Things to Consider When Designing Your Low Energy Dream House – Part 1

Low Energy Dream House ( Solar Thermal Magazine ). – My wife and I are considering selling our home and building a smaller house set up for two people that makes efficient use of space and uses as little energy as possible. Since I make my living as an industrial energy efficiency and renewable energy expert this should be right up my alley right? It also sounds like a lot of fun designing our perfect new place that we will enjoy for many years to come. We started looking for designs off the internet for net zero or super-insulated homes which got us thinking about what we wanted to do.

Here is the first video we liked that shows what is possible when you super insulate a home in Falmouth Maine.  The design uses traditional, simple forms with thoughtfully placed windows and overhangs to take advantage of the views and to create a livable, open and modest plan.


The home is constructed with double-thick walls, triple glazed windows, and a well-insulated, radiant slab, including innovative detailing throughout.

According to the video the increased level of performance created by this building system, along with solar tubes on the roof, will allow the occupants to significantly downsize their mechanical system and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels at a cost of less than $175 per square foot (excluding garage/porch). This was produced in 2009 so keep that in mind for the price per square foot.

If you want to learn more you can contact the Architect at or the builder at for specific questions about the project.

The second video we found useful is appropriately titled , Building A Passive Solar House in the Sub-Arctic

The Grunaus are building a super low-energy home in Fairbanks that uses solar, biomass, thermal storage, and a super-insulated shell to go entirely off fossil fuels for heating–a very new idea in this climate. This house embodies many of the principles that the Cold Climate Housing Research Center has researched and demonstrated, such as a tight double wall insulated with cellulose, seasonal heat storage, and good ventilation. In this video, homeowner and CCHRC engineer Bruno Grunau describes the design of the house and mechanical systems, and builder Jake Timm shares his experience with the unconventional building techniques.

Next to consider it the concept of passive solar design. This next video does a pretty good job of explaining the concept and how to apply them in your design.

From an efficiency heating perspective these videos cover the topic pretty well. However we have no intention of building our new house anywhere where it snows more than one day a year. Even that is pushing it. So how do you design with this in mind when most of your power bill will be coming from air conditioning? Here is a video that covers the concept of solar cooling. Some of it is little over the top tree-hugger type stuff. I am not going to plant grass on my roof but roof color and overhang design are something worth understanding before you start the saws up.

That’s it for part one in our efficient home design saga. We will let you know what is next.

About Gordon Smith
Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.

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  • Aaron Stout says:

    It seems that the video clip on the basics of passive solar home design was for homes built in the southern hemisphere, is that correct?

    My understanding is that the sun takes a southern arc across the sky, with that arc being lower and further south during the winter months.

    The video keeps talking about setting up the north side of the home to benefit from the changes in that fundamental principal. Am I missing something here?

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