Net-Zero Homes, Part 1
Homes that make as much energy as they use are beginning to make economic as well as environmental sense
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In part one of this episode, Phil and I chat about the mega trend that is Net ZeroProducing as much energy on an annual basis as one consumes on site, usually with renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics or small-scale wind turbines. Calculating net-zero energy can be difficult, particularly in grid-tied renewable energy systems, because of transmission losses in power lines and other considerations. housing. We introduce the concept, and talk about why green architects all seem to be headed in this direction. And of course, we share a cocktail recipe, and of course we offend another culture / ethnicity with our terrible accents and cartoonish caricatures. (My apologies Brian O'Hanlon, I owe you a beer!)
Also, Jesse crawls out from under the crawlspace and returns to the podcast in his usual role as the intelligent yet often grumpy architect for the segment we call, “What’s bothering Jesse?” Today, it's lumberyards.
In Part 1 of this episode, we discuss:
Phil and I would love to hear from you. If you have a great idea for an upcoming topic, want to leave general feedback, or want to share your favorite cocktail recipe, you can e-mail us at GALounge@greenbuildingadvisor.com. If you'd like to complain about our tangential ramblings, fragment sentences, or our general irreverence, you can email us at Complaints@StraightToTheTrashBin.com.
Be sure to check back in for Parts 2 and 3, in which we talk about how you get to net zero and how the economics are actually starting to favor this approach.
Chris: Welcome to the Green Architect’s Lounge podcast. I’m your host, Chris Briley.
Phil: And I’m your host, Phil Kaplan. And today we’re going to talk about Net Zero: the challenge and fun of getting there.
Chris: It’s about time. We’ve been gearing up for this. We just did Passivhaus, and this is the next thing. Now that the energy demand is down low, maybe it’s possible to live on this planet, from an energy standpoint, consuming as much as you make. As in, you have net zero consumption, which is what the term means.
Phil: Essentially, it’s just producing as much energy as you consume over the course of a year. That "over the course of a year" is very important, because in wintertime in Maine we use a lot of energy, but in summertime in Maine we’re going to make a lot of energy. It has to be net zero, not zero across the board.
Chris: So are there renewables involved?
Phil: Absolutely. You have to do it with renewables. Before we dig into it, I want to hear about this tasty drink you made us.
Chris: This drink used to be called the Dubliner, but instead we’re calling this the Irish-American. It’s equal parts Jamison Irish whiskey and Seagram’s 7 Dark Honey. Put it in a cocktail shaker with ice, whip up some whipping cream and float it on top.
So let’s talk about green architecture.
Phil: Tell me again what net zero is? Producing as much as you consume over the course of the year. So why do we care?
Chris: Because we’re people that want to tread lightly on this planet.
Phil: The CO2 levels are why we’re bringing in net zero. We’re nearing almost 400 parts per million or so. We’re trying to get back to 350. Which is about where we were in the '90s. We’ve been off the charts since then. We just have to kick it back a little bit.
Chris: We need to try to minimize our consumption. Oil is going to run out. Our kids are going to be dealing with the fact that cheap oil will be gone. Every house we design, if we did a good job and it’s still around when we’re dead and gone, will be renovated, with a different mechanical system than what we’re using now. Especially if the house is burning fossil fuel. There’s a chance that houses will still be burning electricity, but the electricity is going to be made differently.
Phil: It’s true. Let me get on my soapbox for just a minute. If you’re an architect and your client is paying you $10,000 or $20,000, and in five years that house is obsolete, you’re being irresponsible to your clients.
Chris: That’s right. The big vinylCommon term for polyvinyl chloride (PVC). In chemistry, vinyl refers to a carbon-and-hydrogen group (H2C=CH–) that attaches to another functional group, such as chlorine (vinyl chloride) or acetate (vinyl acetate).-sided McMansions that are 5,000 square feet and use $5,000 worth of oil a year are going to be massive white elephants on the market. They’re going to get split up and renovated, and they’re going to be the slums.
Phil: Buildings worldwide account for 40% of our primary energy use, and 24% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Well, we’re responsible for buildings. People listening to this podcast — architects, builders, engineers, contractors, mechanical guys, and vendors — wWe can change the world right here. That’s why net zero matters.
Chris: You’re "first chair" in this podcast because you’ve summitted. You’ve done it. You’ve got your own net zero project.
Phil: Yeah. BrightBuilt Barn was our first net zero.
