Net-Zero Energy Buildings (Part 2)

Last week we broadly explained what a zero-energy home was, but just to remind you, let me explain that the basic objective of a conventional property developer now days is to build a home with the possible lower construction costs, that current regulation allows.


In this way, the consumption of more or less energy throughout its useful life is something secondary, which in any case that expenditure will fall on the user.


However, in a zero-energy housing the main concern is with the user spending the minimum possible energy and that this energy comes from a renewable sources of the building itself.


This buildings will come into force in Spain in the year 2020 and in UK in 2016. In Spain there is a middle of the road solution that is coming into force on the 13th of March of this year, more or less when this article is published by CBN.


How will it be achieved?

On the one hand, active systems for renewable energy-based on electricity and heat offer several possibilities, such as solar panels, wind turbines, bio-fuel, biomass or hydrogen-based fuel cells. For example, a building that only incorporates photovoltaic solar panels can achieve a reduction of their energy needs between 15 and 30%.


On the other hand, passive techniques such as thermal insulation or taking advantage of solar heat or even the metabolic energy generated by its occupants could reduce energy consumption between 70 to 90% without any electricity generation systems.


In short, a zero energy building brings together a series of environmental technologies that to achieve its objectives can make a greater emphasis on passive energy efficiency systems, or on systems more active power generation through renewable sources.


Therefore, before we start building, we architects must use sophisticated computer 3D tools simulations to incorporate, in the best possible way, aspects such as location and orientation, the local climate, materials, insulation, lighting, or much more efficient electrical and air conditioning systems. In this kind of buildings, we architects must adapt ourselves into becoming environmental consultants to be able to design a home that complies with new building regulations.


Outstanding global examples.

United Kingdom has taken seriously the implementation of this type of ecological housing. In December 2006, the Government announced that by 2016 all new construction houses must be zero energy. In this way, the British Government points directly to one of the sectors that contributes most in this country to CO2 emissions, since housing in United Kingdom is one of the most inefficient in energy consumption in Europe.


Over the white cliffs of Dover...

Some builders in the UK are already making efforts to achieve zero carbon parameters. In the residential district of Oxley Wood, on the outskirts of the town of Milton Keynes, located 75 km away from London, the company George Wimpey has built 145 houses which, although they are not zero energy homes, they have much improved the current industry standards.


For his part, the Potton Company proposes the Lighthouse, the first United Kingdom zero carbon housing.


Germany is another very conscious country in the idea of sustainable housing. The German Passivhaus standards is being for years a worldwide reference of houses made with modern technologies of passive energy efficiency systems. Its designers have shown that they are at the forefront of these technologies. In the international competition Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the United States Department of energy, a design of ecological House of University of technology Darmstadt won first prize.


Outside the European Union, United States is other international referents in this kind of sustainable construction. In 1999, the research centre of solar energy in Florida sat bases of programmes such as the Zero Energy Home or the Building America's Department of energy United States (DOE in its English acronym). Also, various nationwide research laboratories working in research programs of sustainable buildings. In this sense, the DOE has announced various plans with substantial sums of money to invest in such projects.


Anyhow, the truth is that sooner than later all new homes will have to designed having energy consumption concept as a top priority. Buildings will be more expensive to be built but in the long run it will save a lot of money to their users and the country, but more important of all, this planet will be a lot healthier to be living in.


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