The 411 on Zero Energy Neighborhoods

Green FootIf someone were to tell you that you could move into not just a home, but a whole neighborhood that creates zero carbon footprint in terms of energy use, you might not believe it. Even with the growth and expansion of green living and alternative energy, you might be surprised to learn that urban planners and eco-conscious developers are actually putting money into such forward-thinking planned communities. After all, most developers are looking to cut costs any way possible in order to maximize their profits when they sell the homes they’ve built (hence the popularity of tracts full of cookie-cutter properties). But it turns out that there are businesses out there looking for ways to provide affordable, modern housing that takes the future of the planet into account. And these net-zero neighborhoods are springing up all over the place.

It wasn’t that long ago (back in 2009) that Boulder, Colorado became the first U.S. city to plan a net-zero neighborhood with the goal of becoming a benchmark for similar projects. SpringLeaf Boulder, as it was dubbed, was designed not only to meet the standards required for LEED certification, but also to provide every possible amenity to residents while pulling no energy from the grid. This was accomplished through the use of built-in photovoltaic systems, or solar panels, that were beefy enough to account for the energy needs of every home in the neighborhood. But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the green features to be found in a well-planned, net-zero neighborhood.

For one thing, there is now enough green construction happening that materials and labor have started to come down in terms of price. This means that such construction comes in at nearly the same price as (or in some cases even less than) traditional building. And there are only benefits to be gained from this type of green living. For example, every aspect of newly designed, zero energy neighborhoods is created with the environment in mind. Materials used in construction are often recycled, locally-sourced, or sustainable, making for little waste and pollution. Geothermal heat pumps can heat and cool homes without the use of fossil fuels and everything runs on electric, which is provided completely off the grid thanks to alternative energy. In addition, insulation is a priority to ensure a neighborhood full of totally efficient homes.

But the eco-friendly love-fest doesn’t confine itself to the interior of the home. In most cases the landscaping is also better for the environment, with native and drought-resistant plants creating a beautiful outdoor space that may be watered via a cistern, a gray water system, or some other equally green option. Of course, the main draw here is the use of zero energy. Although the families that live in these homes will certainly have electrical needs, the idea is that they will be entirely met through the use of alternative forms of energy, totally negating the need for manufactured electricity from the power company. This, in turn, saves money for the homeowners while also ensuring a reduced impact on the environment. So if you’re interested in doing your part for a greener tomorrow, keep an eye out for net-zero neighborhoods in your area. They could be closer than you think.