Net Zero: 9 Buildings That Produce More Energy Than They Consume

Here’s what a net zero world might look like in 2050.

Matt Shaw Matt Shaw

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When I say “net zero building,” you probably think I mean the store where you procure cut-rate internet service. But alas, they do not have stores, and “net zero building” really means a structure that uses no more energy than it produces, or imports, from renewable energy sources.

A new initiative called the 2050 Imperative was just adopted by The International Union of Architects (UIA), which will aim to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the built environment worldwide by 2050. The UIA is like the UN of architecture, and represents 1.3 million architects around the world, including the AIA. This new initiative has a series of comprehensive goals, but the net zero mission is the boldest.

To see what a net zero world might look like in 2050, here are some of our favorite net zero buildings from the Architizer database.

Net Zero Energy House by Klopf Architecture, Cupertino, CA

This refurbishment of an existing single family home is designed to be light and open and airy. The house is net zero via insulated concrete forms, structural insulated panels, high-performance windows, cementitious siding, and a solar photovoltaic system sized to cover all of the energy usage.

Hi’ilani EcoHouse by Studio RMA, Honoka‘a, HI

This home is made of Structural Concrete Insulated Panels, and it produces its own power and water, while meeting seismic requirements. The winged roof contains cooling, water, and electrical systems.

Pasona H.Q. Tokyo by Kono Designs LLC, Tokyo, Japan

This nine-story office building features a double-skin green facade and 43,000 square feet of urban farming facilities with 200 types of fruits, vegetables, and rice that are harvested and served on-site. The main lobby also has a rice paddy and a broccoli field.

weeZero by Alchemy Architects, Moab, UT

This hovering box’s oxidized exterior blends into the surrounding desert landscape, while the bamboo interior provides an elegant escape. Water recycling, solar electric, and solar thermal collectors will make the house net zero.

Phipps Conservatory by Design Alliance Architects, Pittsburgh, PA

The education facility aims to be the first building to meet the Living Building Challenge (net-zero water, net zero energy), LEED Platinum, and Sustainable Sites Initiative certification. It features solar panels, geothermal wells, and a wind turbine, as well as passive cooling, heating, and lighting methods.

Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve by WEDDLE & GILMORE, Scottsdale, AZ

A vast network of natural landscaping is irrigated by on-site rainwater harvesting that collects 50,000 gallons a year. Solar power provides most of the energy for the building.

Somanath Seniors Apartments by Baskervill, Richmond, VA

This complex features seven net zero energy apartments, powered by rooftop photovoltaic solar thermal panels to produce hot water. High-performance, double-glazed windows and EnergyStar appliances further lower the building’s need for energy consumption.

VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre by Perkins+Will, Vancouver, BC

The curved roof is a metaphor for an orchid and is made of wood, an ambitious material for such a complex form. Net zero energy usage is achieved via systems such as geothermal boreholes, solar photovoltaics, and solar hot water tubes.

Off Grid Island Retreat by Alex Scott Porter Design, Penobscot Bay , ME

This house was built on an island with no road access, and almost all of the materials had to be sent in one shipment. Rainwater harvesting and photovoltaics gather and store solar energy to make this “a little sonnet of a home for the modern day, net zero everyman.”

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