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  • Writer's pictureLily Dittschlag & Dennis Dittschlag


There have been many talks lately about climate change due to the major wildfires in the Western parts of Canada and the USA and severe flooding in parts of central Europe. Simultaneously with these events, the Group of 20 rich nations just met for their G20 Summit in Naples, Italy, last week to discuss actions on battling climate change. A central part of these discussions has been "Net Zero". But what does this actually mean?

What is Net Zero?

Simply put, Net Zero means to offset the amount of greenhouse gases we release into the atmosphere by removing the same amount. This keeps the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in balance.

This balance can be achieved in two ways: 1) offsetting emissions (e.g. tree planting, carbon capture technology) or 2) reducing emissions. Emissions will never be eliminated, so there will always be some form of waste. This is why a concept of Gross Zero is impossible or at least unrealistic.

The avoidance of additional greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is targeting the slowdown of global warming and climate change everywhere.

Net Zero is also referred to as "Carbon Neutral" but this is somewhat misleading because the term carbon stands primarily for carbon dioxide. However, more greenhouse gases such as methane, ozone, and nitrous oxide also greatly impact the climate. Net Zero or "Climate Neutral" are better terms to use.

Where do we currently stand?

Canada is part of a list of countries that have signed up for the 2015 Paris Agreement that aims to establish a target of Net Zero by the year 2050. On top of that, the Government of Canada has recently introduced new legislation and added interim targets, such as a greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030 of 40-45%. So essentially, we have committed to achieving these targets and want to reach Net Zero by 2050.

Other countries, like the EU, UK, Japan, and New Zealand have been ahead of Canada on this front, but it is good to see that discussions are progressing here as well.

How does this apply to a house?

The global political perspective on achieving Net Zero as a whole across the planet is all fair and well, but how can this be applied to a residential home? Well, as a matter of fact, buildings can also be Net Zero.

The definition of Net Zero for a house is slightly different because it focuses on energy consumption and generation. A house can be considered Net Zero when the energy consumed to operate the house is offset by the amount of energy produced on the same site. Production comes in the form of renewable energy: solar, wind, or geothermal in most cases.

Buildings that achieve an energy balance can be designated Net Zero Buildings or Zero Energy Buildings. In Canada, the Canadian Home Builder’s Association (CHBA) introduced a formal program in 2017 that includes a 100% net zero certification or a net zero ready certification (at 80% energy being offset).


One major challenge with Net Zero as a whole and for buildings is that not everyone is using the same language or the same standards. Calculation methods can vary significantly.

For residential houses, the current building codes do not set a respective standard. And while Net Zero can be a certification for a house in Canada, there are many other building standards aim at similar targets. Some standards account for a surplus of energy generated on site, including Passive House.

From our point of view, there is a lot more clarity needed in the marketplace to push for more energy-efficient buildings, products, and guidelines for certifications.

Another challenge is that not all homes are new construction. New construction will eventually be defined by applicable building codes, just like the 2030 Challenge is aiming for. But existing buildings below a Net Zero standard will be in the vast majority for a very long period of time. Discussions on how to deal with these retrofits and government incentives are just in their infancy.

Climate change, energy efficiency, and home construction are all complex topics that will take time to converge. The world is starting to shift and Net Zero goals are being defined.

For aspiring homeowners building a house today, this is still a complicated scenario as there are many unknowns and future changes to come. But the good news is that there are resources and reference projects that can guide us in topics of energy efficiency. While we will probably not achieve Net Zero with our house at the end, our goal is to maximize the reduction of energy consumption and offset some of the remaining amounts so the final difference is as small as possible.

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