This custom net-zero-energy home, built for a Bellingham couple nearing retirement, won the grand prize in the Affordable category at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Housing Innovation Awards. The house is small but spacious feeling. It utilizes passive solar heat gain during the cold months, and is net-zero. (The photovoltaic energy annually produced equals all the energy annually consumed, including gas.) Best of all, it is very affordable. This home, a collaborative design effort between TC Legend Homes and the homeowners, was intended to demonstrate an alternative to ultra-expensive, extravagant “green” homes commonly seen. A net-zero home which is truly affordable for the average person perhaps has the greatest potential for conserving our planet’s resources. The footprint is only 630 square feet, but the added loft brings that up to about 1,000 square feet of living space. The foundation is constructed from insulated concrete forms (ICFs) with a concrete slab-on-grade floor. A waterproof concrete with premixed dye was used. Four inches of rigid foam under the slab provides insulation from the ground. This floor serves as a thermal mass during sunny winter days, absorbing and storing the sun’s heat as it shines through the south-facing windows and doors. The walls and roof are assembled from structurally insulated panels (SIPs). These factory-cut custom panels feature continuous foam insulation sandwiched between two OSB boards. This eliminates the thermal bridging which causes cold spots where studs are located when conventional framing practices are employed. The walls were made from 6" thick SIPs, and the roof was made from 10" thick SIPs. The house is oriented with the front facing south, both to maximize passive solar gain and to present a south-angled roof on which to mount the solar panels. All of the windows are triple-paned low-E glass. The porch roof angle allows the sun to enter the house in the winter but blocks the higher-angled sun during the summer months. There is also a green house off of the kitchen portion of the porch. The primary heat source during non-sunny periods is an electric "mini-split" heat pump. These remarkably efficient units will keep a home of this size comfortably warm during the winter months for a fraction of the typical heating costs of the average house. The monthly total electric bills for this electrically heated house range from $9 to $30. The head unit of the heat pump is positioned so that warm air is directed toward the concrete floor, storing the heat and warming the floor. Fresh air exchange can be a challenge in tightly sealed homes such as this. Many modern homes solve this with expensive and power-consumptive heat exchange ventilation systems. As an alternative, this home employs a very simple, but effective, solution. Incoming air passes through "earth tubes," which pre-warm the air in the winter and pre-cool it in the summer. The appliances are smaller in size and very efficient. The slightly smaller appliances allow room for more counter space. The counters are stained concrete, molded on site, a considerable cost savings. The hot water system is a tankless, on demand unit. Perhaps the most unique feature of this home is the feeling the internal space instills. There are only two internal doors. They are on the bathroom and a small downstairs bedroom. The rest is one open living space, but wherever one stands it feels like a separate room, and it always feels spacious. The layout was tailored to meet the needs of two people without children, but with only minor changes it could comfortably be converted to two bedrooms and two bathrooms.
As featured on netzerobuilding.com