Negative Footprint Design

Imagine living or working in a building that produces all the power it needs — and more. One that makes the absolute best use of its surrounding light, weather conditions, and location to be as energy efficient as possible, blending smart design, green materials, and emerging technologies for a maximum effect. This is the result that the HouseZero project is aiming for, but that's only part of its story.

The HouseZero project was conceived by the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) as a way to create a new space for its program and, in the process, design a model for an environmentally-friendly, ultra-efficient structure. To do this, they took a pre-1940s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and developed a retrofitting plan that would transform the space into the building of the (green) future, HouseZero. The building was already owned by the program, so it wasn't specially targeted; instead, the success with HouseZero design, which will achieve the most rigorous efficiency standards by a building retrofit to date, demonstrates that green design is achievable for average existing structures.

Image Credit: Harvard University/Center for Green Buildings and Cities

The performance goals set forth for HouseZero include: zero carbon emissions, including the materials; 100% natural ventilation and daylight autonomy; and near-zero energy use for heating and cooling. These goals are intended to be healthy not just for the environment, but for the people who will be working in the space. Even more ambitiously, all of these goals will be met without materially or visually changing the house's appearance.

A Green Transferable Model

HouseZero is going to function as more than just a green space for the program; it will also showcase the ways that ultra-efficient retrofits work, and will serve as a transferable model. There are more than 14 million homes like the one being retrofitted in this project across the United States, and the success of HouseZero will hopefully inspire more retrofits like it.

One of the most exciting things about a project like this is that it is never really over. The CGBC plans to collect data on the building's performance over time for analysis, and continue to improve the design as time and technologies move forward. This kind of dedication to incremental improvements and ultra-efficiency is its own model for a new way to think about using and producing energy in the future.

“For me, I have been advocating from the beginning that, rather than energy production, it’s energy reduction we should look at,” CGBC director Ali Malkawi told The Harvard Gazette. “We should start from the demand and how you can make the demand as efficient as possible.” In other words, we should first learn how to moderate our demand, and then meet our modified demands in the most efficient, least impactful ways possible.

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