The idea of net-zero houses is a term thrown around on green blogs and green building forums more and more to the point where that terminology is spilling over into the mainstream. To some, it’s almost a mythical idea, since there is still a strain of net zero skepticism out there.
Yet, net zero homes are becoming more common. One of the reasons they may be coming to be more common is that there is more than one type of net zero home. This makes a lot of sense of course, just because in some ways net zero homes are under the same criteria as any home being built. They are subject to the climates in which they’re built, to architectural style, and (of course) to varying budgets. Also, there is the business of retro-fitting, which means that any house could conceivably be transformed into a net zero energy home.
But, in thinking about this, I decided to scour the Internet for stories on different kinds of net zero homes. Part of this exercise was to establish in my own mind that these kinds of advances in energy efficiency don’t have to mean new buildings, or one specific architectural design. We can, as it turns out, still revel in a variety of aesthetic styles while still using energy more efficiently in our homes and buildings, these being some of the biggest energy hogs in the world.
So, here are 5 such homes for your consideration.
The “modern, sexy” net zero home
This net zero housing development in Georgia, featuring the iHouse design adheres to our view of the sexy, cool, and modern net zero home that we envisioned as the home of the future in the late great 20th century. Not paying an energy bill is a pretty sexy idea anyway. But, here we’re seeing how design itself is able to deliver the possibilities, although appearing a bit on the experimental side here, located in what looks like a wooded copse, as opposed to a real-life, integrated neighborhood.
And, what we also get here is a certain same-ness in the design – this looks like one of those new fangled energy efficient homes, with butterfly roofs and generously arranged solar panels. This isn’t knocking the look, necessarily. But, what if you were after something a little bit more left of center?
The “weird” net zero house
Well, for this kind of home, the solar decathlon competition is a great resource for finding weird-looking net zero energy homes. Of course, at this point in history, a lot of these kinds of homes are built with the theories in mind, not so much the practice, or livability factors at the forefront. The results can bear that out in the weirdness stakes, like this net-zero house built for Madrid, Spain.
One thing that this net-zero home building exercise reminds us of is that our fixed ideas of what a house can be don’t have to be the be-all and end all; the shape of a home can be anything, especially if it’s easier to heat and cool. Yet, at the same time, the ordinary can serve us just as well.
The “boring” net zero home
Some net zero homes show very little outer characteristics at all, scoring low on the weirdness or sexy factors. Take this “boring” net zero home, for instance. This is a retro-fit project on a house that dates back to the 1940s, when houses were much smaller by square footage. To advertise that this was a retro-fit, they had to put a big orange banner on it.
Yet, in some ways, this design that built in a more compact square footage made them perfect for future retro-fits; the smaller the home, the lesser the expense to heat and insulate it. And with 21st century technology in place, we’re reminded that knocking down old homes is unnecessary, nay a total waste of potential.
The net zero heritage home
Let’s take that concept to its logical conclusion and apply it to a pre-war heritage home. This net-zero heritage home in Ann Arbor Michigan is 110 years old, and is believed by its owners to be the oldest net-zero house in America. What more can be said? If a 110 year old house, built during an era where drafty houses were a given, can be effectively retro-fitted for net-zero results, then any house can.
And to further the theme of energy efficiency and best use of resources, it’s in a historical neighborhood that’s walkable, with no need to burn fossil fuels to get around town. This is no wooded copse in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps this walkable neighborhood setting is less of a shock, given that when this home was built, it was the car that was the new-fangled idea, not any ideas of energy efficiency in homes.
The net zero apartment condo
Another idea being explored is removing the idea of net-zero homes as detached, high-end suburban houses. After all, one key strategy in net-zero energy efficiency is that of density. Once again, the smaller and more efficient use of the space, the closer to net-zero one can get while remaining cost-effective in the short term. So, why not a net-zero condo, with shared spaces and shared walls helping to inject that shot of higher-density to the proceedings?
This net-zero apartment project in Portland may be one of the first of its kind on this scale, encouraging residents to live green lifestyles as well as designing the building itself for energy efficiency.
So, here’s the idea in a nutshell; net-zero design and function isn’t about one kind home. We are not destined, necessarily, to living in clinical and beauty-free homes in the future all in the name of energy efficiency.
We can have coolness, weirdness, and diversity, even when we’re expending less energy to stay comfortable in our homes.
For more information about net-zero homes, check out the U.S Department of Energy building definitions page.