beautiful blue and white kitchen in a net zero energy home

What’s a “Net Zero Home”?

LIVE greener | 5 MIN READ | 2019-09-12

Net Zero Energy (NZE) homes produce as much energy as they consume annually by using renewable energy systems (like solar panels) to produce the energy they need. Proper insulation and mechanical systems ensure the house works efficiently, while providing comfort and indoor air quality that’s up to 80% more efficient than a typical new home.

In 2008, a NZE home in Mahogany was built as part of the CMHC eQuilibrium Sustainable Housing Initiative called “Inspiration – the Minto ecoHome”, as one of Canada’s first ever net zero homes

In 2015, Minto Communities planned, designed and constructed five net zero energy homes in Kanata, Ottawa, and in 2019, they built the Minto Dream Home for CHEO’s Dream of a Lifetime Lottery to be net zero. But why are NZE homes better for the planet and smarter for your bank account? Let’s dive in.

Side note: While Net Zero Energy homes are not currently available to new homebuyers, Minto Communities offers the option to invest in some components that would bring a home to be “Net Zero Energy Ready”.

What makes a house net zero?

2019 Minto Dream Home exterior

Pictured: 2019 Minto Dream Home

Net zero homes are pretty much the same as regular homes, but with the added benefit that you don’t pay for the utilities you use – and neither does the environment. 

They’re regular grid-tied homes that are air-tight, well insulated, and use intelligent, renewable energy technologies and design strategies that allow them to produce (at least) as much renewable energy as they use. Basically, they use less energy than regular homes, and what they do use, they make up for with solar panels. 

Here are some features of a net zero home:

Passive heat – homes use warmth and light from the sun 

Air-source heat pumps – homes stay warm by using outdoor heat and cool down by removing heat and transferring it outside

Ground-source heat pumps – homes use thermal mass of the earth to bring heat in or out, depending on the season 

Solar panels – homes use solar to produce renewable energy for electricity, heating and cooling systems, hot water and appliances

Appliances – homes use high-efficiency appliances, HVAC systems, and electronics (like smart thermostats) help to lower energy use

Water efficiency – low-flow faucets and water efficient toilets are used in kitchens and bathrooms

Superior indoor air quality and environmental preferred products – homes use construction materials with recycled content, locally manufactured products (where possible), non-invasive plant species, and construction waste and diversion programs 

What are the advantages to living in a net zero home?

The Hampton living room in a net zero home

Pictured: Main living room in the 2019 Minto Dream Home

Knowing a home is both comfortable and good for the planet definitely provides peace of mind, but what else will a net zero home do for you? There are some obvious advantages to living in a NZE home like saving on utility costs, but there’s more to it. 

Here are some key advantages to living in a NZE home:

Greater comfort: Thick, air-tight insulation and triple-pane windows means fewer drafts, less outdoor noise pollution, and uniform surface temperatures*.

o *Thermal comfort is a lot more than just air temperature at your thermostat – the temperature of surfaces can have a big impact on your home. Extra insulation and high-performance triple pane windows increase the interior surface temperature, improving comfort. 

Savings: Solar panels allow you to own your own energy production, rather than renting energy from a hydro provider (saving you money). 

o Plus, you’re future-proofing your home and investment from rising energy costs, and energy collected from your solar panels is added to the hydro grid and provided back to you in terms of hydro credits.

Healthy homes: Air filtration systems mean you’re breathing in cleaner air. Plus, NZE homes are constructed with non-toxic finishes and materials – making your home healthier for you and your family than a regular new home.

Environmentally responsible: NZE homes don’t rely on fossil fuels to run, giving you a lower carbon footprint. You can also have peace of mind knowing that you’re doing your part to protect the climate and preserve natural resources for future generations. 


o Building techniques and materials used in NZE homes are more durable, so they last longer and require less upkeep.

o NZE homes are protected even in the event of power failure. Extra insulation means that the home will stay warm two to three times longer than a typical home.

The big question is – are they worth the price tag?

Are net zero homes worth the cost?

exterior of net zero townhomes in Arcadia

Pictured: Minto Communities’ Net Zero Energy townhome block in Arcadia

Apparently, it costs around 10% more to build a net zero home than a regular home built to code in North America, which has been reduced by approximately 65% compared to first-generation NZE homes built in 2008.

In addition, it was reported by the Rocky Mountain Institute that the initial costs of making a new home NZE pays for itself through energy savings in less than ten years in cities like Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, and less than 14 years in most of the 50 largest US cities (although the example isn’t Canadian, it gives an idea as a comparison!). Considering how long a NZE home lasts because of the durability of materials used, it’s guaranteed to pay off in the long run.

Minto Communities’ Sustainability Team also says that with energy savings applied to the mortgage, a net zero home would enable someone to pay their mortgage off three years sooner when compared to an equal-value non-net-zero home, saving over $25,000 in interest!

Simple enough? We think so. 

For more information on Minto Communities’ partnership with CHEO (ongoing for 19 years), click here. They’re proud to announce that the 2019 Minto Dream Home is a Net Zero Energy home, which can be toured in Stittsville until December 6th, 2019