Can a System Built, Pre-Fabricated, High Performance, Kit Home Be Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH)? Part 3 

By Stewart Elliott, Co-Founder Right Home Company

Avalon Cross-Section Home Plan


We asked ‘how do we get there’ in our last article. There are many considerations and aspects to saving energy. Last article outlined 5 categorical construction parameters. We will look at design considerations in this article. Then structural elements in PART 4.

We said it before and we’ll say it again, we cannot conserve our way to a net zero energy home. To get to a NZEH, we will have to generate some energy to offset the difference which will be discussed in the next installment.

We ended PART 2 suggesting that a well-designed, smartly built, smaller home is a substantial step in the right direction. Call it downsized, rightsized, smart, practical, sensible, affordable, or accessible - size matters. Building less home means less material, less energy, and less money to own your home. Smaller homes more easily show pride and sustainability.

We are not talking about Tiny Homes or RV homes. We are talking about right sized, attached to terra firma, on a permanent foundation, homes.

It does not mean less space; it means better use of space. Reduce hallways, create rooms with multiple uses, higher ceilings, natural light source on multiple walls, wider doors, fewer partitions with open floor plans look that feel larger. Whether it is no kids, profession, retirement or a destination, we need to make a conscious decision to build less home.

And these homes have lower taxes and insurance, require less cleaning, and lower monthly bills while enhancing convenience and beauty. Having a very quiet consistent, predictable living environment is comfortable and stress free.

We don’t live in Yeti® coolers with a PV systems on the lid; we live in a home and have a life, a view, we love to cook, and have friends and family who visit. Authors such as Susanka, Koonse, Hutchinson, Kahn, and many others are addressing the subject. History offers many great examples such as Detroit’s 19th C. Corktown Neighborhood and New Orleans with their shotgun styles that fit on narrow city lots; these styles have become a part of the ‘New Urbanism’ popularity.

Some Design Considerations for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in Northern Climates:

Building shapes that are simple gable roofed with square shapes will have the least wall and roof area surrounding the most livable volume. And there is an opportunity to ‘live under the roof’ making use of this often wasted ‘attic’ space for bedrooms, baths, study, and lofts. This is a perfect use of system supplied SIPs.

A simplified design example for today’s lifestyle takes upwards of 950 sf on the main level to comfortably accompany a master en suite, open pantry kitchen-living-dining, mechanical, mudroom – laundry - powder room, stairwell, office or flex room, ample storage/closets and entry. With > 8/12 roof pitch, one can easily get another 300 – 600 sf of upper level ‘attic’ space allowing 2 rooms and bath and stairs. The same roof and foundation support and cover both floors – saves money.

Many sites are tight, but that does not mean we cannot take advantage of many opportunities. How you place your Right Sized home on the site matters, its orientation to the weather and to the sun is as important as the orientation to your community and a view.

Building orientation includes facing south to take advantage of passive solar and appropriate overhangs to reduce heat gain in the summer and allow solar gain during the winter. Keep the least amount of wall surface area to north. Place windows to allow solar gain with fewest north. Design garages for the north side blocking the foul weather.

These are some of the differences between designing for colder northern and warmer southern Climate Zones. We in the Midwest are in CZ5 – CZ7.

These are just some of the design basics. Mostly, size, shape and orientation matter. This continues to demonstrate system built, smart, downsized homes meet today’s lifestyle and saves money.