What Passive Strategies are Most Important? Using Simple Box Modeling to Inform Design

Before I ever put pen to paper for this project, I wanted to answer a deceptively simple question: What passive design measures are most important? What basic strategies did the design need to employ to be successful? —to maintain human comfort with a minimum of added energy?

It’s important to answer this question before design begins in earnest for two reasons:

  1. With a limited budget, it’s important that we invest in the right things; and
  2. If we know the most important strategies before we start designing, we can incorporate them into the DNA of the design—often more effectively and at lower cost than if they were afterthoughts. For instance, if thermal mass or natural ventilation is important, these things will begin to dictate the construction or interior layout in ways that are difficult to “add on” later.

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Webinar: Achieving Net Zero Energy

This webinar from December 2015 provides an overview of the design processes and analyses that were used to set the project on track toward Net Zero Energy during Conceptual and Schematic Design. The studies include “simple box” energy modeling to determine the best passive design measures, comparison of design options, analysis of shading strategies, and optimization of envelope parameters like R-values and glazing. I used a variety of tools including Climate Consultant and the CBE Thermal Comfort Tool — but mostly I used Sefaira Architecture. (Full disclosure: I worked for Sefaira for nearly five years; that’s where this webinar comes from originally.)

I’ll be going into more depth on these studies in future posts, but this webinar is a great overview.

NestCam Live Construction Camera

Keep tabs on the construction with our live NestCam. You can view progress anytime at this link. The page refreshes automatically every two minutes: http://www.iowanest.com/nestcam/ If the image is black, it means it’s dark in Iowa, and the crew is probably sleeping.

Warning: this link can be surprisingly addictive. This tab stays open on my computer at all times.

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Iowa Nest Residence: Net Zero Energy at Conventional Cost

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The Iowa Nest is a Net Zero Energy-targeted residence in rural Iowa. It is designed to supply 100% of its energy needs; to be comfortable without conventional air conditioning; to fit into the landscape; to last for hundreds of years; and to do all of this on a conventional construction budget.

This blog will be run jointly by me (Carl), the primary designer, and by the owners, Peter and Jen. Our hope is to share our experiences designing and building this house so others can learn from our mistakes and re-create our successes. Our experience has shown us that it is possible to achieve remarkable performance (and great design) with a reasonable budget — and we hope to show others how they can do this, too.

You can subscribe to our mailing list to get regular updates: just send an email to list@iowanest.com.

Let’s start by taking a closer look at the project’s design goals.

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