by , 08/22/05


There are green houses and then there green houses. Zoka Zola’s Zero Energy House which is currently being designed for a space on Adams street in Chicago, is as green as it gets. When it is completed, the 3 story, single-family home will be completely self-sufficient: consuming zero energy except for that which is generated on-site with solar panels and wind turbines.

For most run-of-the-mills homes, solar and wind energy would not be enough to power a single-family house. The Zero Energy house, however, has been specifically designed to maximize light, heat and energy intake in the way it is positioned in relation to the sun, wind and landscaped elements like trees. Architect Zoka Zola has specifically mapped out the location of the sun (and corresponding shade) at various points during the year to ensure that the Zero Energy House is always energy efficient, wind rain, or shine.

In summer, the operable windows allow cross ventilation. The tree in the south garden shades the house from the sun. In winter, warm sunlight floods the shallow rooms through large south-facing windows, heating the exposed concrete interior walls, creating a thermal mass which will warm the building throughout the night.

The building is surrounded by plants to help insulate it from the heat and cold. The building’s exterior is draped with ivy, while mosses, herbs and grasses covers the building’s roofs. The accessible green roof encourages bio-diversity and will absorb water runoff, while insulating the interior and protecting the roof from thermal shock and ultra violet deterioration.

The architect says “We would like this building to be an inspiration to other homeowners and developers in urban environments.”

Count me inspired.

+ Zero Energy House

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  1. jaydraiman July 7, 2008 at 1:18 am

    Renewable Energy Manufactures/suppliers should use their own product to manufacture.

    The manufacturers’ of Solar Panels and other forms of renewable energy with related support products manufactures/suppliers – should have at least the decency to practice what they preach what they market to the public.
    That would be the best marketing approach I can think off.
    If they believe in the product they manufacture/sell, they should utilize it to its fullest potential.
    It will give the manufacturer the actual experience of utilizing the product on a daily basis, view and experience any shortcoming or improvements that are needed, implement the improvements and capitalize on that revision to improve the product and its performance.
    This will instill confidence in the public to purchase the product.

    Jay Draiman, Energy Analyst

    As with any new technology, PV will become more efficient, cheaper and cleaner to produce. In order for this to happen we (Governments / NGOs / Individuals) need to invest more time and money into making PV viable, e.g. through increased incentives, regulations, technical standards, R&D, manufacturing processes and generating consumer demand.
    Just like the automobile industry, the manufacture used its own product.
    Over the years the automobile industry and technology has evolved from the early 1900 to what it is today the year 2008.
    I predict that in 10 years the automobile we know today will change drastically for the better, with new fuel technology and other modification that will improve its scales of economy and features.

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  4. Inhabitat » Blog ... April 18, 2006 at 5:34 am

    […] You might have guessed why I included zero. Be on the lookout for zero-energy buildings and homes. It’s possible. But more important, as Ray Cole discussed, is the constant push to improve and reach toward the ultimate goal-combining smart design and renewable energy to make a building self-sufficient. Cole heads the Environmental Research Group at the University of British Columbia’s School of Architecture, and compared small and fast changes with slow and big changes. We’ve seen lots of small and fast advances-new technologies and strategies that directly impact a building or its occupants. But Cole is after the slow and big changes that will change the context within which buildings are designed. And maybe zero and carbon neutrality are part of that. It has to be on our wish list. […]

  5. Greg January 19, 2006 at 8:10 pm

    What kinds of radical thoughts and lifestyle changes will be necessary. Some can be done now and still some things are inevitable.

    1. High powered energy efficiency industries will go away or fail. We won’t have power for them. The economy will tank.
    2. There is no high density power replacment for oil. We are already at capacity in using replacements. We have limits on coal, oil shale, hydrogen isn’t a replacment at all just a storage battery and a poor one at that. We can’t use natural gas as were at a limit. We can’t use trees and biomass, well we can use them, but we cannot get enough from them to replace the quadrillions of BTUS we are getting from energy dense oil. We cannot use biomass from farming unless we want to starve. We won’t be able to even feed ourselves as efficiency unless we have a nitrogen fertilizer replacement. (BTW we flush 18 lbs of nitrogen down our toilets each year to the water purification plants.)
    3. We’ll have to use less light and have limited business hours.
    4. Work from home would be better or walk and live closer to your workplace.
    5. Your work will be more physical, and exerting because the human body will have to do more work with less machine energy eating capacity.
    6. Learn to live in a small community with farming as part of your life. The future will not support cities, because we won’t have the power density available fuels to keep things going the way we did.

