You know the feeling: You’ve had out-of-town family visiting for two weeks, which means your dishwasher, showers and clothes dryer have been running practically nonstop. Sure, the grocery bill is through the roof, but it’s those energy prices that truly make you want to head for a vacation of your own. Now imagine the same scenario, but instead of those astronomical energy costs, your home harnesses its own power – which means no matter how long your nephew runs the hot water or the teenagers leave the bedroom lights on, your cost is still the same: Free.

It’s not fantasy: Over the course of a year, a net-zero energy building – a specialty of Malcarne Contracting – provides all the energy it needs to operate for the year, through additions such as solar walls, geothermal heating pumps and solar electric panels. Some months, like the ones including those family get-togethers, may find your home using 500 or 1,000 kilowatts more than you typically generate. But, after accounting for other months when your energy usage is lower than the average, at the end of the year, the amount “net zeros” out, leaving you with no utility bills – whether your home was built for electricity, natural gas, propane, oil or a combination. Homes are still connected to energy companies in case of an emergency or if repairs are needed, so customers always have a backup plan, too.

Whether it’s a new construction or a house you’ve had for years, nearly all buildings can have a net-zero makeover, or at least undergo major energy- and money-saving changes. Phase one of converting homes to net-zero buildings most often means a retrofit: starting with smaller changes that usually make a huge difference. Malcarne employees walk you through how much energy your home uses and how much money proposed changes can save you – before you even think about installing renewable-energy systems. By investing in high-efficiency appliances and LED lighting, and properly insulating walls, ceilings and floors, for example, energy bills are oftentimes slashed in half.

Plus, undergoing a retrofit means your cost to install a geothermal or solar electric system is automatically lowered to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, as the home will be running on less energy with those modifications. In very old or extremely large homes specifically, where it’s not financially realistic or practical to go completely net-zero, a retrofit can save big bucks on energy costs – especially as it’s usually a smaller investment of less than $10,000, depending on the structure.

After a retrofit, adding in the renewable-energy portion – phase two – wipes away any other energy costs. Malcarne can install solar walls, geothermal heating pumps, solar thermal panels and solar electric panels appropriate for your home’s size, keeping it running efficiently year-round. Even if the up-front cost of this phase seems high, the long-term payoff is huge, and by wrapping the price into a mortgage or refinance – and lowering monthly utilities bills immediately – the additional dollars spent actually wind up being less in the long run than paying for traditional energy costs.

Whether you choose to upgrade your home immediately after a retrofit or wait a while before that next step, Malcarne can walk you through each stage of the net-zero energy transformational process at your own pace and budgetary needs. And that’s something to put your mind at ease – especially when next year’s family gathering is already on your calendar.