When we set out to build the Zero Energy House our main objective was to build a house for ourselves; one that was comfortable & healthy, affordable to run, and that minimised our impact on the environment.
We had a feeling it would take a lot of research, thought and time - and that it'd be a shame to invest all that effort only to lock the knowledge away within the walls of the house. So, in parallel to building our home, we decided to share as much information as we could along the way - with the hope it would enable other people to pursue similar goals and achieve similar outcomes.
We hope the ZEH has inspired a few people in some small way, but at the same time recognise inspiration is only the start of the journey. Developing an idea into a concept, then plans, then a physical space still involves a lot of steps and complexity.
There are a couple of pages on the Zero Energy House website that can help people get started...
Achieving Zero Energy - or any other level of performance - requires you clearly communicate your goals to the person or team that is going to design and build your house. Often designers are briefed with simply the spatial and aesthetic requirements of a building, but there are many more goals that may be important to you. There are a few key things to think about when setting these:
- Think holistically. Consider all the outcomes you want from your home. As well as how you're going to use it now and in the future, consider the efficiency of energy and water use, the materials you would like to exclude from your home, the impact (in terms of waste) you would like the construction of your home to keep below.
- Think operational cost. Rather than just thinking of the cost to build per square metre, think of the cost to operate per square metre. Every year you pay more than just your mortgage to live in your home; your home also dictates how much you'll pay for energy, water, and maintenance. Investing in good design or construction might increase your build cost (and therefore annual mortgage repayments) but should also reduce annual operating costs.
- Think targets. People sometimes brief designers that they want an 'efficient' home. But 'efficient' means different things to different people. Put some numbers on it. Think about the long term - what temperature you want the house to be and how much you're willing to spend on power and water (and transport, if you're choosing a site) over your time in the home. Set targets where you can and start a dialogue with your design team about what is achievable within your budget and what isn't.
One of the first webpages we built (in 2012) is also one we come back to the most - the Project Goals we set before starting design. It maps seven project goals to thirty design opportunities and sets a foundation for our brief, the design, and the final project outcomes. If you're embarking on a similar project it might be a good framework to help guide your own goal-setting and begin communicating your objectives to your design team.
In pursuing a certain level of performance (whatever that level may be) you will need to assemble a design team that can meet it.
In pursuing a certain level of performance (whatever that level may be) you will need to assemble a design team that can meet it. And the design team should assume accountability for ensuring the building meets the objectives you've both agreed to.
It's possible that you won't find a single person or company that can deliver all the objectives you have set. In our case, we had fantastic architects - but we also contributed our engineering knowledge to the design process. Jo has a lot of experience in modeling thermal performance of buildings and worked with the architects to ensure the house design would achieve comfortable temperature ranges without heating or cooling. Shay's solar engineering knowledge helped direct the shape and pitch of the roof and placement of the building onsite, and his technical understanding helped with the design of systems within the home.
These engineering services come at a cost but, again, think about cost holistically. It may cost more up-front, but what is it worth to never heat your home? That not only delivers economic benefits, but it also makes a home more comfortable and enjoyable for you and your family to live in - what is that worth?
Adopting a design approach that incorporates both architects and engineers is called Integrated Design, which we spoke about a little on the Design Process page (and video). It should also have input from the people who may build your home as they offer an important perspective into the complexities (and time and cost) associated with different design options.
Keep in touch
Finally, if you're about to embark on a project you think we'd be interested in please do let us know. Designing and building the Zero Energy House has been a long and rewarding journey and we'd love to follow other people's progress.
The ZEH team.