At Mottram Architecture we are passionate about promoting and practicing sustainable living and integrated design. Our energy efficient building design approach helps our clients achieve a healthy home and make a positive impact on their community and our environment. There are countless ways you can get involved and become an advocate of energy conservation.What is Net-Zero“A zero-energy building, also known as a net-zero energy building is a building with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site.” (by D. Crawley U.S. Department of Energy). These homes do at times use non-renewable energy however it is counterbalanced by the amount of renewable energy used, giving a net balance of zero energy consumption. There are also homes that create a surplus of energy referred to as “Positive Energy Buildings”. Similarly there are homes that are considered “Ultra-Low Energy homes” which consume a marginal amount more than they produce. To achieve this goal the home must: 1. Be designed to use less energy 2. Maximize the use of on-site and renewable energy sources. Building a new home has advantages over retrofitting to reach Net-Zero status. For example an important factor such as building orientation for optimal solar exposure can be designed and planned in the design phase of a new build. All net zero homes start with good design. At Mottram Architecture these are the principles that we use to develop our Net Zero Homes in Maine. Net Zero might be more challenging to achieve through a retrofit, however any energy conscious renovation is guaranteed to make an immediate and obvious difference.How You Can Get InvolvedIf you're interested in renovating your existing home, there are many things you can do to drastically increase the efficiency. An Energy Audit is the best way to understand what your home needs. Here at Mottram Architecture we perform Energy Audits for our clients, as part of all of our renovation work, to pinpoint inefficiencies of the home. The results of the energy audit will prioritize improvements that will have the highest impact on the health and energy consumption of your home. If your just getting introduced to the concept of sustainable living and are interested in some DIY strategies here are some simple, low cost, steps you can take to significantly reduce your energy use.No matter what motivates you, saving money or saving the environment, small changes can have big impacts. If you want to consider Net Zero but need more information, contact us today! We offer a feasibility study that can help get you started by pinpointing what works for your budget, your site, your family and your goals. Start your path to Net-Zero today, you won't be sorry!Resources"Zero Energy Buildings: A Critical Look at the Definition" Paul Torcellini, Shanti Pless, and Michael Deru, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Drury Crawley, U.S. Department of Energy. National Renewable Energy Laboratory report: NREL/CP-550-39833. June, 2006. http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy06osti/39833.pdf
Some times the best thing you can do at the beginning of the project is a feasibility study. These include code research, zoning research, measuring the building or site, site analysis, and in some cases, an energy analysis. In commercial projects, this simple step could save a lot of time, effort, and money for a client.Recently I did a feasibility study for a client. I went out, measured the building, spent time researching the code based on the use they wanted for the building and developed a study based on their requirements. I then contacted the town in which they were located to clarify some zoning issues and found out that the use they were proposing for this building was not allowed in the zoning district where they were located. I took for granted that the existing use of their building was a grandfathered use, and that similar uses would be allowed.The client, however, was still very interested in pursuing the idea that they have for the space. So they asked me what the requirements would be in order to make this use happen in this location. Contacting the town resulted in the information necessary, however, it would be an uphill battle. The town requires that you convince your town councilor to take up your petition and bring it in front of the town Council in order to change the actual zoning in the area to incorporate this use.All towns are different and have different rules. In the City where I live, citizens can petition the Planning Board to change the zoning. The City Council can ask the Planning Board to revise Zoning, or the City can ask the Planning board to revise zoning. In this smaller town, the Town Council is in charge of changing zoning and there is not a mechanism for residents to petition the board. Residents would be required to submit to their Town Councilor or one of the At Large Councilors to bring the issue in front of the Council.At that time, the Councilor needs to convince the other members of the board to change the zoning. Typically they will notify the abutting neighbors to get their input on the matter. Then they will hold a public hearing to discuss the issue at hand where the board will ask questions and public input will be held. It can be a very serious issue when changing zoning to allow additional uses. Although the zoning district where this client would like to add a use is very small, sometimes changing uses in a zoning district can affect several neighborhoods and hundreds of square miles within the town or city. These zoning changes can be a very complicated matter. Although the Council may agree with your project in your location, if it affects larger parts of the town or city it may not be in their best interest to allow the use. It also can be challenging for the board because they can not appear to have awarded favoritism to a particular project and must look at the use within the zoning and not at a specific site.Zoning Ordinances can be very difficult to change and swaying a town or city Council can be a challenge. So if you are considering a project, maybe it is a residence with a home business or a commercial space in a restricted zone, contact someone and have a feasibility study done on your project. It might be the best couple hundred dollars you ever spent. It also will tell you what is allowable in your area and may help you to restructure your project to something more economically viable or at least allowable in your zoning district.