How to Design a Net Zero Energy Building

How to Design a Net Zero Energy Building

Emily Newton 05/01/2023
How to Design a Net Zero Energy Building

Sustainability is one of the most important issues facing the world today.

That’s especially true of the building and construction sector, which, as it stands today, is far from green. However, net zero energy buildings provide a way forward.

Net zero means that a facility doesn’t produce any greenhouse gas emissions after factoring in things like green energy production. That refers to both the ongoing emissions a property may produce and everything that went into building it. As you might imagine, that’s a challenging goal, but it’s still possible with today’s technology.

Why Are Net Zero Energy Buildings Important?

These eco-friendly buildings are an essential step forward in the fight against climate change. The building and construction sector accounts for a whopping 36% of final energy use and 39% of energy-related CO2 emissions. Consequently, if the world hopes to reduce and eventually eliminate its harmful emissions, buildings must be greener.

Any improvement in building sustainability can be a significant win for the environment. However, as climate change worsens, the world must take more dramatic action to avoid the most severe effects. Aiming for net zero rather than just reduced energy buildings will help meet these fast-approaching climate deadlines.

These buildings have other benefits, too. Fewer emissions will mean improved air quality in the areas where people live, improving local health and living standards. As more people want to become eco-friendly, companies building these structures could also see increased business.

Designing a Net Zero Energy Building

While zero-emission buildings haven’t become standard yet, they’re increasingly common. New technologies make them easier to design, too. Here’s a look at how architects can design these eco-friendly structures.

Consider the Location and Orientation

Lowering a building’s emissions starts at the very beginning with deciding its location. Net zero energy buildings rely on things like renewable energy and passive energy-saving designs, which work better in some conditions than others. Consequently, to make the most of these systems, you must consider things like sunlight, rainfall, temperature and wind patterns.

Solar-powered buildings will work better in areas with more sunlight, just as wind turbines will be more effective in windy areas. Building orientation matters, too. In the northern hemisphere, solar panels are most effective when facing true south, and southern panels should face true north.

Other environmental factors like nearby buildings, trees and shade can impact a property’s energy consumption, too. Given all of this, architects must carefully consider these characteristics to see how to position the building and what kinds of systems to include.

Use Renewable Energy

The next step in net zero building design is planning their energy sources. While most buildings today get their electricity from fossil fuel-powered grids, these greener options must use renewables like wind and solar.

In some areas, buildings may be able to get some renewable-generated power from the grid, which simplifies things. However, in most cases, they’ll need their own rooftop solar panels or wind turbines to create green energy. While that raises upfront costs and carries unique design considerations, it also reduces how much power buildings need to buy from the grid, reducing ongoing expenses.

It’s important to keep the first step in mind when planning these instalments. Solar panels should face the right direction and be at an optimal angle to get the most sunlight. Wind turbines should be at an angle to catch the highest, most consistent breezes.

Minimise Energy Consumption

As important as renewables are, their efficiency is limited with today’s technology. To make up for that, you need to minimise the energy the building consumes. That way, smaller power levels from renewable sources can cover more of the property’s electric needs.

Passive systems like solar chimneys can provide heating and cooling without electricity. Other instalments like smart thermostats can adjust energy use over time to use as little as possible while still meeting occupants’ needs. These savings will help buildings’ renewable energy go further, reducing their reliance on fossil fuels.

Net zero energy buildings also need to minimise emissions in the construction phase. As technology improves, green construction equipment is becoming standard, and some heavy machines have electric alternatives. Other steps like using fuel cell generators and modular building, which uses less energy, will also help.

Use Sustainable Materials

One easy-to-overlook aspect of net zero energy buildings is their materials. While you may not think of it initially, many common construction materials carry a high carbon footprint because they take a lot of energy to produce. Thankfully, greener alternatives are becoming increasingly common.

Using recycled steel and concrete will significantly reduce a project’s carbon footprint. You can even go further by replacing these materials with newer, even less carbon-intensive alternatives. Rammed earth, which uses soil and waste materials from quarries, is an excellent option and has impressive thermal properties. Bamboo, mycelium, straw and wool insulation are also possible options.

Many of these new materials can reduce ongoing energy needs by holding more heat or reflecting sunlight, too. This makes them even more effective as a sustainable building alternative.

Capitalise on BIM Tools

Another important innovation in net zero buildings is building information modeling (BIM). These tools let architects design projects and schedule workflows in easily shareable, digital 3D models. They also include “clash detection” features that highlight potential issues.

With clash detection, you can see when a design may not work in real life, so you can redesign it before the construction phase. That error prevention means less rework, leading to machines running for shorter periods and less scrap material, minimizing waste and emissions. Considering how a large project may have more than 2,000 clashes, these savings can be significant.

Some BIM tools can also prevent workflow clashes like scheduling issues. Preventing these will shorten the construction phase, which means fewer construction machinery-related emissions.

Net Zero Is the Future of Architecture and Construction

Modern technology like BIM, renewable energy and smart home systems can make net zero energy buildings a reality. As this technology improves, it’ll become more efficient and accessible, expanding these benefits. The building and construction industry will become increasingly sustainable as a result.

As climate issues grow more severe, you’ll see more demand for green buildings. Net zero energy and the technology that supports it will become the standard as that happens.

Share this article

Leave your comments

Post comment as a guest

terms and condition.
  • No comments found

Share this article

Emily Newton

Science & Tech Expert

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She is a science and technology journalist with over three years covering industry trends and research. 


Latest Articles

View all
  • Science
  • Technology
  • Companies
  • Environment
  • Global Economy
  • Finance
  • Politics
  • Society
Cookies user prefences
We use cookies to ensure you to get the best experience on our website. If you decline the use of cookies, this website may not function as expected.
Accept all
Decline all
Read more
Tools used to analyze the data to measure the effectiveness of a website and to understand how it works.
Google Analytics