Like a lot of people who come to Washington, Ernie Sota has a cause.

“I like to say people come to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate,” he said. “I thought it would be a good place to demonstrate net zero is achievable with this type of product, the larger, upper-scale home.”

The Pittsburgh-based builder-developer took a 1917 Craftsman-style house in D.C.’s Chevy Chase neighborhood and turned it into not only a net-zero but also an Indoor airPlus home.

Sota knows these environmental and energy-savings designations can be confusing. “Energy Star, passive house, Indoor airPlus, these are still relatively new terms for people,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of readers, when they hear Energy Star, they think of a refrigerator.”

Distinguished homes for sale in the D.C. region

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Net-zero house | The 1917 Craftsman-style house in D.C.’s Chevy Chase neighborhood was turned into not only a net-zero but also an Indoor airPlus home. It is listed at just under $2.9 million. (Sean Shanahan)

A net-zero house produces at least as much energy as it consumes. An Energy Star-certified house is a newly built house that meets strict energy-efficiency standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency. A passive house, a concept popular in Germany and Scandinavia, relies on a combination of energy-efficient construction, passive solar and internal heat to reduce a home’s heating demands. Indoor airPlus is a fairly new program created by the EPA to help home builders improve indoor air quality through construction practices and products that minimize airborne pollutants.

As more people become concerned about climate change, they are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. And while buying electric vehicles and eating less meat is good for the planet, it might be time to look closer to home.

A study by the United Kingdom found that about 15 percent of that country’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 came from housing, mainly the use of natural gas for heating and cooking. That’s more than the agricultural sector (10 percent) and what the British call industrial processes (cement, steel and chemical manufacturing accounted for 2 percent).

Sota’s cousin Tim Stefanick, who lives in the area, brought this house to his attention. Although it might have been simpler to build an entirely new house rather than renovate and expand an old one, some would argue that the greenest building is one that has already been built.

“I’m always prone to be optimistic about the quality of older buildings,” Sota said. “I don’t like to throw things away.”

During demolition, fixtures, appliances and building materials were carefully removed and donated to Community Forklift, a nonprofit reuse warehouse in Hyattsville, Md.

Sota renovated and expanded the house in a way that created not only an energy-efficient house but also a comfortable and attractive one.

The house is expected to be certified through a net-zero pilot program sponsored by the D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility and the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs as well as the U.S. Energy Department’s Zero Energy Ready Home program.

The roof-mounted solar system is projected to generate slightly more energy than the house will use in a year, which exceeds the goal of net zero. The house is projected to use about half as much energy as a new house built to code requirements and about a third as much as a typical house on the market.

“If you are living in a 5,000-square-foot home that uses 38 percent of the energy of a typical home on the market, you are sort of like living in a 1,300-square-foot home,” Sota said.

The house has triple-glazed, European-design windows and doors, heating and cooling equipment with the highest efficiency ratings and Energy Star lighting and appliances. The energy-saving windows and doors and increased thermal insulation also help reduce outside noise, creating a quiet home.

A year and a half into a pandemic caused by an airborne virus, air quality has become top-of-mind for many people. This house has a state-of-the-art air-filtration system shown to capture 98 percent of indoor air pollutants such as dust, smoke, mold spores and pet dander. In addition, the Indoor airPlus program requires that building materials have reduced amounts of volatile organic compounds (low-VOC).

“You have to submit all your paints, adhesives, cabinetry,” Sota said. “Everything has to meet the indoor-air-quality standards for the materials.”

As Sota likes to say, this house is not only healthier for the planet, it is healthier for you and your family.

Some builders resist making changes to their building methods because of the higher costs and the additional inspections required. However, Sota said the environmental upgrades don’t add as much to the bottom line as some might think.

“We did want to demonstrate to other builders, developers out there the marginal difference is really, truly not that great,” he said. “Yes, you’re using better windows. Yes, you’re paying more attention to the [building’s] envelope. You’re using high-quality HVAC equipment, those sorts of things, and Energy Star appliances and lighting, but the cost of those items is not as great as it was years ago.”

The five-bedroom, five-bathroom, 5,000-square-foot house is listed at just under $2.9 million.

Listing agent: Maxwell Rabin and Jonathan Taylor, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty