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Sam Rashkin and the Department of Zero Net Energy

zero net energy home austin design colrain ma

A Zero Net Energy home by Austin Design in Colrain, MA

Just a few weeks ago, on the brink of a big winter storm alert, Bryan and Rich from the Austin Design office took a road trip to Vantem Panels in nearby Brattleboro, Vermont. Vantem was hosting an information-packed training seminar presented by Sam Rashkin, chief architect at the U.S. Department of Energy, on zero net-energy ready home construction; NESEA was a co-sponsor with the host and the DOE. Rashkin is the originator of the DOE’s Challenge Home (CH) program and pilot of the highly successful Energy Star initiative; he’s established himself as a leader in the Zero Net-Energy (ZNE) field, and is the author of Retooling the U.S. Housing Industry: How it got Here, Why it’s Broken and How to Fix It.

sam raskin speaker vantem panels

Sam Rashkin addresses the crowd, with Vantem’s Smarthomze SIP models backing him up.

The day’s schedule and guest speaker was introduced by Vantem’s Brice Hereford, certified sustainable designer in their Smarthomze Division, a line of affordable ZNE homes produced right in the Brattleboro facility. A natural outgrowth of their well-established line of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), several Smarthomze models stood on the factory floor behind the presenters, bringing their words to life and demonstrating the basic shell concept. The event was targeted toward area contractors and, considering the weather, there was a decent turnout: several attendees – local builders all – discussed their positive experiences with the ZNE approach and why they were shifting their businesses in that direction.

vantem panels facility brattleboro

Vantem’s Brattleboro facility on Glen Orne Drive.

Taking over front and center, Sam Rashkin soon demonstrated his able grasp and breadth of knowledge of the innovative ZNE building systems which comprise the Challenge Home. The DOE’s most advanced certification program, CH represents a whole new set of rigorous home performance requirements, ensuring outstanding levels of energy savings, comfort, health, and durability. Sam stepped through the business rationale, specifications, and opportunities inherent to the approach and made his case clearly. The idea behind the DOE’s CH initiative is that the American homebuying public is ready, and deserving, of a super-high-performance alternative to the current sad state of housing affairs and this will promote a deliverable label that they can trust.

sam raskin tedd benson vantemp panels

On the break, Sam Rashkin (right, with glasses) shares a story with Tedd Benson (center) of Bensonwood in Walpole, NH, and Eli Gould (left) of  Precraft in Brattleboro, VT.

Several manufacturers and suppliers were  also in attendance, showcasing related products and answering questions. One item in particular that caught our eyes was the Lunos e2 regenerative through-wall ventilating unit, imported by 475 High Performance Building Supply in Brooklyn, NY. Made in Germany, it’s a very nicely-designed and highly-engineered air-to-air heat exchanger installed in pairs for whole-house ventilation. Although pricey, it allows for flexibility of installation, being a decentralized and highly efficient (90%) fresh air exchange system. The exceptionally quiet fans reverse every 70 seconds, alternating between the installed pairs, to deliver balanced exhaust and fresh air intake.

lunos e2 diagram

The Lunos e2 regenerative through-wall ventilating unit.

As a basic tenet of our approach to architecture, Austin Design is dedicated to sustainable and forward-looking residential standards. Life-cycle cost to the occupants, as well as cost to the planet, should be taken into account from the very beginning: this is an integral part of “quality of life.”  You can see an example of an ADi Zero Net Energy house on our website; you can be sure ADi will have more on the way! A distressing situation which is only going to deepen, the intransigence of the mainstream building paradigm needs all the encouragement it can attract to shift toward a more thoughtful and careful attitude. Homes usually outlast their occupants; certainly our current course of conduct will affect our longevity as residents on this blue marble floating in space. Is that alarmist? We think it’s only reasonable.

    One thought on “Sam Rashkin and the Department of Zero Net Energy

    1. We market ourselves as disaster resistant high performance home builders. We provide a certified HERS rating with every build.
      Here in Oklahoma they are passing stricter building codes to make them more storm resistant. It makes sticks closer to sip cost

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