Existing Homes Key to a Net-Zero Future

The webinar lays out the risks and the best practices to get existing homes on the path to zero energy ready.

If we’re being honest with each other, we focus a lot on new construction. I get it, though. People tend to like new things. They’re cool; they’re exciting; they’re different. It’s not yesterday’s news. With new things, you don’t have the “Oh yeah, I’ve seen this before” reaction.


If you spend time in the code arena, it’s largely what you focus on as well. (And I know there’s a lot of you out there who won’t publicly admit you have an interest in codes, but privately, you’re keeping tabs on it. I see the subscription numbers. Don’t worry; it’ll be our little secret.)

Here’s the problem: If we want to live in a world with a net-zero housing stock, we’re not going to build our way to that solution. There are way more existing homes than new homes. Using the United States Census Bureau data, we can see the enormous disparity.

Let’s say a new home is less than four years old. From 2021-2023, the housing industry completed a little over 4.1 million housing units. An existing home would then be classified as anything built at least 4 years ago. The Census Bureau’s housing data goes back to 1968. It seems we completed slightly more than 74 million housing units during that 53-year span.

Since we all know we’ve been building homes for more than 56 years, there are even more than 74 million existing housing units out there.

Quantity is just one of the challenges when it comes to retrofitting existing homes. Due to the disparity in age, quality, and construction techniques employed over the decades, there are many proverbial minefields to navigate. There are going to be a variety of risk factors and building science control layers for a remodeler to manage. Air leakage, water management, internal infrastructure, layout/design …  the list goes on.

Retrofit costs are also going to play a role in how swiftly we get to net-zero. Depending on the home in question, it might not cost much to provide the necessary improvements. Other properties might require more extensive work. <

It’s not too hard to imagine a situation where a retired couple in their 80s, living on retirement savings and/or Social Security only, live  in the dream home they built in the late-1960s. If a net-zero retrofit is going to run them $30k (or more), who could blame them for saying “no thanks”?

As if all of the above wasn’t enough, we also face an issue plaguing the construction industry as a whole: the labor shortage. In this case, we’re talking about remodelers—at least, the number we’d need to conduct this transformational scale of retrofits. The lack of craftsmen doesn’t help matters, either. Unlike production builders, there aren’t many “production” remodelers. This makes education and training a larger task, since there are so many more small companies and so few large remodelers.

Finally, the span of trades involved poses a challenge to a small/one-person remodeling company. If a project calls for attic upgrades, HVAC equipment replacement, and improved lighting, that could easily necessitate an insulation/air sealing contractor, HVAC professional, and electrician. That’s a little different than the typical kitchen or bathroom renovation.

Watch the recording of this webinar here.