In 2016, Calgarians contributed 62 per cent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions from simply heating, lighting and operating their homes. But a newer type of home, a net-zero home, is changing the way environmentally conscious homeowners live.

Heather and Axel Sorensen, owners and operators of Homes by Sorensen, are custom homebuilders dedicated to changing the way people view sustainable living in Calgary. Their net-zero homes not only fit the modern style of living, but they also rely solely on solar energy to run the day-to-day functions of the home, making them one of the most sustainable choices for homeowners.

Heather says that net-zero home buyers typically have four things in mind: the awareness of their greenhouse gas emissions, the comfort of living in a high-quality home, the resale value of the home, and the financial benefits that come with running a net-zero home.

“That fourth [component] is very crucial,” says Heather.

Financial rewards or financial despair?

Because net-zero homes rely on solar panels to run the home, sunnier months may yield a supply of more energy than might be needed, especially in a city like Calgary. The excess energy made from the homes’ solar panels is sent back to the city’s power grid and the homeowners are given a credit on their energy bills.

It sounds like a great incentive, right?

It depends. Unfortunately, because there is no technology for storing solar energy within a home, all the excess must be sent back to the grid. Therefore, if a home does not yield the necessary amount of energy to run the home in the winter months, the homeowners depend on pulling energy back from the city’s power grid just like any other home.

But what is different in the case of a net-zero home are the distribution fees that come with pulling energy back into the home from the grid.

Heather and Axel’s own net-zero home cost them over $400 in January 2018, and more than half of that cost was fees.

Axel and Heather Sorensen built their own net-zero home where they have been living for nearly two years with their three young children. Photo by Kaeliegh Allan

Axel thinks that if people could see more financial benefits to running net-zero homes, the demand for them would go up. “Selling economics would be the number one thing you would sell these homes on, and battery technology would get us there,” he says.

The future for net-zero

Although the financial benefits of running a net-zero home are still hard to see, the more people who begin using solar energy and living in more sustainable homes, the more the costs of running one will go down.

The Sorensen’s put one of their net-zero homes on the market as a test to see if there really is the demand without a custom request for a zero-energy home. They were rewarded for this risk and sold the home in late February 2020.

Their next project is a custom passive home, which is like a net-zero home in the sense that it is built with high-quality airtightness and efficiency, but it runs no active heating or cooling systems.

“One thing’s for sure is that the home industry will be building more and more efficient homes as time goes on,” says Axel, and the couple is excited for the future of their business in the city.

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Editor: Hadeel Abdel-Nabi | habdel-nabi@cjournal.ca