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Strive to be a “Zero”

Christopher L. Colby AIA, LEED AP – Contributing Writer
Posted on Friday 11th September 2009

We have been conditioned to think that more is better and bigger is the best. Never could this be so far from the truth, especially when it comes to your home!

When we embark upon a design for a home we take the path less traveled. Less is always more! Less waste+ less energy consumption +less clutter +less stress = a better life. This is the philosophy of the recently designed Concept Z Cape. See plans.

The advantages of a net zero energy home are endless and because of this they will become the standard in the future. For example, the Concept Z Cape will pay for itself over time through energy savings. Basically you will get a free house!

Of course energy savings are only part of what makes a house truly enjoyable. This is where most Architects stop, and our roll as Life-A-Tects start. A Life-A-Tect’s job is to make your living experience in your home truly enjoyable; being net zero is only one objective.

So what makes your living experience a truly enjoyable net zero experience? An entire book could be written on the subject, but the following points are a great place to start:

  • Living in a warm or overly sunny climate is not a requirement for a truly net zero lifestyle. Our Concept Z model is located in southern New York, not exactly the tropics! Through the utilization of an 8 kilowatt photovoltaic solar panel system, geothermal heat pump and super insulated concrete structure (2.5 more than required by the building code) we are able to produce all of our energy needs on site!

  • Often we think of using less energy, but not less water. The Concept Z Cape set out to reduce our water demand as well. Starting with low flow fixtures to reduce our immediate demand we reduced our water consumption by 20%, but we wanted more. We decided to store all of our rain water in an underground cistern. The stored water is used for landscaping and flushing toilets further reducing our water demand on Mother Nature!

  • Concept Z utilizes proper site placement and window design to allow passive solar energy to penetrate deep inside our home in the winter. This passive solar energy warms our slate floor giving us free heat in the winter!

  • Keeping cool in the hot summer sun can be achieved without air conditioning! Concept Z uses two technologies to achieve this. The first has to do with the construction. Our concrete insulated form (ICF) house gives a tremendous amount of thermal mass to the house. While thermal mass is often thought to store heat in the winter, it can work in reverse in the summer! By adding a cupola at the peak of the roof, coupled with other ventilating windows, natural air flow will draw heat away from the interior of the home.

So being a zero isn’t so bad! Imagine Zero Stress, Zero Clutter, Zero Energy Usage and Zero Sickness! It is achievable and a reality when you use the proper design tools of Life-A-Tecture!

Christopher L. Colby AIA, LEED AP is a Registered Architect in New York State and the Principal of Spire Architecture. Areas of design expertise include residential, educational, commercial, municipal and sustainable design. Visit:

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