    It will be a future epoch of energy depression and and different post-industrial age. You have to think way beyond gride tied zero energy. You have to think of a grid-less existance and a future with far less industry, creating far less and living much simpler and closer to the land. More like Amish or rural peasant Chinese farmers.

    I have been looking for months now for a technological answer to the oil-crash crisis. There isn’t anything promising. Those who think everything will just keep going on as it has been will be in for a shock, just as many were with the natural gas price hike this winter. Get ready for more pain. We’ll cut back eventually, but we are not making this a priority and figuring out how to actually save some semblance of modern civilization. The fall will be very great and withdraws will cause a lot of war or famine. Each year the outlook will be worse, unless people wake up and realize it’s time to get serious about conserving and changing our life and energy needs.

  6. Greg January 19, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    Here’s some more thoughts regarding “zero energy”. It seems like there’s a lot of theory on how to build sustainable houses out there, but few from people who are actually trying to do something. At least Zoka is doing something. Regarding zero energy embodied energy comments. Who’s to say what the best green process is, especially when you factor in the zoning requirments of local officials. I wanted for example to build a “straw bale” house in Wyandotte Michigan, but the city officials are very strict in there building codes. (Not that you’d know it looking at some of the dumps in the town that have been grandfathered in and are listed for sale. But anyway my point is I talked to a code official and he said, “just because something is up to code and legal”, meaning doable doesn’t mean we’ll allow it. For example he stated, you can build a foundation on wood, yes there is a way of doing it, and “in areas where wood is plentiful and cement is difficult to get, you may be able to legally do it, but you cannot build a wood foundation in their city, because they don’t allow it. The code officials have a knowledge of what is commonly available and to even go further. My summary, would be that they have a vested interest in keeping the local builders, suppliers and economy going. So there is no incentive for them to allow someone to produce a low cost sweat equity house with green materials that come from non-conventional or cheap sources. Even if I could get straw bales for free, and get St. Austeur plaster for free to coat the straw bale house, and have an archetect design a building. Shoot I’d say even if I had an archetect like Frank Wright design a house with a golden or copper roof over a steel infrastructure. That straw bale design would be doomed from a code official point of view. So in a real life city/suburb example (Wyandotte Michigan is near Detroit Michigan), truly innovative green buildings or “a pole barn with a steel roof” as the code official referred to it. Are looked down on, discoraged and not allowed. This is because they have no idea that there is going to be a huge fall in the economy and have no way or vision to see that there is a real and definite need to stop wasting energy resources and help delay and moderate the (www.dieoff) oil crash scenario.

    I applaud anyone who is doing something positive to conserve energy, even if it isn’t necessarily the most perfect appraoch. Most zero energy homes are built to sell the concept and that concept is easier to sell if the house is upscale and brings up the property value and doesn’t invite low income (yes the poor are looked down on) folks in the neighborhood. So it’s much easier to design a $1 million house that’s zero energy and sell it to local building officials, using all kinds of advanced and current building materials. After all everyone wins, the cement company, the Owens Corning folks, the GE refrigerator sellers, even the gas company, as long as your connected, they still get a line fee.

    Then there is the aspects of society doing everything wrong and wasteful from an energy perspective. For example: we flush 25% of our water down toilets to pollute streams and waterways with excessive nitrogen that comes out of our bodies instead of grey and black water recycling. We gather water from roofs to support our gardening and have hot water heaters for bathtubs, but don’t research water purification of the water catchment and how to sterilize and use that water for our own consumption. We go part way. We still create 3000 square foot “zero energy” homes which is more than our ultimate needs, and avoid winter greenhouses and food production techniques that will be necessary. We still drive cars and for the most part expect to live in a society that uses the equivalent energy of 100 workers (oil slave energy equivalent) We need to think radically to save the energy necessary to stave off the eventual oil supply crisis we will experience.

