Net Zero House Pleases Architectural Critic
If only more architectural critics took an interest in the environmental impact of the houses they critique. Houses built between now and 2050 will literally make or break us as a species. It’s all about energy use.
Although most people believe that it is what we drive that creates the most greenhouse gases, in fact, it is what we live in that makes the most difference. How weÂ heat and cool our homes generates 48% of all greenhouse gases.
Architectural writers, however, remain more interested in the visual impact than the environmental impact of their subject. If a building is “stunning”, that’s generally quite enough impact for most of them:
But that finally may be changing. Here’s what Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin says of this Net Zero house by Jonathan Boyer of Farr Associates – the Yannell residence:
Clean-lined outside and light-filled within, it issues an elegant rebuttal to the supersize, decoration-slathered McMansions that exemplify the pre-crash age of excess.
A Net-Zero or Zero Carbon” house is one that produces as much energy as it consumes. For example; by donating electricity into the electrical grid in the daytime and taking it back at night. Solar arrays can zero out energy use.
The solar arrays on these butterfly roof s are designed to generate 40% more than the energy requirement; for a total of 18,000 kWh annually. (If you look at your own electricity bill; you can see how many kWh you use in a month)
Blair Kamin is one of the best writers about architecture, so it is good that he is noticing the important stuff:
Its exuberant “butterfly” roof folds upward with sculptural verve, even as it cleverly hides the house’s 48 photovoltaic panels and doubles as a rainwater collector.
Coming closer, you encounter a delicate “rain screen” facade (left), consisting of an outer layer of warm cedar panels and cool, fiber-cement board panels. An inner layer provides thermal insulation.
The rain screen [pictured below] seems to breathe like a skin.”Environmental expressionism,” Boyer calls it.
A gray water recovery system recycles rainwater to the toilets:
For heating and cooling, water is circulated down into the ground and up through the walls via aÂ ground source heat pump or as it is sometimes called – a geothermal heating & cooling system to provide the most efficient and natural heating and cooling possible -it uses no fossil fuel at all.Â That’s because the temperature in the ground – about 8 feet down – stays at an average 55 degrees Fahrenheit year round.
If you are building from scratch anyway, you will likely be digging this far down any way for foundations, so the extra cost is minimal.
While it costs some to dig these pipes into the ground initially, once this kind of system is set up it makes for free heating and cooling for 75% of the temperature needed to keep comfortable. That’s free energy for 100 years – or the lifetime of the building.
As the Kamin of the Chicago Tribune notes:
It’s about offering a model for a new way of building — and living.