Hindsight is 2020. And now that 2020 is over, we’re finally learning what that could mean for us — for how we live, how we interact with each other and our environment. While we are undoubtedly experiencing challenging times, this is also an opportunity to think deeply about our homes. California’s Net Zero mandate is geared toward new construction and, as trends go, is finding its way into “reimagined renovation” and remodel/additions. Will the next home you purchase or renovate generate its own electricity? What kind of environmentally friendly products will you use? How can you communicate remotely with an architect, a builder, and everyone else in between so that your project goes exactly the way you want it to?
Will the next home you purchase or renovate generate its own electricity?
As an architect, I like to take an existing house and make it feel like a whole new home. By transforming the existing infrastructure, we can achieve energy efficiency without going through the whole process of extra fees and public hearings. More and more of my clients, who are self-sustaining and environmentally conscious, are looking to go completely Net Zero.
We feel very supported by the state, but as many learn what Net Zero truly means for California, sometimes decisions are made behind closed doors that are not well-thought-out and fail to look at the full consequences of each code. For example, when the new REACH codes came out, I grew skeptical when cities began banning gas infrastructure. And now new homes can’t have gas in many SF Bay Area communities. Quite a few of my clients really like cooking with gas and want to keep their wood burning or gas burning fireplaces. Still, the reasons behind the codes make sense, as research states that when gas leaks, it creates a greenhouse effect that contributes to climate change. Our state is moving more toward energy efficiency and healthier environments everyday and architects are finding creative solutions to give homeowners what they want while helping the environment.
What kind of environmentally friendly products will you use?
With the remodels I am doing, our projects would still allow a gas stove and can offset the carbon footprint with systems such as solar panels. One other way to reduce your footprint is to look for products that are already made sustainably. Low VOC products promote good air quality and an overall healthy indoor environment. I encourage my clients to get creative rather than always trying to check off all the compliance check list. There are so many ways to design a Net Zero home. As of last year, the California Energy Code now requires new homes to have solar panels as a way of producing energy on site. Even in the past five years, the energy code looks at how the whole envelope can make the building work more efficiently, so that its systems are more passive than active. The home is oriented properly, harnessing the power of the sunlight any way it can but keeping heat out. As a result, the home has better insulation and less of a need for air conditioning loads, this limits the greenhouse gas coolants emitted from AC.
What does Net Zero mean for California homes and for your lifestyle?
Along with such innovative ways of making electricity and selecting products comes many emotional benefits. A Net Zero lifestyle allows you to:
1) Feel good about yourself while contributing positively to the environment
2) Live "off the grid" comfortably by creating your own electricity and having a battery backup in areas that may be susceptible to power companies shutting off power to prevent wildfires.
3) Be more sustainable and self-sufficient, thus protecting yourself and your community
Another interesting thing: Some of my clients who, prior to the pandemic, wanted to be as close as possible to urban infrastructure for friends and entertainment, now want to move to the suburbs and rural areas. Suburban and rural communities aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and the pandemic might actually be saving them. With the space to live freely and safely, people can enjoy outdoor activities on their own land. Our priorities are changing as a collective and I’m grateful to be a part of that positive change.
How can you communicate remotely with an architect?
Fortunately, my firm has been working remotely for over a decade. With all our systems already set up internally, our team can work together in the Bay Area and all over the country. So we flipped that switch into client mode. Our biggest change this year was to train our clients to use the same systems: video conferencing on Zoom, exploring on Houzz, Cloud based file sharing, and a Cloud based modeling program. Clients can now check the progress of their project 24/7. The 3D BIM model provides walkthroughs, giving a clear idea of the feeling of the space so they can sit on the couch in the evening, browse through, and then come back to me with feedback. I feel like clients actually enjoy this virtual flexibility more than before.