ZERO ENERGYA DOE Zero Energy Ready Home is a high performance home which is so energy efficient, that a renewable energy system can offset all or most of its annual energy consumption.

(The information on this page comes from the DOE’s ZERH Program)

Since 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Builders Challenge program has recognized hundreds of leading builders for their leadership and achievements in energy efficiency—resulting in over 14,000 energy efficient homes and millions of dollars in energy savings. The DOE Zero Energy Ready Home—formerly DOE Challenge Home—represents a whole new level of home performance, with rigorous requirements that ensure outstanding levels of energy savings, comfort, health, and durability.

The program builds upon the comprehensive building science requirements of ENERGY STAR® for Homes Version 3.1, along with proven Building America innovations and best practices. Other special attribute programs are incorporated to help builders reach unparalleled levels of performance with homes designed to last hundreds of years.

DOE Zero Energy Ready Homes are verified by a qualified third-party and are at least 40%-50% more energy efficient than a typical new home. This generally corresponds to a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index Score in the low- to mid-50s, depending on the size of the home and region in which it is built.

For more information on the ZERH Program see:

Zero Energy Home Program: Zero Energy Ready Homes
Tutorial Video: The Home of the Future… Today
Tour of Homes: DOE Tour of Zero
Expert Information and Details: Building America Solution Center

DOE Zero Energy Ready Home Requirements

DOE Zero Energy Ready Homes must meet all DOE Zero Energy Ready Home National Program Requirements (Rev.06) for homes permitted on or after 7/20/2017. Note that the Rev. 06 program requirements may also be used for projects permitted before 7/20/2017.

To download the program requirements see: DOE ZERH Program Requirements

Costs of Zero Energy Ready and Zero Energy Home in the U.S.

RMI – The Economics of Zero-Energy Homes – 2019

In 2019, The Rocky Mountain Institute published a comprehensive study on the costs of Zero Energy Ready Homes (Designed to achieve ZE levels of efficiency but that don’t yet have renewables) and Zero Energy Homes in the top 50 home markets in the United States. The RMI found that the average increase cost for a Zero Energy Ready home is between 1% to 3%, and for Zero Energy home, with renewables, is between 6% to 8%. These are modest increases, which with more market acceptance and penetration, can decrease even less, offering clients a cost parity approach..

Designing and building ZER or ZE homes is a huge opportunity for Builders to differentiate themselves in the market. Builders can show that for a small increase in cost, the can offer a healthier, more efficient, higher value, and long term attractive financial investment for their clients. When the incremental cost of building ZE and ZER homes falls below these cost thresholds, savvy homebuyers are more likely to bear the cost of investment in ZE or ZER homes.

All DOE Zero Energy Ready Homes must:

  • Comply with ENERGY STAR for Homes Program Requirements and Inspection Checklists for:
  • Thermal Enclosure
  • HVAC Quality Installation (Contractor and HERS Rater) – Exceptions for QA-Credentialed HVAC Contractor (December 2016)
  • Water Management
  • The target home/size adjustment factor used by ENERGY STAR
  • Feature energy efficient appliances and fixtures that are ENERGY STAR qualified.
  • Use high-performance windows that meet ENERGY STAR v5.0 and v6.0 specifications (depending on climate zone). The required U and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) values are shown below, effective 8/22/2016.
  • Meet 2012 International Energy Conservation Code levels for insulation minimum. In some states 2015 IECC insulation levels are required – see End Note #15 of the Rev.06 specs
  • Follow the latest proven research recommendations by installing ducts in conditioned space or in an optimized location as defined in the program specs.
  • Conserve water and energy through an efficient hot water distribution system that provides rapid hot water to the homeowner.
  • Download the WaterSense Excel tool for estimating the stored volume in hot water distribution systems.
  • Provide comprehensive indoor air quality through full certification in EPA’s Indoor airPlus Program
  • Accomplish savings on the cost of future solar PV installations by following the PV-Ready checklist for climates with significant solar insolation. This checklist references EPA’s solar electric guide. (Note that the solar-hot water provisions of the checklist are no longer mandatory and can be found below with encouraged items.)