News Brief

Building America Aims for Zero-Energy Homes

In 1996,

Environmental Building News (EBN) looked at residential building science developments emerging from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) fledgling

Building America program. Started in 1994, the program consisted of four research teams working with several private-sector builder partners to build and test houses in various climate regions, with the stated goal of demonstrating 50% energy savings at no added cost. Now, ten years and more than 30,000 houses later, the program has grown to include seven research teams, three national laboratories, and dozens of builder partners.

With the growth of the program have come new goals for design and energy efficiency. Currently,

Building America houses are built to offer 30% whole-house energy savings over 1993 Model Energy Code (MEC) requirements. According to George James, a project leader with the program, the builders have achieved these energy savings with a 3% increase in costs over a comparable MEC house. While the 30% energy savings level was “relatively easy,” according to James, getting to 40% “might be a little bit harder.” Nevertheless, the program is moving forward, aiming for a 50% whole-house savings level by 2015 and cost-effective, zero-energy, grid-connected houses by 2020.

One of the problems the program faces, says James, is communicating the results of its research to builders and consumers. As a DOE research program, Building America has historically been restricted from doing much outreach, although those limitations are being lifted. A website offers information for consumers and builders, including best-practice guides that are available for download. The most effective technology transfer has been through builders who have been involved with the program. For example, the Masco Contractor Services Group’s

Environments for Living® program, based in Daytona Beach, Florida, has worked with builders to bring research from Building America into the construction of over 130,000 houses (see


Vol. 12, No. 7).

For James, the program’s past is a success story and its future is bright. “We put a seed in the ground,” he said, “and gave it a little bit of water and saw a few little leaves. Now we have real growth going on.”

For more information:

George James

Building America

Washington, D.C.


Environments for Living

Daytona Beach, Florida


Published December 5, 2006

Wendt, A. (2006, December 5). Building America Aims for Zero-Energy Homes. Retrieved from

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