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Net-zero homes grew record 33 percent in 2016, says report

More than 8,000 new units were built last year in the U.S. and Canada

The PS 62 site in Staten Island; the net-zero school designed by SOM was oriented to maximize power generation using rooftop solar panels.
Photo by Stark Video Inc. / Aerial New York

As architects and planners ponder ways to create more sustainable and energy-efficient housing, many suggest adopting the net-zero energy standard, which applies to buildings that consume as much energy as they produce. While the standard is becoming more well-known, and a variety of new construction projects are adopting it—including an Austin suburb, an elementary school, and the new Cornell campus dorm in New York City—it still makes up a slender slice of new construction projects in the United States.

According to a new report by the Net-Zero Energy Coalition, while its still on the fringe, this type of sustainable construction is rapidly gaining popularity. In 2016, 33 percent more net-zero units were built across the U.S. and Canada than the previous year. The 8,023 new single-family and multifamily units will eliminate the equivalent of 16,406 cars and 77,929 tons of CO2 emissions each year, versus buildings that met code compliance.

The majority of the new buildings, 61 percent, were part of larger, multi-unit projects. The largest multi-unit project (663 units, completed and occupied) and the largest single-family project (350 units, in design) are both at the University of California Davis’s West Village, a huge residential project that’s expected to grow substantially in the coming years due to expansion.

The report cites city- and state-wide policy initiatives, regulations, and emission reduction goals, especially in California (where the number of net-zero units jumped 104 percent last year) as well as Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, as being important drivers to the growth of net-zero construction. Santa Monica, California, also adopted policies and building codes earlier this year that would require new buildings to meet the rigorous standard. A market research firm, Lux Research, projects zero energy buildings and nearly-zero energy buildings will grow to a $1.3 trillion market globally by 2025.