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Zero Energy Strategies for Residential Design and Construction

April 5, 11:45 am to 12:45 pm

Silver Spring Civic Building, Fenton Room, & Online

Approved for 1.0 general GBCI CE and 1.0 AIA LU



John Spears, President and Founder, Sustainable Design Group

Nicole Tysvaer, Co-Founder and CEO, Symbi Homes

Robin McGrew, Associate, Peabody|Fine Architects, PC




Although homes produce one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, our home building industry lags behind many industrialized nations in our production of net zero energy housing. Of the nearly one million single-family homes built in 2019, less than 1% were net zero. In this session, builders of net zero homes will share exemplary models of sustainable residential construction across the DMV area, including:

  • The Net Zero Energy Alley Dwelling Initiative – With funding from the DC Department of Energy and Environment in 2020, this research project conducted by a group of two architects, a builder, and a property developer resulted in the schematic design of a proto-type two-story dwelling for an alley lot in the District of Columbia. The team determined the best options for massing, solar orientation, shading, fenestration, and building envelope strategies to ensure it is capable of meeting the requirements of a zero-energy building that is durable, affordable and build-able with readily available materials and basic construction skills.

  • Griffin’s Gate – Built in 1985 by Sustainable Design Group, the Griffin’s Gate single-family home in Montgomery County showcases the durability of sustainable construction. The house is designed to be energy independent with a combination of passive solar, active solar and geothermal components with backup battery storage. A net zero guest house on the property, completed in 2001, was constructed of Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC) blocks which exceed code required R-values with no additional insulation.

  • SYMBI Duplex One – Completed in Spring 2021, the SYMBI Homes side-by-side duplex in Mount Rainier, MD, is certified Net Zero Ready by the US Department of Energy. Sustainable features include an exterior shell of structurally insulated panels (SIPs), Energy Star appliances and mechanical equipment, LED lighting and Watersense fixtures throughout, and a Brilliant smart home hub. Sold out during drywall and with a waiting list of interested future buyers, the success of Duplex One demonstrates a strong market for sustainable homes.


Builders will highlight the most significant advancements of their design and construction techniques that significantly reduce energy consumption and reliance on fossil fuels, while increasing the quality, comfort and resilience of these properties. Specific achievements in wall systems, ventilation, indoor air quality, and renewable energy will be discussed. Builders will also break down the costs associated with sustainability upgrades, offer ways to offset these costs, and show associated benefits for homeowners.


Learning Objectives

  1. Learn about three distinct approaches to achieving net zero energy construction in single-family and small multi-family projects.

  2. Understand how net zero energy design and specifications differ from a typical code-built home including: passive and active principles that reduce energy loads; building science principles that mitigate moisture problems; and environmentally sustainable practices that promote health.

  3. Identify associated costs and benefits of building net zero energy.

  4. Learn about opportunities and challenges of bringing net zero energy production to scale in the home building industry.


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