July 29th, 2009

The Dream of the All-Electric House, Revisited


Not General Electric’s home of the future, this demonstration project, scheduled for construction in 2010, envisions a home that is completely energy neutral.  An eight kilowatt solar array, grid connected and net metered, will produce all power necessary for domestic and transportation purposes, without any on site carbon emissions.  The owner, who has been working in the solar industry for over twenty years, is committed to, ‘getting off the pipe, a house without a gas meter.” The basic design strategy is to create a responsible intervention in an historic setting, acknowledging the context while at the same time embracing a contemporary vision of space and function.  It includes a structure with ample roof area for the panels and a highly efficient envelope. The space planning places open living spaces at the rear of the house directly adjacent to the garden.  These rooms employ ample, south facing glazing for maximum solar gain. On mild days, exposed concrete floors with radiant tubes convey passively collected heat to the north facing portions of the house via a small re-circulating pump.  We have specified Marvin wood windows with High-R-Tripane glazing and sprayed, Biobase, soy foam insulation for R-19 walls and an R-40 roof.  This creates a tight enclosure while also accounting for existing, historic “blind walls” and the inherent problems with air and moisture infiltration that they present. A three-story stair well, topped with operable skylights is a dramatic vertical space and creates a “heat stack,” providing all cooling necessary for the moderate San Francisco climate. The mechanical systems are based on the “all electric” concept.  In the active heating mode, a 2/3 ton, electric heat pump provides hot water for the floor system.  A second heat pump provides domestic hot water.  LED fixtures and high efficiency appliances lower the total electrical load, while a plug-in hybrid charges in off hours to balance production and consumption cycles with the net metering approach.   In an effort to embrace a holistic approach to sustainability we have included a gray water reclamation system.  It will provide irrigation for a shared, backyard vegetable garden and for drought tolerant, landscape features both at the yard and the street.  In this urban setting, this project represents an initial attempt to do more than “green” the structure, we are working at the level of lifestyle, beginning to think about transportation, food production and community as component parts of the architectural response.


Architect: , LSarc

Associate: Karen Andersen, LSarc

Structural Engineer: Shaun Monyihan, SEMCO

Mechanical Engineer: Bill Dakin, Davis Energy Group


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6 comments to The Dream of the All-Electric House, Revisited

  • Beth

    Great Post, thanks!
    Your last point about taking green design past the materials and utilities and into the realm of transportation, food production, etc. is pretty important and we don’t see enough designers talking about these issues. I suspect (and hope) that this will soon become more mainstream.

    Anyway I commend you on being on the leading edge and thank you for sharing this information!

  • Bruce

    I am designing a similar house in Santa Barbara. Only mine will also be a small house (950 SF of living space) which should make the goal easier. I am planning on using ICF (IntegraSpec) walls and an arched steel roof (Steelmaster) with solar panels and sedum green roof completely covering the steel panels which provide the structure and the waterproofing. My biggest challenge right now is to get the local design board to support the project. Can we share notes?

  • I am having fun reading your well written articles. It looks like you spend a lot of effort and time on your site. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to read new articles. Keep up the good work!

  • Hi Ross, we have completed a number of commercial buildings and recently several custom homes in Ontario, Canada using the pre-cast floors as radiant panels and rechargeable batteries linked with mechanical equipment.
    Active thermal storage is the missing link in Zero Energy Buildings.
    Night pre-cooling using the floors as a thermal battery can be supercharges with ventilation fan. No wet systems required for radiant comfort.
    They are very low energy buildings and with a bit of effort they can be zero or approaching zero energy cost effectively.
    Jack Laken

  • Nice post. You’re in my RSS reader now so I can read more from you again.

  • I’m happy !It is simple to see that you are passionate about your writing. Looking forward to future posts.Thanks!

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