What are High Performance and Net Zero Houses?

Updated: August 2023
Image Credit: Eric Lucero Photography

Considering a high-performance home but unsure what is involved? Compared to the average build, a high-performance home emphasizes comfort, wellness, efficiency, sustainability and durability in the design and construction of the structure and systems. High-performance homes require a holistic approach to their design and function in order to achieve the high standards of efficiency, indoor environmental quality (IEQ) and overall sustainability. The structure is designed to require minimal energy and the home’s systems are engineered to optimize the overall performance.


What are the components of a high-performance home?

Lighting, controls, power sources, HVAC, appliances and the thermal envelope (mainly consisting of walls, roofing, insulation and windows) are key parts of a high-performance home. Ultimately, making a structure airtight reduces energy waste by limiting potential for air leakage and lessening strain on your heating and cooling system. What does this mean for homeowners seeking to build high-performance homes? Selecting the right materials and systems makes all the difference. Air sealing, insulation methods and solar orientation are all important components of the thermal envelope and affect the energy expenditure of your home’s systems. For example, for the average home, HVAC can account for up to 40 percent of energy expenses. Tightly-built, high-performance homes are actually designed to have lower energy loads, which require more efficient, low-tonnage heating and air-conditioning systems. Choosing an energy-efficient system affects not only cost savings but also your environmental footprint and overall comfort.


A critical component: heating and cooling

Ducted and ductless mini-split air conditioning heat pump systems, like Mitsubishi Electric’s Zoned Comfort Solutions®, are a preferred option for performance builders and homeowners alike. With an INVERTER-driven compressor, the system only uses the precise amount of energy required to maintain the set point temperature. Additionally, zoned configuration allows homeowners to match energy usage with their lifestyle by easily setting back a room or zone not in use. This method produces greater efficiency and more reliable comfort than traditional, centralized HVAC systems, which only run at full power and waste energy by cycling from off to on as rooms become uncomfortable. 


Split-ductless systems are also commonly specified in high-performance applications as they promote wellness. Models such as our ductless wall-mounted indoor units come equipped with their own filters, ensuring homeowners have individualized filtration for each zone. Having more filters in the zones they serve contributes to better bulky particle and odor removal versus one filter trying to serve the entire house. Even with ducted systems, such as one of our multi-position air handlers, minimal ductwork is required for each zone. Less ductwork equals less air leakage and fewer opportunities for particulates and allergens to accumulate over time.


What is a net-zero home?

With a brief understanding of the basics, you should know not all high-performance homes are alike. With both consumers and major industries pushing toward lower overall carbon emissions, the building industry has created several “green certifications” or recognitions to take high-performance homes to the next level. The U.S. Department of Energy, for example, established criteria for the Zero Energy Ready Home certification. Building to this standard prepares a home to use renewable energy sources when readily available. Once renewables are added, the home can achieve net zero status, meaning it produces as much energy as it needs to operate on an annual basis. In some cases, particularly when coupled with solar panels, the home can generate surplus energy to feed the local utility’s electric grid. How does this benefit the homeowner? The utility company pays for the excess energy generated from your home.


A great example is the Schmeltzer Residence located in Asheville, North Carolina. After looking for ways to reduce their impact on the planet while ensuring a return on investment, Sally and Jason Schmeltzer opted to build a 1,750-square-foot, high-performance home designed to Zero Energy Ready standards.


The couple opted for all-electric systems, including Mitsubishi Electric M-Series Zoned Comfort Solutions, a solar array for energy generation and high-quality thermal envelope materials such as triple-paned doors and windows. The result: extremely low utility expenses and energy overproduction in the summer months.


“For the month of February 2019, we produced about 600 kWh of energy; for the month of April, we produced 940 kWh. When we received our March/April utility bill we nearly broke even — we paid $1.42 for two months of power. Come summer, we expect to overproduce and get a credit with the utility company,” noted Sally Schmeltzer, homeowner.


If you’re interested in building or renovating your home to high-performance standards, our all-electric heating and cooling solutions and Performance Builder Team can help you meet your energy, comfort and wellness goals.

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