it is definitely worth it when considering the positive impact it has on the environment and your wallet.

Chapter 2: Why Do I Need a Net-Zero House?

It Promotes Environmental Health

The topics of climate change and environmental health are extremely important in our day. More than ever, people are concerned about how climate change has negatively affected our environment. Climate change can cause extreme weather events, loss of sea ice, rising sea levels, longer heat waves, degradation of land/natural resources, and so much. The concern is that climate change will become so dramatic on the environment that it will hinder our ability to survive on this planet. As a result, each of us needs to do our part in limiting climate change. But how is this done?

If you have ever been discussing environmental health with a friend or colleague, chances are you talked about greenhouse gases (sometimes abbreviated as GHG). Greenhouse gases are basically human-caused emissions of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide that are released into the atmosphere. Examples of this could include fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, water evaporation, landfill decomposition, livestock manure management, transportation exhaust, and much more. As you might have guessed, greenhouse gasses caused by these activities are a main contributor to climate change.

Let’s take this a step further by looking at the Greenhouse Effect. When sunlight reaches the earth, some of that energy is absorbed, and the rest is reflected back into space. However, the gasses in our planet’s atmosphere trap this outgoing energy and radiate it in all directions, warming the surface of earth to a comfortable temperature. If you’ve walked into a plant nursery in a greenhouse, you’ve already experienced this natural effect. The greenhouse traps energy from the incoming sunlight, which warms the whole building to a temperature suitable for growing plants.

But this natural Greenhouse Effect can become distorted if there is an over-saturation of gasses in the atmosphere. The over-abundance of gasses can trap and radiate too much heat energy, causing the overall temperature of the planet to rise (termed Global Warming). Such a change in climate could hinder the natural functioning of our planet and its resources.

We as humans need to do our part in ensuring the Greenhouse Effect does not become distorted out of balance. To do this, we must achieve Net-Zero Emissions (aka Carbon Neutrality). In other words, we want our human-caused carbon emissions into the environment to balance our carbon removal out of the environment (we remove carbon through planting trees and utilizing direct air capture technology). Doing so will result in a balanced equilibrium of carbon input and output, which will ensure the Greenhouse Effect does not become distorted.

So what does this have to do with a Net-Zero House? Remember I mentioned that net-zero houses are carbon neutral? That means they are taking in as much carbon as they are producing. In other words, a net zero house is completely balanced and does not negatively affect the environment by adding to the greenhouse gas problem. As a result, Net-Zero Houses are regarded as a very important step in maintaining environmental health. The best part is, you can join the revolution and take that step for your own house!

It Saves You Money

The energy savings that a Net-Zero House presents are quite astonishing. A Net-Zero House produces as much energy as it consumes, which means a Net-Zero energy bill for you. If your house is really efficient and produces more energy than it consumes, you may even earn yourself a little money by selling the extra power back to the utility company. Anyone will tell you that is a huge win for your family.

If that wasn’t enough, Net-Zero Houses also present certain tax incentives. For example, the investment tax credit (ITC) allows homeowners to deduct 26 percent of the cost of installing a solar energy system from their federal taxes. This applies to both residential and commercial systems. In addition, some electric and gas companies will offer rebates to homeowners for making energy efficient upgrades, such as using LEDs or upgrading to a more efficient water heater. You may also want to check with Energy Star, as they have been known to provide a Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit to homeowners for installing energy efficient systems.

The savings you gain on energy bills and tax credits means more flexibility for your budget. Have you been putting off that landscaping project? Or perhaps your wife has been begging you for a date night? Whatever the case, a little bit of extra cash in the budget can certainly come in handy. And the truth is, it’s not rocket science. These are savings that you and your family can enjoy, and this article is designed to help make that a reality.

It Increases Home Value

With all the energy saving upgrades, your home’s value should increase greatly. A Net-Zero House is definitely a valuable and sought-after investment. People realize that a Net-Zero House will help them save continuously on energy costs, which is a major selling point. Should you need to sell your Net-Zero house at some point, you should have no trouble getting a good return on your investment.

Chapter 3: How Do I Go Net-Zero?

Chapter 4: Installing a Clean Energy Source – Solar Panels

Chapter 5: Insulation for a Net-Zero House

A representation of home insulation, an energy saving tip

Most homes in the United States have insufficient insulation and significant air leaks. Is yours one of them? If your home was built before 1980, it is probably wasting your money in energy costs. Prior to 1980, no building codes were in place to require a minimum insulation R-value. The R-value is a way of measuring the resistance the insulation gives to the flow of heat. The higher the R-value the better. Even after codes were established, the standards for insulation only slowly changed to what they are now.