  7. alok January 2, 2006 at 1:15 pm

    could you please send me more information about this i’ll be very greatful to you. thanks for your help.

  8. The Garbo December 25, 2005 at 12:39 pm

    Really… Australian architects have been doing far better work for far longer. Tell me how much embedded energy is being used within all of that reinforced concrete? LOTS is the answer. Sure, nearly anyone can say something is zero energy but really there is nothing new in this ‘design’ it’s all empty talk, if she really knew what she was doing she’d have done something completely different!

  9. king kong December 20, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    how much did this house cost to build plz email me back asap

    Decmember 20 2005 thnkz

  10. akash September 3, 2005 at 1:52 pm


  11. malcolm August 25, 2005 at 12:26 pm

    hello all
    i am new to this site. i just installed a solar panel on the roof of a new house i am building. the panel heats all my domestic hot water as well as my radiant heat. the panel is not for creating electricity, only hot water. the system is super efficient and produces water 210 degrees. its stored in a large insulated tank. there is also a back up gas water on demand system if we have little sun that will bring the water up to temp and still using less energy. you can also create air conditioning with this system, although i do not need that where i live on nantucket island, ma. click this link for photos and more details. i think more ppl should be doing this. hopefully with the rising fuel costs more ppl will think about using alternative energy.

  12. Bryan August 24, 2005 at 5:16 pm

    Has anyone thought to integrate household heating/cooling with water heating? One could take the condensation (hot) side of an air conditioner and exchange the heat with incoming household water rather than outside air, then send that into your water heater. You’d save some energy in the hot side of the AC – by not having to waste fan torque on blowing air through it – and some on the heater – warmed water needs to be heated less than cold water.

    Further, you’d produce far less waste heat (in my mind, the real cause of global warming), and could easily apply the same concept to a peltier air conditioner (30% efficiency and rising, with no HFC/CFC use).

    Combine that with a solar/wind-powered house like this, and you have a potentially negative-power house.

  13. shawn August 23, 2005 at 1:46 am

    Adding to your thoughts about this type of project’s appropriateness for suburbs, I’m actually going to suggest that it might not work very predictably in an urban environment. Figuring out really specific light and wind patterns is all well and good, but cities are generally very dynamic places, and big buildings can easily change sunlight and wind patterns. Basically, if the guy across the street tears down his building and puts something different there, that could create some big changes to how effectively your green systems work. In the suburbs (well, some of them), there’s generally a yard buffer between structures, allowing each building to create its own microclimates, with less interference from others.

    When I was in architecture school just a few years ago, basic sustainability ideas like cross ventilation and thermal mass were pretty standard discussion topics. Maybe that was because I went to school somewhere where the climate was not easily ignored. Is it not like that at most/all architecture schools? I

  14. John August 22, 2005 at 10:47 pm

    As much as I appreciate and applaude this sort of effort, I can’t help but think there’s a flaw in Zoka’s logic when she says, “…cities with higher urban densities consume less oil. Therefore urban sustainable buildings are the most effective way to decrease the consumption of oil.” To me, if we take the first part as fact, the conclusion would actually be for suburban sustainable buildings over urban sustainable buildings, because the latter will have less of an impact than the former. Right? The amount of energy decreased by having this house in the city will be less than if it were in the ‘burbs.

    I do understand where she’s coming from, and agree that dense urban settlements are better for energy consumption (and general living) than suburban ones, but by citing the above she’s actually pointing out that this house would be more beneficial in the ‘burbs. Sure it won’t stop people from driving to the store and such, but it will offset that oil and gas used, while if somebody walks/bikes/takes public transportation, there’s less to offset.

    Logic argument aside, I think it’s great and hope she can pull it off (it seems most zero-energy endeavors can’t fully achieve that goal) but maybe she should undertake a suburban version at some point. Lord knows we need it.

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