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Net Zero Homes

You might have heard of a Net Zero home in the news or read about it in a magazine.  So, what is it?  A Net Zero home means that a house produces as much energy as it consumes. Energy consumption within a building is rated using the HERS index (Home Energy Rating System.) Reaching a 0 rating means the home is completely self-sustaining. A typical house has a HERS rating of 100-130.


A Net Zero house minimizes energy use within a house and any energy that it needs, it produces through renewable energy systems like solar panels.  Therefore, the house is not dependent on getting its energy from an outside producer.  It is self-sufficient.  Sound pretty nice? Well, below are some ways that you can incorporate some of the Net Zero concepts into your home:


Footprint:  Utilizing a modest building footprint and not over-building for your needs may be a first good step.  The larger and more spread out a building is, the more energy it will consume.


Climate Responsiveness:  Employ passive design techniques such as south-facing windows that promote natural heating and daylighting. Also, limiting east/west exposure in hot climates helps to reduce cooling loads.


Quality Construction:   Incorporating good building practices such as correct flashing, sealing, framing, effective insulation, etc. to achieve a super-tight envelope is important. Quality of the construction should be integral to the design and really helps to minimize envelope loads.


Systems Sizing:  Integrating and sizing systems efficiently including heating, cooling, ventilation and dehumidification can really help to optimize the building’s performance.


Renewable Energy:  Homes need to utilize on-site renewable/alternative energy to generate power and heat. Solar panels, fuel cells, micro-turbines, etc. can be used to make and store energy to meet critical energy loads.


These are just a few of the more important avenues to reach a home that is completely self-sufficient and considered Net Zero.  By studying these important concepts we can produce a house that is much less energy reliant and contains a much smaller carbon footprint.


Incorporating the Senses into Architecture


Did you know it was possible to incorporate your senses into your new home?  I will discuss our five senses and the strategies you might use to integrate these into your new space.



Sight is an obvious one and definitely the most used sense relating to architecture.  To view a space is to see not only the solid forms but also the openness and space of an area.  Using both light and structure in combination can make its occupants feel comfortable. The merger of these components can also take your home from just ordinary to something special and a place you want to hang out in!



Acoustics of a building, though not initially obvious to us, can return a space’s movements and create an atmosphere that we can connect with.  Increasing sound can boost the intensity of a space just like a sound track from a movie.  To adjust the impact of sound, we can use sound absorbers or sound optimizers.  Also, the forms of the building can affect sound.  The ceiling height or shape of the room can affect the acoustics.  With a high ceiling, sound has further to travel than with a shortened height. Also, different shapes of surfaces can bounce sound in specific directions to create an interesting effect.



The sense of touch within a building can create a feeling of either relating or dislike.  The touch of building materials itself can create this feeling but it‘s also possible to feel a space without touching its components. You can feel if a space is dim or bright just by being in it.  The easiest example is the feeling of sunlight on your skin as you inhabit the space.



Smell is our sense that is most closely connected to our memories.  The smell of different materials or fragrances we use within a space can be recorded in our memory for a later time.  Connections to these distinct smells can be recalled later and can stimulate various emotions that we might have had while being in the space.



Taste is probably the toughest sense to link to in architecture.  It has been proven though that architecture can stimulate taste through vision.  It is possible that by mixing certain colors within objects of a building, it elicits some oral sensations.


In conclusion, our senses are how we experience the world in which we live. Within a building we can use our senses to create special environments that are both memorable and a joy to be in.

Bringing Nature into Architecture

Did you know that as humans we crave a connection to our natural world?  Having contact with nature in our everyday lives provides numerous health benefits and makes us happier people! Designing buildings to connect with nature can be accomplished in many ways.




Making nature visible within a building elevates the spirit. It gives us a visual connection with the outdoors and our natural environment.  It can reduce stress, produce more positive emotional functioning and actually improve our concentration. Views can be accomplished with glazing placed at strategic locations throughout the building.  Having large expanses of glass means the outdoors can flow seamlessly into the indoors. Windows with views to natural places help to achieve this important connection to nature.