It is fairly easy to tell if your home needs insulation. Are your winter or summer energy bills high for heating and or cooling your house? During the winter, do you notice snow melting off your roof, showing the pattern of trusses? That is caused by heat escaping. In the summer, does it seem like your air conditioner runs most of the time? These are all telltale signs that you will benefit from applying this energy saving tip by adding insulation. Another sign would be the sounds coming from the outside. If outside noises, like lawn mowers, airplanes, and motor cycles are bothersome in your house, you would be wise to call your local insulation professional.

The good news is, if you want to save money, you can also consider some do-it-yourself projects, depending on your skills. Many of these project are quick and give instant results.

Stop Feeding the Heat-cloud
Man insulating attic space, utilizing an energy saving tip

Heat loss typically occurs through the attic, walls, floors, windows, and doors. Knowing that heat rises, imagine that heat gathered up against the ceiling as a big hot air cloud, but that cloud doesn’t simply stay there. Without adequate insulation, the heat you have paid for passes through the roof and into the atmosphere. Obviously, the attic is where you can get the biggest bang for your insulation buck. So stop feeding the heat cloud by looking at your attic to see what insulation you have and to determine what you can add. Before starting your attic insulation project remember to seal any air leaks and complete necessary repairs.

Most attics can be reached easily and lend themselves well to either batt (or “blanket”) insulation or blown-in insulation. Batts are flexible and designed to fit standard spaces between wall studs and floor joists. They are made of glass fibers, mineral wool from recycled materials, and cellulose from recycled newspapers. This type can be easy to install but less efficient in terms of R-value and the ability to fit into irregularly shaped spaces.

A pic of blown insulation, an energy saving tip

Blown-in insulation comes in bags and is a loose product that can be made of fiberglass or cellulose. Cellulose is more efficient and less expensive. The blown-in type of insulation works well in situations where the roof is too low to allow you to get in tight spaces to lay batting or where you have obstacles in the way and small, oddly shaped areas. However, it does require a blowing machine. Although you can do it yourself, experts have the experience to do the job in a quick and efficient way.

Both ways of applying this energy saving tip can be easy DYI weekend projects, but educate yourself before running to the home store. You can find helpful videos on, but there are also professional institutions, like  NAIMA (North American Insulation Manufacturers Association), that give a wealth of information on this energy saving tip.

Save Energy by Insulating Walls

Insulating the walls is best done with blown-in insulation. However, if remodeling, and the wall cavities are open, batt insulation is the best option for the do-it-yourselfers. If you call in professionals, look into foam insulation, as foam is superior for locking in the heat and sealing air leaks.

How Much is Enough For This Energy Saving Tip?

If you are like many people and think “more is better,” you might just want to pile up the insulation. Sometimes it does pay to do more when, for example, you can take advantage of a sale or make use of contractor prices, if offered, for buying in bulk. Without those circumstances, you might increase the cost without being cost effective.

The best thing to do is find out in what Climate Zone you live in. To find your climate zone, and with that, the minimum insulation value for your region, go to the EnergyStar website. As an example, in Climate Zone 6, the recommended R-value for the attic is between R49 to R60. In that case, three layers of a standard roll R-19 would bring the R-value up to R57. With the “more is better” motto in mind, you could add  a fourth layer if you got a nice sale price.

Manufacturers put the R-value on the package, but the Department of Energy advises that standard batts provide an R-value ranging from 2.9-3.8 per inch of thickness, or a range from 3.7-4.3  per inch for the highest quality batts. On the other hand, the R-value of blown-in insulation varies from 2.2-2.7 per inch if made of fiberglass and 3.2-3.8 per inch for cellulose.

Obtain an Energy Audit for Your Home
A smart energy saving tip is getting an energy audit done

If your home does have insulation, but you are not sure if the amount is sufficient, you can have a home energy audit performed. In Pennsylvania, the state’s largest electric and natural gas utility, PECO, does energy audits for a very small fee of $25 (or $15, in the case of a referral). Income-qualified customers can get free energy upgrades together with the energy audit. Next to PECO, we recommend having  a trained, industry-certified home comfort specialist come to your home to provide testing and education plus detailed reporting on your home energy performance.

We at Belmont Solar work together with King Conservation Group to do the home energy audit. Please visit their website for further details.

Save Energy by Insulating the Basement/Foundation

People often ask if insulating the basement is a good investment or energy saving tip. The answer to this question is a big “YES,” because virtually every basement has heat loss. As heat moves from higher temperatures to lower temperatures (which happens more quickly if the temperature difference is greater), your basement absorbs the heat and the basement walls radiate it to the outdoors. This results in energy loss and higher heating cost for the homeowners.

