With the exponential rise in the design and construction industries, their impact on the environment is monumental. To counteract these effects, practices of green building and net-zero energy and carbon have emerged. The World Green Building Council defines Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) as buildings that are highly energy-efficient and fully powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy sources. The energy needs for ‘Net-zero energy’ buildings are met through non-conventional energy systems such as solar arrays, wind turbines, biomass, or other renewable resources. These buildings are characterized by net-zero consumption of energy and zero carbon emissions, making them self-sufficient.

With the emergence of modern technology and innovations in the energy industry, designing a “Net Zero Energy building” is an achievable goal despite challenges faced in the design process.  

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Omega Centre for Sustainable Living- A net-zero energy building ©www.bnim.com/project/omega-center-sustainable-living

Here are 10 tips to achieve Net Zero Energy Designs

1. Energy analysis

A structure consumes energy throughout its life cycle, which ultimately leads to the emission of harmful greenhouse gases; a major contributor to climate change. To ensure net-zero energy consumption, a pre-construction energy analysis for the design needs to be undertaken by the stakeholder. This process enables designers and engineers to understand the energy gaps which can be plugged through the application of active energy measures. Multiple integrated tools like BIM can be used to study the building’s energy systems under various conditions thus giving the designers an in-depth analysis before the construction commences.

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Energy analysis using digital tools ©www.axiomcoreenergy.com/energy-analysis-mv

2. Set goals for performance

Achieving ‘Net-Zero Energy’ for designs requires immense pre-planning and collaboration. Setting goals for the performance of the building before the start of the design process gives a set-frame work for the architect/designer to work with. This method helps the stakeholders incorporate energy-saving technology within the design thereby reducing the need for retrofitting in the future.

3. Collaborative Design

Net-zero energy design is possible only through a collaboration between clients, designers, and engineers. The involvement of all stakeholders is mandatory at the initial phases to ensure the workability of the solution. The multiple perspectives help detect possible problems in the design. The involvement of the client ensures economic feasibility, which is vital to designing a ‘Net-zero energy’ building. 

4. Passive Design

The incorporation of passive design is the first step in achieving ‘Net-zero energy design’. ‘Net-zero energy’ buildings must have reduced energy consumption and only then can the renewable energy systems meet the remaining energy needs. Building orientation, ventilation, and shading are components of passive design that help the building to reduce its energy demands by using its site and climatic conditions. These design considerations significantly reduce the dependency on active heating, cooling, and lighting measure.

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Energy analysis using digital tools ©z5055500.blogspot.com/2015/06/a-passive-design-for-housing.html


5. Designing an energy-efficient building envelope

The design of the building envelope is important for your building to be classified as a ‘net-zero energy’ building. We must design the envelope of the building in a way that reduces it’s heating and cooling requirements of the building. We must also use fenestrations which are energy star rated to achieve net-zero energy.

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Image 4 – Energy performance of a building envelope ©www.horizon-engineering.com/high-performance-building-envelope

6. Selecting energy-efficient lighting technology

We must always design the building in a way that optimizes the natural light, the residual requirement of light should be met using energy-efficient lighting technology. Light-Emitting Diodes (LED) are the most energy-efficient and affordable lighting sources. LEDs are available in a variety of sizes and shapes, thus enabling flexibility in the design.

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Image 5 – Energy efficiency of Light Emitting Diode ©sftool.gov/plan/402/lca-example-light-emitting-diodes-leds 

7. Using energy-efficient Heating, Cooling systems. 

Using highly cost and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems are essential to achieving the net-zero energy goal. Using mini-heat pumps, green-star rated heating and cooling appliances can significantly reduce the energy loads of the building. We must choose the energy systems as per the footprint of the building and the climatic conditions to ensure optimum efficiency.

8. Select Energy-Efficient Appliances and Electronics

As the zero-energy design of the building has already accounted for high performing envelopes, efficient lighting, and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, the next step is the selection of energy-efficient appliances and electronics. Selecting energy star rated appliances further minimizes the energy consumption, reducing the need to offset it to achieve net-zero energy.

9. Using Renewable Energy Systems

The last step in achieving net-zero energy goals is the application of renewable energy. After we undertake all the measures to reduce the energy consumption of a building, we must use renewable energy generation systems to meet the remaining energy demands. Energy systems such as solar, wind, and thermal can generate clean and usable energy while simultaneously reducing the building’s carbon footprint.

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Renewable energy systems ©pixabay.com/en/electricity-sun-wind-1330214/ 

10. Maintenance and Metering

After achieving net-zero energy, one must ensure that the structure functions as a net-zero energy building, even post-occupancy. Thus, Post-occupancy monitoring goes a long way in ensuring the proper functioning of the energy systems. This helps in reducing the breakdown of accessory mechanical services, ensuring no loss of efficiency. Metering energy consumption can help designers analyze the building performance and make necessary changes through retrofits.


Anushri Kulkarni is a 24-year-old, Mumbai based architect with a passion for green architecture. She is a voracious reader and consumes all genres with equal gusto. Apart from being an architect, she is also a budding architecture and interior photographer.

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