Net zero building: The wave of the future?


  • The California coastal City of Santa Monica is a forerunner in Net Zero Building.
  • Net Zero Building requires constructing passive solar design and renewable energy sources.
  • The National Institute of Building Sciences hints that Net Zero is coming to all states soon.

As the concern over the cost and availability of nonrenewable energy heightens and sustainable building technology improves, moving to net zero energy building has become inevitable.The city of Santa Monica, Calif., is a forerunner in this area.

The Southern California city now requires all new residential and commercial construction to be zero net energy—producing as much energy as each building uses over the course of a year. Requirements include that all new construction is capped by rooftop solar systems.

A coastal community, Santa Monica also has a water neutrality ordinance in place. The ordinance, which went into effect in July 2017, caps water use for new developments to the five-year average of each location. The goal is for the city to no longer have to import water to meet its needs.

The community’s goals for water self-sufficiency, zero waste production, and carbon neutrality were instituted in 2016. The goals stem from the 2006 California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) requiring California to reduce its C02 emissions and other greenhouse gases by certain amounts by 2020.

Net zero, the ‘new normal’ in California

“What used to be an unknown section in the California code regulations books regarding energy efficiency standards [Title 24], will soon rise to a position of dominance and create a domino effect with regard to how we build, live, and sustain our health and environment,” says Scott Harris, founder and COO of Building Construction Group, which constructed Ed Begley Jr.’s LEED Platinum Certified green home in 2015.

“In 2019, the final loops will be closed, requiring builders in California to construct new homes and buildings with a version of net zero energy rating per the revised Title 24 guidelines,” Harris says.

Advantages of net zero

Net zero buildings employ cost-effective tactics to reduce energy use through efficiency. They also feature renewable-energy systems. Advantages of such buildings are many, including reduced environmental impact, lower operating costs, less reliance on energy providers, and more resilience in the case of power outages or natural disasters.

“What we’ve found is that there are simply better and cleaner ways to transfer energy to facilitate our modern lifestyles,” Harris says. “For example, the use of photovoltaic panels on our rooftops and windmills in the windy desert or geothermal power are the cleanest technologies available to organically transfer energy into an alternate, usable form.”

Components of net zero

The primary requirements for self-sustaining buildings are a passive solar design and a renewable energy source. Natural lighting must also be maximized, when possible.

Other top components include energy efficient appliances, including the HVAC system. Careful choice of the building skin is also vital. The building’s envelope must keep heat and coolness in and release them efficiently.

Of course, many of these building components are closely tied to the climate. And Santa Monica is located in sunny Southern California.

Feasibility of net zero

The World Green Building Council, a global network of Green Building Councils, is dedicated to developing green (and net zero) buildings throughout the world.

The organization concedes that in most situations, buildings that generate 100 percent of their energy needs on site aren’t feasible. The World Green Building Council posits that energy-efficient buildings supplying energy from renewable sources both onsite and offsite is a “more appropriate” target for mass scale production and will help participating nations abide by the Paris Agreement in combating global climate change.

The National Institute of Building Sciences, on the other hand, believes that net zero building is increasingly becoming more of a reality.

“It’s not about saving energy,” says Harris, who agrees that net zero building has to become the norm. “It’s about saving our planet by finding new ways to cleanly change the form of energy to make it usable for our modern lifestyles.”

He adds, “For me, it’s a proud day as a builder to see the construction industry shining a light on California’s 2020 challenge and the resulting net zero construction requirements.”

Sign up. Stay fueled.