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Can A Carbon-Neutral Home Exist in Poor Weather Conditions?

Can A Carbon-Neutral Home Exist in Poor Weather Conditions?

In many write-ups of eco-friendly homes, particularly those built with carbon-neutral plans in mind, you’ll read about how the setting was carefully chosen. Setting tends to matter when you’re trying to take advantage of natural benefits like ample sunlight, natural earth insulation, and other environmental traits. Build a home in the wrong place and you’ll be using more energy to heat it, light it, and cool it, but build it in the right place, and the setting will actually help, rather than hinder your efforts.

But what happens when your choices are limited, and circumstances force you to build on a setting that’s not ideal? A test case in Austria shows that creative architects and engineers can in fact build a carbon neutral home even when the elements are against them. The Velux Sunlighthouse is the first such home in Austria, and it’s unlikely to be the last, given the growing interest in energy-efficient homes and the demonstration provided through the construction that it’s possible to take advantage of the environment even when it seems like your homesite is against you.

The home is located to the west of Vienna, on a very narrow, sloped building site. Such sites tend to be a challenge even for regular construction, because builders have to consider restrictions that wouldn’t otherwise be a problem. For example, a home may need to be narrower than is standard to create room for property line allowances, which requires creating a narrow design that still feels spacious and open. Sloped building sites are also difficult to deal with, an issue San Francisco contractors know well.

To add insult to injury, the site wasn’t positioned at a good angle to get lots of natural sunlight, which was a key part of the plan to make the home carbon neutral. To install solar panels, electricians want lots of Southern exposure, as that’s the most likely to provide a steady supply of sun, even in the winter. Thus, the architects had to work with the electricians to angle the home and the roofing to catch as much sun as possible so the home could generate solar power; the home’s energy systems are boosted by a geothermal heat pump.

As with other environmentally friendly construction, this home has a tight building envelope designed to help stabilize interior temperatures. The walls are thick and well-insulated to minimize heat loss, and the home’s many windows are also thoroughly insulated. To make the Velux Sunlighthouse feel more open, and reduce lighting costs, a large number of windows admit natural sunlight into every room of the home, creating a warm, spacious environment. While lots of windows could pose a problem for environmental efficiency, these are carefully implemented to keep the home as efficient as possible, and it still manages to generate more energy than it needs.

This home illustrates that it’s possible to design an eco-friendly home in any circumstances, even when a building site might seem challenging. For architects and designers working on such homes, it’s great evidence to provide in case studies and treatments for future home sites. And for homeowners planning renovations or getting ready to build, it’s an inspiration.

Katie Marks writes for This article originally appeared here.

Photo: Inhabitat

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4:29AM PST on Jan 16, 2014

There must be a way

3:57AM PST on Jan 15, 2014

The prices WILL come down as demand goes up. Especially for both Geothermal and heat pumps, which after all were invented by old Uncle Albert (Einstein) himself.

3:33AM PST on Jan 15, 2014

Great but not affordable 4 the average person. Need to make it work 4 everyone.

10:08AM PST on Jan 10, 2014


1:13PM PST on Jan 9, 2014

Build it under ground 58 degrees year round very little requirements for heating and cooling.

8:55AM PST on Jan 7, 2014

It sounds like a reasonable idea, but it's too expensive for most people.

6:46AM PST on Jan 7, 2014

Thanks, interesting article. It's good to know that efforts are being made to overcome less than ideal circumstances. I hope that lessons learned while building this will prove useful in the future.

3:57PM PST on Jan 6, 2014

Cool but not affordable for most of us.

8:04PM PST on Jan 5, 2014

I think it makes a lot more sense NOT to adapt a house to fit every local. Find the places where you have the southern exposure and can back up into a hill side, or at least pile up earth half way up the sides. Just let the unsuitable sites be used for green space. Whatever you do, stop the bulldozing of trees and flattening of land to make 'houseing developments'. Terrible waste of landscape, wild habitat, energy resources for heavy equipment, and anything else worthwhile you can think of.

7:27PM PST on Jan 5, 2014

Thanks for sharing

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