Maple Sweet Real Estate is proud to present the following blog submission on Net Zero Energy Buildings from esteemed and highly accomplished Vermont architect, William Maclay. William Maclay Architects and Planners mission is to enhance the world we inhabit through making places for people and nature to live and to flourish with dignity, spirit, and beauty.
Green design has taken on increasing importance and relevance for Vermont real estate purchasers, investors and home builders. Bill Maclay’s team is particularly well equipped to design homes and projects on the cutting edge of the carbon footprint revolution.
Net Zero Energy Buildings: Providing Stable Returns In An Unstable World, by William Maclay
Faced with multiple challenges from environmental pressures due to climate change, energy price volatility and the economic downturn, there has never been a better time to build.
But we’re not talking about any ordinary buildings—we are talking about the design and construction of buildings that minimize the use of natural resources and energy. Such buildings protect the environment, pay for themselves through improved efficiency, lower operating costs through stable energy costs and avoid the need for outside (fossil-fuel based) energy sources.
We call these buildings Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB). There are very few standing in the United States today—many more are on the drawing boards. But simply put, Net Zero energy buildings should become the new standard in “green” building as they can provide the best long-term solution to the environmental, energy and economic problems we face.
Net zero energy buildings (NZEBs) generate as much energy as they consume on an annual basis. The energy used is usually produced on-site and comes from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal or biomass. Typically, the net zero building is connected to the electricity grid, using the grid as a balancing mechanism to accommodate the fluctuation of renewable energy sources. Often, people will ask whether it’s possible to achieve NZEB in the cold climates of New England. While it’s certainly easier to achieve in warmer, southern climates, the net zero goal is very reachable, albeit more challenging, here in New England and other similar climates.
How to Get from Here to There: Efficiency First, Renewables Second
Because renewable energy sources are usually more expensive than non-renewable energy sources, the goal in any Net Zero energy building is to first reduce the energy needs of that building. Typically energy usage must be reduced by 50% or more (over current building efficiency codes). We call buildings that meet this greatly improved energy standard micro-load buildings. After that renewables can be added cost effectively to make net-zero buildings.
Net Zero in New Construction versus Existing Buildings
Certainly, achieving micro load energy efficiency standards is easier and typically more cost-effective to do with a brand new building—essentially building it into the design plans from the outset. But it’s also possible to do when renovating existing buildings. With 300 billion square feet of existing buildings out there, bringing energy use down and improving building performance in the already built environment offers tremendous opportunities for savings.
Clearly, net zero energy buildings offer a tremendous opportunity for countering the environmental, energy and economic pressures we face today. But they will not become the standard for how we develop our buildings and communities overnight. It will take a concerted effort to educate business owners (and the public) about the potential these buildings offer and change the way we think. By taking a longer term view and seeing our buildings as the investments they truly are—investments into our energy future, the well-being of our planet and the health of our businesses—we will be moving toward a more stable, productive and sustainable way of life.
Some examples of Net Zero projects by Maclay Architects:
The River House is a Net-Zero residence set on a stone dam abutment above the Mad River. It directly connects to the location through the use of site-harvested stone in both the building and the landscape. The house uses a super-insulated envelope, a 15 kW on-site photovoltaic array, and a ground source heat pump to achieve its Net-Zero energy goals. The linear structure is accented with three daylight monitors rising through a sedum-covered extensive green roof.
Dartt House, Waitsfield, VT
Renovations to this 1800’s era farmhouse, located in the historic village of Waitsfield, balanced concerns for preserving historic character and reducing energy demands. Insulating within the existing walls and roof preserved the historic quality of the building exterior, while improving efficiency. Similarly, high-performance, triple glazed windows were installed within existing frames. Energy reducing appliances, an air source heat pump, and heat recovery ventilation further reduced building loads. These measures improve thermal comfort and indoor air quality to a micro-load building that is ready for an 8.5kW photovoltaic system to be installed in 2010 or 2011. This house is next to Maclay Architects offices which will be net-zero in 2010 with the addition of a 17.5 kW photovoltaic installation.
Putney School Field House, Putney, VT
The Putney School desired a new field house to meet their growing needs for high quality sports, wellness and social spaces, while seeking to create a model for the future that could be used as a tool for learning about the school’s core values of environmental based learning, sustainability and social consciousness.
The school also asked the design team to provide a building well-integrated into the existing campus and character of the local Putney community. With its 36.8 kW array, it is projected to be a net-zero building in 2010.
Learn more about these projects at www.maclayarchitects.com
Special thanks to William Maclay for writing this, and to Lisa Sawin, Kevin Dennis & Eileen Hee of William Maclay Architects & Planners for their support in bringing this piece to press.