Daylighting also introduces a part of nature into a building.  Sunlight can improve our mood and bring a more natural and comfortable feel to the interior of a building.  It also reduces our reliance on artificial lighting and thus less energy use.



Fresh air is an important aspect of introducing nature into architecture as well.  It can stimulate our olfactory senses and provide pleasant breezes that just make us feel in tune with our natural environment.  It can also contribute to the cooling of our spaces without the use of artificial cooling systems.


Presence of Water:

Did you know that hearing or viewing aspects of nature such as water can also improve our mood and overall health?  Whether it means including a water feature within our building design or providing openings to listen to or view natural water features outside, water can have a positive impact on our everyday lives. 


Material Connection:

The materials that make up our building can also improve our connection to nature.  Construction materials such as wood and stone can create a more natural-feeling living environment that establishes a more comfortable setting.  Colors of interior spaces can also have an impact on our mood and overall mental health.


Indoor vegetation:

Having indoor plants within our architecture can produce positive effects as well. The plants purify, humidify and oxygenate the air within a space, thus improving indoor air quality greatly. They also visually help to connect an occupant to his/her natural environment when direct views of the outdoors are not possible.


In summary, a connection to nature within our built environment is crucial to our overall well-being.  By utilizing just a few of these methods to connect us to our natural environment, we become healthier, happier and more productive people!

Designing for Alpine Climates

This is my final blog covering the four broad climate types we find in North America.  To close the conversation, I would like to discuss Alpine zones.


The main characteristics of the alpine climate include:


  • Low humidity, high diurnal temperature range
  • Four distinct seasons, winter exceeds human comfort range
  • Cold to very cold winters
  • Warm, dry summers
  • Highly variable spring and autumn conditions


Homes in alpine environments have the highest thermal comfort energy use of any climate zone. The general objectives for buildings in the alpine zone is to reduce heat loss, provide protection against cold winds and provide alternate heating sources. Because the need for cooling is low, design strategies can mainly focus on heating energy use.


Here are some design ideas:


-Sunlight is key.  Try not building on sites without good access to sunlight.

-Minimize east/west axis with good southern exposure

-Site new homes with adequate sunlight and protection from cold winter winds

-Plant coniferous trees on north, east and west sides of buildings to protect from winds

-Locate living areas on south for sun exposure and bedroom and service areas on north

-Consider multi-level designs that allows sunlight into all rooms while maintaining a

compact form

-Provide airlocks to entries

-Minimize and shade east and west facing glass in the summer

-Use windows for ventilation and night-time cooling in the summer


It’s difficult to harness the solar radiation from the sun without compromising the insulation effects of the building form. In the Alpine climate, it’s definitely a balancing act.


This concludes my series on design for specific climates.  I hope that this has made you aware of various design principles that you can utilize within the design of your new home to better fit your specific environment.  

Designing for Cold Weather Climates

Design for Temperate Climates


In this blog I would like to discuss Temperate climates and what specific design characteristics we can employ to react to the distinct conditions of this zone.


The main characteristics of the temperate climate include:


-Cool to cold winter days

-Cold winter nights

-Warm to hot summers with moderate humidity

-Generally have 4 seasons

-Does not experience the wide variations of some of the more extreme climates


A temperate climate typically includes a hot and dry season followed by a wet and warm season and then winter conditions.  This makes it a challenging climate to design in.  The goal is to keep a balance between conflicting requirements.  In the winter, you need to seek solar radiation gain and then provide shading in the summer.


Here are some design ideas:


-Orient building axis east/west to maximize south side

-Windows should be moderate in size with double glazing

-Windows should face south to collect heat during the winter, but should be shaded during the summer months

-Needs appropriate amount of thermal building mass to absorb excess heat during the day and return it to the space at night

-Plan for cooling ventilation in the summer months but block the wind in the winter

-Insulate building envelope to high standards

-Deciduous trees are beneficial for blocking sun in the summer but letting sun through in the winter


Designing in temperate zones is challenging, but by utilizing a few of these design techniques, it will greatly improve the comfort within your home and overall energy demand. 

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