What do you mean by net-zero energy?
Quite simply, this means that our solar panels produce slightly more electricity over the course of a year than we use for heating, cooking, lighting, and other household tasks.
Will you be off the grid?
No. While we will produce our own solar electricity, we will still be connected to the electrical grid. We won’t have a bunch of batteries in the basement (actually, we won’t even have a basement). Why? Because storing electricity is inefficient, not to mention expensive. When you charge a battery bank, you don’t get as much electricity back as you put in. Some of it is lost as heat. That’s why most houses that have solar panels hooked up to a battery bank must rely on some other source for heat, like a wood stove.
So does all your power come from the sun?
People often ask us questions like this: “If you’re connected to the grid, you’re still using dirty power at night and on cloudy days, right?” The answer is–sort of, but not really. It’s far more efficient and cost-effective to hook our solar panels up to the electrical grid. That way we can put power into the grid during sunny days, when we’re producing more than we can use, and take it out at night and when it’s cloudy. It’s like we’ve set up our own little clean solar power plant, which means less natural gas needs to be extracted and burned and less electricity needs to be generated, avoiding all the associated negative environmental consequences. We like to compare it to a bank. When you have an excess of cash, you make a deposit. For all practical purposes, it’s still your money when you go to withdraw it from the ATM later, even if it was mixing with everyone else’s money on the bank’s balance sheet.
What features allow you to achieve net-zero?
Artemisia will be designed from the ground up to take advantage of the sun. Its passive solar layout means we will have lots of windows facing south and few on the north side of the house. The house itself will be built from structural insulated panels (SIPs). Heat pumps will keep the cabin warm and produce domestic hot water at around 200% efficiency. Triple-pane vinyl windows will bring in lots of light and passive solar heat without losing much heat at night. We will also be selecting some of the most energy-efficient appliances on the market. By conserving energy as much as possible, we will be able to offset all our electricity usage with a modest solar electric system.
What other “green” features will you incorporate?
We hope to incorporate reclaimed materials wherever practical. We also plan to install low-flow plumbing fixtures, an energy-recovery ventilator to bring in a constant stream of fresh air, among other things. We hope to use Artemisia as a test bed for new and innovative green building materials and techniques.
Can I build a net-zero house of my own?
That would be great! We started this website to spread the word to as many people as possible in the hopes that we will inspire others to build to the net-zero standard.
Can I convert an existing house?
Yes! As empty lots become scarcer, retrofitting is going to play an important role if we're serious about reducing home energy use on a large scale. Luckily, there are lots of ways to make older homes much more energy efficient—and even achieve net-zero. You can start by adding insulation and sealing leaks and go all the way to wrapping the entire structure in exterior insulation and covering the roof in solar panels. Every little bit helps, and it’s often the simplest, least costly retrofits that have the biggest impact.
Should I do this?
Absolutely. Go for it! Building net-zero is really rewarding, and we’d love to help others pursue the net-zero-energy goal. So feel free to get in touch with us if you’re thinking about it and have questions.