To further prove the point that basement insulation is a valuable upgrade for the house, the 2012 International Residential Code requires basement insulation for climate zones 3 and higher. (Click here to see a climate zone map.)

This Energy Saving Tip Also Increases Comfort

Next to keeping the heat in, insulating and air sealing your home offers other advantages. Your home will be more comfortable, quieter, have less pollen and fewer insects entering it, and you will lessen the chance of having ice dams on roofs or eves in snowy climates. Insulation improves overall comfort of the home by improving the thermal performance. Whether in conditions of frigid winter weather or summer heat, comfort is created by the insulation by dampening the fluctuation of the home’s inside temperature when the outside temperatures fluctuates.  Save money and enjoy your home more with optimal insulation.

Chapter 6: Reducing Your Phantom Loads

Are ghostly energy eaters haunting your home’s electrical system? These days, just about every room in the house contains modern conveniences, ready to serve us instantly, but these devices rely on electricity even when not in use. Consider, for example, all the electronic entertainment products, pieces of office equipment, and small kitchen appliances that most people leave plugged into an electrical outlet all the time. Those little, glowing LEDs are one way to spot the culprits. Even in standby mode, these devices draw power in the form of what we call “phantom loads.” Phantom loads started when remote control of devices became popular. As the word implies, phantom loads can not be seen or heard. They are just there, draining electricity and your wallet.

An important energy saving tip is using power strips

The easiest energy saving tip you can do is just turning these devices off when not in use, and you don’t have to go around unplugging everything. By installing power strips strategically throughout the house, especially where devices are grouped closely together, you can turn off multiple items at the end of the day with just the flick of a switch. If they are not connected to the power source, they can’t take energy.

Where to Start With This Energy Saving Tip

The quickest way to start is with your home’s worst offenders for phantom loads. Those are typically entertainment systems. Cable boxes, video game systems, TVs, and audio systems, all silently steal from you. Your television is the prime example. Even when not in use, it will easily draw 10 watts, or even up to 45 watts, depending on its age and the model. An average LED bulb takes 8 watts. Therefore, leaving your television in standby mode for a year could be equivalent to leaving 6 LED lights on 24 hours a day for 365 days. Routers, phones and other related equipment are also energy vampires in your home. Of course, some items that use electricity must be left on (such as your refrigerator), but most don’t need to be plugged in continuously.

Reduce phantom loads, a powerful energy saving tipApply the 80/20 rule for this energy saving tip: 80% of the phantom loads are caused by 20% of your devices. You can also look at which devices are grouped together in your home. Most likely your audio equipment is grouped together, and you can plug all these devises into one power strip. You probably also have all your chargers in one place. Devices in your office, such as your computer, monitor, printer/scanner, desk lamp, fax, etc., are usually close enough to each other to use one power strip. For single devices that you can’t group together, consider a single outlet switch.

How Much Will You Save With This Energy Saving Tip?

Using a Kill A Watt meter is a smart energy saving tipThe cost of phantom loads depends, of course, on how many devices you have in the house and how they were designed. As manufacturers have become more aware of phantom loads, newer devices might have a better design. However, we really don’t know until we measure. You can do that yourself with a device called the “Kill A Watt” usage monitor. The added advantage of knowing the real-time usage is that you can also determine if it is time for something like a new refrigerator by comparing the facts.

A great table can be found here provided by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. This table provides an overview of the power consumption in standby mode for many products. Not all of your devices will be in the table, but you can get a reasonable idea of how much phantom loads cost you every year. For example, an inkjet printer takes 2.48 watts when not in use. This inkjet printer would cost you 11 KWh per year, or $1.66, just by sitting there. The worst case television mentioned earlier would cost you $60 per year. That’s like leaving your car running in the garage just in case you need to go somewhere. While the $1.66 does not seem worth the effort of switching off, go ahead and do the math for all your devices and add them together. Before you know it, you’re at $100 per year.

Next to your personal savings, think about the environmental benefits if you practiced this energy saving tip and switched off the un-necessary loads in our houses. Most likely, four or five power strips will do the job. With one flick of a power strip switch, at the end of the day, you can kill these phantom loads and start lowering your energy bill.

An infographic explaining reducing phantom loads, an important energy saving tip

Chapter 7: Energy Saving Systems and Appliances

Chapter 7A: Mini Splits

Chapter 7B: Sunstar Freezers

Chapter 7C: At Home LED Lights

Chapter 8: Putting Net-Zero Into Action