Few places have embraced sustainable design practices like California. Experiencing dramatic droughts, wildfires and environmental issues, the state has started to create new policies and initiatives to promote environmentally-conscious design solutions. From eco-districts and water management strategies to net-zero building projects, the Golden State is making strides to reshape its future. Forming long-term visions and procedures through the lens of physical resource consumption, California is working to better integrate its economic development plans with sustainable building methods.
California has a rich history of innovation and architecture that engages the environment. It has also been home to some of the world’s most well-known designers and iconic cultural works. These buildings showcase the state’s changing landscape, be it through formal, spatial, or environmental approaches. The following projects explore California’s net-zero housing projects. Made to balance energy and water use, each building utilizes diverse building components and material assemblies to maximize efficiency. Exploring the implementation of photovoltaics, wind catchers, rain screens, and more, the projects show new approaches to sustainable design in California.
The clients are a couple of environmental scientists who, along with their two sons, relocated from the Oakland Hills to the warmer climate of Orinda. Their commitment to sustainability, including a request for net-zero energy performance annually, was evident in their thinking throughout the design process. A three-bedroom program began as a remodel of a 1954 ranch house at the foot of a hill next to a seasonal creek.
Nestled on a knoll top within an expansive West Marin ranch, this compound creates a gathering place for an extended family. The cluster of buildings shapes a courtyard that frames a view back to Mount Tamalpais. The house is designed to be net zero with a remote photovoltaic array providing power. Many sustainable features are designed into the house such as high R-value insulation, reclaimed wood floors, and zoned radiant heat with passive cooling.
Ehrlich Architects’ objective for this eco-friendly residence in Venice, California was to: design a high-performance home that dissolves the barriers between indoors and outdoors; utilize raw, honest materials appropriate to the bohemian grittiness of the surrounding community; and have the smallest carbon footprint in balance with lifestyle. The house design takes full advantage of the local climate such that a net zero energy building is obtained.
Zero Cottage is an investigation of compact, sustainable urban development and a contemporary approach to living and working. The cottage is composed of a 712-square-foot living space set over a 430-square-foot workshop. The free-standing addition presented an opportunity to explore advanced sustainable design, construction techniques, materials and technologies, with a goal of achieving Passive House and Net-Zero Energy certification. The cottage is certified LEED for Homes Platinum. It is the first Passive House-certified home in San Francisco, and achieved Net Zero Certification.
Set in the harsh high desert of California, Sawmill is a family retreat embedded into the tough, scrubby landscape. Sawmill harnesses the challenges and opportunities of its remote site, emphasizing sustainable strategies and reclaimed materials. Demonstrating that high design can also be high performance, Sawmill is a net-zero home that operates completely off the grid.
In respect of the neighbors, a partially-submerged lower level was designed with a pulled-back floor plate to create a light-filled atrium. In conjunction with the mechanical engineer, Klopf designed a net-zero energy home featuring insulated concrete forms, structural insulated panels, high-performance windows, cementitious siding and a solar photovoltaic system sized to cover all the energy usage. The new open and light house offers a connection to nature while maintaining privacy.
This 2,100 Sq. Ft. home maximizes every inch of living space. Deep roof extensions, soaring outward from the two Master Suites, expand indoor-outdoor living while allowing protection from seasonally intense sunshine. Maximizing western views of the San Jacinto mountain range, while minimizing the overheating that accompanies expansive west facing windows, drove site planning and architectural details. After one year of occupancy the home exceeded the client's net-zero goals and produced more electricity than it uses.
Cass Calder Smith designed this sustainable,1900-square-foot beach house in Stinson Beach, CA, as a second home for a three-generation San Francisco family. The design follows a rigorous sustainability program, achieving the Marin Planning Department's highest rating for resource efficiency. Photovoltaic panels generate all the home's electricity, sending surplus energy back to the grid. All the home's systems—hotwater, HVAC, and radiant heating—are integrated, electric-based, and powered by the PV panels on the roof. With the exception of the propane tank, the home is net-zero in terms of its energy consumption.
The owners requested that the house be designed for indoor/outdoor summer living, and the project was designed to be a net-zero home. Passive cooling strategies, including a cool roof, living roof, heavy insulation, operable windows and large overhangs, allow the house to remain comfortable without the use of air conditioning. Photovoltaic powered electric heat pumps provide hot water for in-slab radiant heat and solar hot water panels provide hot water for the pool.
Located in an established Los Altos neighborhood, this single-family residence is a modernist reinterpretation of the Northern California ranch style home the clients desired. Photovoltaic and domestic hot water panels are strategically placed upon the roof and pitched south to optimize sun absorption. Energy collected from the PV panels offsets the net energy consumption of the house.