Buildings use a lot of energy for heating and cooling throughout the year, homes are no exception. Harvard decided to build a zero emission “home” to test solutions that can be used in new buildings or retrofitted into existing structures. The design is smart in the sense it uses passive heat exchange and lighting while also using high tech sensors to monitor the home and adjust internal systems.
Rather than existing as a “sealed box,” HouseZero is designed to interact with the seasons and environment, sometimes rapidly adjusting itself to achieve comfort for its occupants without using powered HVAC systems.
For example, the home uses a “window actuation system” that relies upon software and room sensors to automatically open and shut windows as the outside temperature changes, intelligently moving air around the home to make it cooler or warmer (through cross ventilation and convection). This process is also driven by a “solar vent” in the basement.
A community sprouted up outside of Austin, Texas with the goal of bringing people together to help end homelessness. Community First! Village started from a Texan developer trying to help his local community and has now grown into a fully functioning small town. Anyone is welcome to join as long as they pay rent, which is below market rates. Part of the effectiveness of the community is that they provide on-site jobs for tenants; perhaps the most important part of the community is the community itself.
“Before I moved here, I honestly didn’t think my life would have anything other than being a homeless drug addict,” Devore says. He’d lived in an apartment for two brief stints during the years he was homeless and once held a steady job. But old habits were hard to break. “I hung out with the same people. I didn’t know any of my neighbors. I was living the same life, just with shelter,” he says. “Eventually I decided I wanted to get high more than I wanted to pay rent. If nothing changes in someone’s life, when the money runs out, they’re going right back to where they were.”
Like any small town, there’s a lot to do here: You can get your hair cut at the hair salon, take your dog to the dog park, shop at the Community Market, help out at the garden, cook in one of the communal kitchens. The village’s design has been optimized for socialization: There are no backyards, only front porches, adorned with potted plants, patio furniture, and the occasional bike. Without plumbing or running water, the tiny homes are grouped around shared bathroom, shower, and laundry facilities. Residents regularly gather for neighborhood dinners in one of four outdoor kitchens, open 24/7.
Singapore lacks land and this causes interesting land use problems. In the city state they ran into issues around housing their citizens ranging from land to cost. Instead of letting “market forces” dictate their housing plan (like in Toronto) the politicians of Singapore decided to act. They built housing and funded even more to ensure that in Singapore everyone will be able to afford a home.
Singapore had a severe housing shortage decades ago. But it developed one of the world’s best public housing programs, which has also allowed a huge number of its citizens to buy their own homes.
In the capital of France, the new Clichy-Batignolles development demonstrates how a city can have a carbon-neutral footprint while providing modern living. The development itself is built on old industrial lands and includes community housing, a theatre, and many other important features of a city including a massive park. The neighbourhood focusses on sustainable buildings and sustainable transit; the developer specifically designed the spaces to be walkable and ensuring that there is no need for a car.
All buildings are being constructed to the demanding Passivhaus standard, meaning that the energy consumption required for heating is just 15 kilowatt-hours a square metre of floor space per year, and the overall energy consumption is under 50kWh asqm of floor space per year.
The buildings are south-facing and super insulated, capturing and retaining the sun’s heat and warmth given off by their occupants and technology. Buildings are composed of renewable materials while other materials such as PVC are banned.
The area will contain 40,000 sq m of solar photovoltaic roofs that will eventually generate around 4500-megawatt-hours a year to supply 85 per cent of the remaining energy needs, while deep geothermal energy will provide 83 per cent of the space heating and domestic hot water, so that the entire site will have a carbon neutral footprint.
Popular building low density developments like then pictured above are really bad for the environment. To truly understand how disastrous low density housing is one needs to consider the physical space taken for one household, the need for a car for mobility, the building materials, and obviously the energy used to maintain the house.
The wastefulness of suburban living led to the Net Zero movement with set out to build living and work spaces that had didn’t negatively impact the environment. The first generation of those buildings have been around for years and we’ve learned a lot from them. The first generation might not have been perfect but they have set out a better way to build the future.
Also mentioned: One Brighton in the UK, built in 2009, was the first major development built using the One Planet Living framework. While the development reduced carbon emissions by 70 percent in comparison with the average neighborhood development, that’s not 100 percent. Still, homes there sell for a 10 percent premium over comparable real estate because of their inherent sustainability and resale value. There are also other benefits: residents who move there sell their cars as they can walk and bike everywhere. No cars means much less spent on transportation and fewer carbon emissions.
As for the future of net-zero communities, Downey sees developers now dictating hard energy performance requirements. For example, in a recent RFP for a new building, Hunter College put in a 100 kwh per square meter performance target.