Chris: Phil is an awesome guy. It's a charming little studio building that has a “light skirt" that lets you know when it’s consuming and when it’s saving. You’ve done this before, which is why you’re qualified to sit here. I’ve come close.
Phil: You have come close. The Redford house you did could be net zero. Chris did this really good-looking structure in Portland, Maine.
Chris: The goal was to be LEEDLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. Platinum. In town. It was on the market playing against everybody else in the worst housing climate ever. It sold in a month — proof that it can be done. It’s not net zero, but it could be, with a little work.
Phil: Net-zero-ready is in some ways just as good as net zero. You get everything ready and wait for the renewable prices to come down. That counts in my book.
Chris: That counts in my book. It’s kind of like where Passivhaus is going. It’s all about energy demand. Plugging in renewables isn’t part of the equation. We’re going to reduce that demand and whatever is left, we’re going to take care of on site, and that makes us net zero.
Phil: Michelle Kaufmann has a neat line called Zero Series homes. I’m going to step back slightly before we take a break. I gave a talk last year at the AIA convention at Custom Residential Architect Network in Austin. I met some great people. John Connell, who founded Yestermorrow, a cool guy, has done some wonderful modular low-energy stuff. Dale Mulfinger was there — he gave a nice talk. I had a chance to chat with Bill Aylor, one of the principles at Lake Flato. People are doing it. People from all over the country are getting involved with net zero.
Chris: Unlike Passivhaus. Instead of this being one-directional thing from Europe, net zero seems to be more amoebic — popping up everywhere at once.
Chris: I don’t know if you want to do it now, but it has been a while since Jesse vented with us. Since we’re on our own at GBA, do you want to bring him in?
Phil: I’d love to hear what he is going to say today. Sheila, let's bring in Jesse.
Chris: Welcome back, everybody. He hasn’t been with us in a long time: here's Jesse Thompson of Kaplan Thompson Architects. How are you, Jesse?
Jesse: I’m all right.
Chris: Everyone's missed you. So tell us, what has been bothering you?
Jesse: Lumberyards. I’m an architect, and I’ve been pretending to be a general contractor for a little while. It’s been sort of shocking how unbelievably amateurish and badly organized lumberyards are. They don’t have systems. There's a guy on a phone. The way it seems to work with my salesman is that I call him up and if I’m lucky he’s there, but maybe not. If he’s not there he calls me back a little while later and I tell him what I want over the phone, and he seems to write it down and maybe it shows up. If I want to know how much something costs, I call him up and then maybe he gets back to me. Maybe he gets back to me in an hour, maybe six hours, or maybe a day. And then I learn what that thing costs. But if the thing is too expensive I have to find out how much another thing costs. Meanwhile I’ve burned off a day — I don’t know how long.
Chris: And you’re thinking, where is the website I can browse and choose it?
Jesse: Yeah, I kind of know why they do it. There’s a salesman and he’s trying to sell me things and he probably gets a commission off how much he sells. But it’s crazy. It's so crazy. Especially because I have to think that most small-time contractors order everything at night and they’re doing their costing at night. They’d love to know how much a 2 x 4 is today. Why can't you enter your discount code, and find out what your price is online? This sounds simple — this sounds like 1994 Internet.
Chris: You didn’t wear you’re "I’m an architect" T-shirt?
Jesse: There’s no question my orders are small and they don’t care about me. But they shouldn’t have to. If you want to give me a 5% discount, that’s great, but let me know how much things cost. The possible number of errors is mind-boggling. I e-mail the guy, but I’m still at the mercy of how much he cares about me to find out how much things costs. So I’m the small guy, and I don’t get great service. But what about big-timers doing three to five houses at once? Does it work the same way for them? Is everything so expensive because it’s too hard to figure out how much everything costs? I'd like to think that in San Jose, California, there are all these fancy Internet lumberyards, but I don't know. As an architect I’ve spent my career listening to people complain that architects don’t know what things cost. It turns out contractors don’t know either. It’s too hard to find out, because the lumberyards don’t want them to know. I shouldn't have to ask what a 2x4 costs. Make it easy for us.
Phil: Good stuff.
Chris: Yeah, thanks for dropping by. Always a pleasure.
- Inconvenient Truth
- Zero Energy Design
- Michelle Kaufman Studio
- Kaplan Thompson Architects
Jun 16, 2011 9:55 PM ET
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