“Net Zero” Homes: Marketing Morality

Almost no one buys an automobile for its stated price with cash on hand, so those looking to buy a car look to what the cost will be each month to own their automobile. Homes are our deepest investment, and most homeowners are equally as proud of their home as they are of their car and are terrified of its cost. So it is not surprising that “Net Zero” homes use the same sales tactic, proving their value by promising no monthly energy bills.

Marketing homes as a commodity is unavoidable. “Branding” via “style” like “Colonial’ (to offer provenance) or “Contemporary” (to be “hip) or virtue signaling via a “Passive Home” or “Green Architecture”, and “Net Zero” home marketing follows that tradition.

The Zero Energy Project defines the criteria for the definition of “Net Zero”: “The most powerful attribute of net zero homes, unlike many green home concepts, is that zero is quantifiable through energy modeling and/or tracking energy bills.” The defining outcome of “Net Zero” is a home’s monthly utility bills.

Last year the North American Home Builders’ Association announced that “The New American Home® 2022 is preparing to take center stage as a main attraction during the next NAHB International Builders’ Show® (IBS)….which aims to raise the bar for high performance, modern amenities and contemporary flair.”

This home has 4,646 square feet of living space, with three bedrooms and four-and-a-half bathrooms and “numerous spa-like features.” And “the 2022 home is expected to achieve net-zero status and Emerald-level certification from the National Green Building Standard. It will also earn certification from ENERGY STAR, Indoor airPLUS, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home Program.”

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View of NAHB 'New American Home" Interior. Image Courtesy of Duo Dickinson

The average home in America is about 2,400 square feet in size. That is about 50% of the volume of the 2022 New American Home. This means that this model “Net Zero” home uses twice the materials, treated interior air, exterior and interior surfaces as the vast majority of homes that are occupied by the same number of people. If any home is twice the size than it could be, can it be truly “Net Zero” beyond its monthly utility bill?

Since marketing is about satisfying a consumer’s desires, homes that are made to sell are made with as many “hot button” features as their price point allows: and that means more heavily marketed homes are bigger, to justify their higher cost (and profit for the seller). It is why the McMansion was the signature home of the last generation.

The Legally Sociable website offers this question: “Is a large net-zero home no longer a McMansion? Perhaps being a net-zero home magically blinds people from all of its other traits?”

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Classic McMansion. Image via Photo@chicagogeekonflickr.com

The layering of technologies needed to zero-out a utility bill have more impact than just having good intentions. In "Zero Energy Homes are Great, But Let's Make Them Better - Zero 2.0"Joe Emerson and Bruce Sullivan write about the consequences of “Net Zero” homes’ design-by-marketing ethos. ”Most zero energy homes ignore transportation and other home energy uses. Most zero energy homes do not account for embodied carbon” in all the products they are built with and use. In making the most air tight house possible to use the least energy possible to treat the indoor air “most zero energy homes do not provide the highest standards of indoor air quality.”

Our culture's contradictory values - virtues signaling while "having it all" are also found in automobile design. It can be said that “Net Zero” homes are the Tesla of houses. Electricity powers both "NetZero" homes and Tesla automobiles. As the Finance Buzz website says While both cars perform the same tasks for their owners, Tesla's cost three times as much as a Toyota Camry, but a Tesla expends half the energy costs to operate. Even with that savings, after six years, the Tesla will costs twice as much to own as the Camry to own.

But who brags about driving a Camry?

About this author
Cite: Duo Dickinson. "“Net Zero” Homes: Marketing Morality" 16 Mar 2022. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/978534/net-zero-homes-marketing-morality> ISSN 0719-8884

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