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Net-zero energy building to become $1.3 trillion market

With green building becoming mainstream, the next big thing for the industry is in the realm of net-zero: buildings that produce all the energy they need.

Pike Research released a report this week indicating that net-zero construction will become a $1.3 trillion global business by 2035, driven largely by demand from Europe where zero-energy requirements are increasingly becoming required by building codes.

In November, the Northwest-based Living Future Institute launched a new certification for net-zero buildings in an effort to share best practices among designers and builders

Eric Bloom, Pike Research's building industry research analyst, said he sees a strong role for such certifications as net-zero energy construction catches on in the UFactorThe factor representing resistance to heat flow of various building materials..S., similar to the role that the UFactorThe factor representing resistance to heat flow of various building materials..S. Green Building Council's LEED certification played in green building.

"The purpose of the certification program was to cut through the greenwashing that was going on with green building," Bloom said. "As (the net-zero certification program) gains more implementation, it will become important."

While there may be a community of early adopter builders and designers in the UFactorThe factor representing resistance to heat flow of various building materials..S., Bloom sees states including California and Massachusetts leading the way in the UFactorThe factor representing resistance to heat flow of various building materials..S. in terms of bringing the building code closer to a net-zero standard. He also expects to see policy makers lead the push toward zero-energy construction.

Eden Brukman, vice president of the Living Future Institute, said one California building is already moving through the organization's Net Zero Energy Building Certification program. The certification is based on the institute's Living Building Challenge. The Net Zero certificate is basically a scaled back version of the Living Building program, which also emphasizes qualities such as local sourcing and water recycling.

"We wanted to get more information available in the marketplace as soon as possible," Brukman said, explaining the motivation behind launching the zero-energy certification program.

But Living Future's version of net-zero isn't alone. Bloom said Passive House, a certification that is very popular in Europe and starting to gain a foothold in the U.S., is another that essentially verifies a net-zero building.

Sam Hagerman, owner of Portland-based Hammer & Hand and president of the Passive House Alliance, says he applauds any effort to move the market toward better performing buildings, but he worries that the net-zero trend gets lost in translation.

"Net zero has become kind of a catch phrase and it's a little fraught with peril when it comes to a definition," Hagerman said.

Hagerman said the first net-zero buildings in Oregon, most of which emphasize on-site energy production using technology such as solar panels, haven't been very successful.

"But had any of those buildings used the passive house energy strategy, then they would have succeeded," he said.

Passive house emphasizes air-tight construction and good insulation, drastically reducing the need for heating and cooling.

"The problem with a lot of net-zero buildings is that they aren't efficient enough," he said.

Hammer & Hand is currently working with Holst Architecture on a home in Yamhill County, the Karuna House, that will be a showcase for Passive and net-zero construction.