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Zero-Energy Buildings

SDA's zero-energy design approach

The methods of house design and construction in popular use today leave a great deal to be desired. Houses commonly being built seldom respond to the site, most often curtail your spiritual freedom, are woefully inadequate in an energy engineering analysis, consume large amounts of non-renewable resources, create pollution and almost never improve the landscape.

Many understand these shortcomings - for they are often quite obvious. How then, can we achieve the freedom and environmental harmony we all seek? Clearly, a more enlightened utilization of our resources and technologies is in order. What is needed is an intelligent approach to the overall design process where your home and its support systems are designed together to function together in an integrated manner. In this way, each enhances the other to produce a comfortable, environmentally responsive living environment that requires dramatically less energy and can be fully powered by the renewable resources available on-site.

Americans consume, per capita, by far the largest share of the world's resources and produce the largest share of the world's pollution. We consume over twice the energy per person as our counterparts in Europe and Japan and, we waste more energy through inefficiency than the world's least developed countries consume in total. This is simply not sustainable. We are rapidly running up against finite supplies of energy and resources while simultaneously realizing the limits of our planet's ability to absorb waste and pollution.

The built environment is responsible for a substantial part of this problem and architects are substantially responsible for the built environment.

Fortunately, the last two decades have brought many changes to the design profession. In the wake of traumatic escalations in energy prices, embargoes, war and heightened concerns over environmental degradation, resource depletion and climate change, the dimension of our awareness as designers has dramatically increased.

In the process, the shortcomings of yesterday's buildings have also become increasingly clear: Leaky building envelopes and inefficient climate conditioning systems squander great amounts of energy. Combustion of fossil fuels on-site and at power plants add greenhouse gasses and many other pollutants to the environment. Inside, many building materials, furnishings and finishes give off toxic by-products contributing to indoor air pollution. Poorly designed lighting and ventilation systems can induce headaches and fatigue.

Architects with vision have come to understand it is no longer the goal of good design to simply create a building that's aesthetically pleasing - buildings must be environmentally responsive as well. They have responded by specifying increased levels of thermal insulation, healthier interiors, higher-efficiency lighting, better glazings and HVAC equipment, etc. Significant advances have been made and this progress is a very important first step in the right direction.

However, this is not enough. For society to continue to enjoy the comforts we came to take for granted in the late twentieth century, energy use must become a fundamental driver in the building design process. Rather then merely using less non-renewable fuels and creating less pollution, we must come to design sustainable buildings that rely on renewable resources to produce their own energy and create no pollution.

SDA is now designing zero-energy buildings that produce all their own thermal and electrical energy on-site from renewable resources. Using technology that is available essentially "off-the-shelf", we can execute commercial and residential projects in any climate or geographic region.

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