Archive Of The Category ‘Featured‘


Climate change activism is for EVERYONE

Climate Change, by Sally Deng | via New York Times

“We All Must Act on Climate Change.”

John Kerry’s opinion piece in the New York Times yesterday is SO right on!

My research over the past three years in support of the Net Zero Energy Coalition’s residential zero-energy inventory has revealed a virtuous circle. Geographic ‘hot spots’ for zero-energy development show up on our inventory map (page 4 in the 2017 inventory report). What they represent is typically one, or two, or all three of the following phenomena:

  1. Advanced building energy policies or programs;
  2. A community known for its environmental activism;
  3. An individual builder or design professional with a mission.


These come together to create the virtuous circle because the passionate individuals create proofs of concept (yes, it IS possible to build a zero-energy home that a buyer will pay a fair price for) that enable political activists  to successfully lobby their decision-makers to enact progressive energy policies and programs. The policies and programs, in turn, spur more building activity, providing further proofs of concept, and so on. Success in local programs often leads to the creation of state-level initiatives, further amplifying this phenomenon.

My takeaway from this is that you don’t have to be a builder, architect, city official or politician to create change. Residents of every community have the ability to influence local policy by showing up at city council or supervisorial meetings, or writing letters, voicing their concerns about climate change and calling for decision-makers to take action to reduce carbon emissions in the building, transportation, and industrial sectors. Everyone can and must participate in this urgent change.


Obsessed with roofs

Newburyport, MA, ZNE home -- Steven Baczek, architect

Newburyport, MA, ZNE home — Steven Baczek, architect

A recent email thread involving a group working on a video about ZNE design prompted me to raise one of my favorite subjects. Say I, “Will you talk about the critical importance of roof design?” Queried Steve Mann in reply, “Do you have something more specific in mind?”

I’m so glad he asked! It gave me an opportunity to vent (pun intended) about this topic, which I find is absent from far too many conversations about ZNE home design. Here’s what rolled off the keyboard.

  1. You need to know your (approximate) energy loads early on, so that you have an idea how much solar-appropriate roof area you’re going to need. [That requires a calculation — for example, using NREL’s PVWatts.]
  2. You need to factor in code-required clearances around the solar array, and depending on the size/shape/proportions of the roof plane(s) in question, those margins can eat up a hefty fraction of the total area(s).
  3. You need to NOT have vent stacks and other obstructions interrupt that oh-so-critical PV roof area.
  4. All of the above — to those who are realistic and paying attention — dictate the simplest practicable roof form.
  5. The less attention you pay to the above considerations, the harder you will have to work on the enclosure and other efficiency measures to achieve ZNE — e.g., adding in more and more expensive measures, such as imported windows.
  6. Conversely, the MORE attention you pay to (simplifying) the roof, the more flexibility you will have with other building features.
  7. The simpler the roof:
    • the more money you’ll have for other features;
    • the less it will cost to develop elaborate architectural details to ensure thermal & moisture integrity;
    • the easier it will be to air-seal and insulate the whole building;
    • the more likely that the air-sealing & insulation will be done well;
    • the better the building will perform; and
    • the less the risk of later thermal, moisture, condensation, and rot problems.

So a simple roof is an all-around win: save money, improve thermal and moisture performance, get to ZNE more easily.

It’s time that we rekindle a time-tested aesthetic, one that finds beauty in simple, elegant, well-proportioned forms, robust materials, and quality of craft. One of my favorite architects who has complete mastery of this approach is Steve Baczek. Not coincidentally, Steve spent many years working with Joe Lstiburek and Betsy Pettit at Building Science Corporation — he’s also thoroughly conversant with building science. Take a look at Steve’s portfolio for inspiration!

Cold Climate Zero

Kudos to Energy Futures Group in Hinesburg, VT, which is nearing completion of construction on their new small office building. It’s a conversion of an old farmhouse, and a wonderful example of a cold-climate zero net energy retrofit.
Read more & view video at