Building My Net Zero Energy Home: Design Priorities

| 6/21/2012 7:41:00 PM

When building a net zero energy green home, it's best to begin with a list of design priorities...that is, a list of attributes, materials, design features, whatever, that you want to communicate with your architect and builder. If you are new to building, you may need to assemble a design team that meets to suggest ideas in lots of different areas: solar heating, insulation levels, building materials, water systems, solar hot water, solar electricity, finishes, and others. Here's the list I prepared for my architect, James Plagmann of HumaNature Architecture, a gentleman I've worked with for quite a few years.  I am including it here so others can benefit from my experience in energy efficiency, solar energy, green building, etc. 

Design Priority – Chiras/Stuart Residence 

Revised 5/16/2011


Original dimensions 34.5 x 45 OD, or 1552 square feet

New dimensions (single story) :  about 26 x 50 or 1300 square feet

Donald Eyermann
7/20/2012 4:54:17 PM

We're producing an AICF (asymmetrical Insulated Concrete Form, which combines great insulation with thermal mass to achieve an ultra efficient home with less environmental impact, less embodied energy and locally produced components as opposed to dual row wood studs at an effective spacing of 12". And certainly thermal mass plus insulation is better than just insulation alone. (adobe walls perform better than insulated walls). Then we utilize solar heating with heat storage and direct geothermal cooling. We integrate solar photovoltaics with electric vehicles as well as reycling and reclaimed materials plus less material waste....another significant issue with wood stud homes.

6/29/2012 4:07:37 PM

My wife and I just completed a net-zero house in upstate NY with many of the same characteristics. Many of the items on the list are a good starting point. I would recommend checking which includes a lot of great green building information for many climate zones. This list is a good starting point for a house in a very cold climate, but as another commenter suggests, there may be other options for other climate zones. Other things to consider in any climate, orientation to the sun, air tightness

Shawn Maloney
6/27/2012 3:23:44 PM

An additional consideration to the list of great building ideas may be the use of thermal reflective insulation. Several studies have shown that if used properly, with a 3/4" air gap on one side, you can increase the R value of a wall from R19 to R30. It's inexpensive and can be used in hundreds of applications. The other benefit is that it actually "reflects" a large amount of the radiant heat away rather than "absorbing" it like a typical insulation does. I am trying to restore my 1789 colonial using the most efficient products and found that a combination of polyiso foam, radiant barrier and blown cellulose have given me the biggest return for the least amount of money.

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