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The Benefits of Building With Net Zero Design in Mind

Photo: Courtesy of Josue Isai Ramos Figueroa

Ben Stapleton

Executive Director, the U.S. Green Building Council-Los Angeles Chapter

Sustainable construction and building design are critical to resisting climate change. One element of eco-conscious building is net zero energy design. 

Net zero design is when the amount of energy used in a building annually is less than or equal to the amount of energy created. In other words, the utility bill will, ideally, be $0. 

“Net zero as a concept is more relevant now than ever,” said Ben Stapleton, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council-Los Angeles Chapter. “We have to look at ways to take carbon out of the atmosphere.”

Here are five features that builders, architects, and homeowners can utilize to bring their buildings closer to that net zero goal.

1. Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency plays an important role in right-sizing the electric load. Ways to improve energy efficiency include building direction, so sunlight is used more efficiently, and using trees and vegetation as a passive cooling system. 

2. Daylighting

Using natural light produces better light quality and also helps adjust circadian rhythms for people who spend most of their day indoors. The number of windows and their placement throughout a building play a role in net zero design.

3. Insulation and sealing

Insulation and sealing are making a comeback under net zero design. People are thinking more about the building envelope and the role that plays in a building’s energy use. More builders are looking at renewable materials with higher R values for insulation.

4. Retrofitting existing homes

You don’t need to construct a brand new building to reach net zero. Existing homes can be retrofitted to make them more efficient. This includes replacing doors and windows, and improving sealing to prevent heat/cooling leakage. 

“Plug load is a sneaky way we use electricity,” Stapleton said, “so adding smart power strips is a way to monitor electricity use.” 

For the exterior, use native landscaping that requires little water use or turn to smart irrigation.

5. The building process

“In L.A., 40 percent of our total waste stream is construction waste,” Stapleton said. 

Modular building addresses this concern. Built in a factory, much of the waste is eliminated and other factors like pollutants can be controlled. There’s also a demand for more transparency about where building materials come from and with what chemicals they are treated. 

“You want to look at a building design project holistically,” Stapleton said. “You want to make sure the design is a good fit while looking at its sustainability.”

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