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Nothing Never Looked So Good

Three zero-energy homes as design-savvy as they are eco-friendly.

A vegetable garden shares space with the solar hot water system on the roof, where recycled motorcycle tires serve as planters. David Baker's Zero Cottage.

An alternating-tread ladder—originally designed for oil refineries—leads to the third-floor sleeping quarters. David Baker's Zero Cottage.

Architect and owner David Baker designed special clips to hold the metal tiles in place, individual tiles can be swapped for planter-box shingles. David Baker's Zero Cottage.

The facade is fire-proof cement board paneling—a lighter, more durable alternative to stucco—accented by sustainably forested cedar. Native grasses line the front walkway. The Kaneda's Cupertino Eco-Ranch Home.

The home is lit naturally by generous windows and skylights. Soy-based foam insulation in the walls helps control temperature swings. The Kaneda's Cupertino Eco-Ranch Home.

Large rear windows take advantage of southern light. The deck is built from sustainably harvested ipe. William Kelly's Noe Valley Edwardian.

The glass-and-steel staircase doubles as a heat chimney in summer, letting hot air escape through a skylight. The Douglas fir dining table was made by Wooden Duck in Berkeley. William Kelly's Noe Valley Edwardian.

The 1904 Noe Valley Edwardian home. William Kelly's Noe Valley Edwardian.

Zero. Zilch. Nada. The buzziest new Bay Area homes aren't envied for their Kim and Kanye-like excess. Instead, their cool factor lies in what's lacking. Going beyond sustainable building, these homeowners are striving for net-zero energy certification: houses that produce as much energy as they use.

Sheet Metal Swathes a Cottage
Architect David Baker calls this 1,050-square-foot annex to his Mission District home the zero cottage, but that’s not quite right: The building’s three-kilowatt photovoltaic system produces more energy than the dwelling uses—making it more like a Positive Cottage. Apart from traditional energy savers like LED lighting and triple-paned glass, Baker pushed for less common advances, like a rubberized waterproof membrane within the walls (which makes the house practically airtight) and an elaborate heat recovery system that warms fresh air with “waste heat” generated from cooking and lighting. But the real focal point is the home’s shimmering siding made from salvaged sheet metal and carbonized maple flooring tiles. They’re impractical for larger public buildings, perhaps—they reflect the sun’s glare and rattle in the wind—but Baker finds the effect on his small adjunct home “charming,” not unlike rain pelting a tin roof. J.F.

An Eco-Ranch House Keeps Up with the Joneses
When moving into a Cupertino neighborhood rife with McMansions, electrical engineer David Kaneda and his wife, Stephania, wanted to go green without the “my solar panels are bigger than yours” showboating. They tapped Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects to design their comparatively modest 2,245-square-foot home, where green features like the 6.4-kilowatt photovoltaic system (which powers the entire home) and rooftop hot water solar collectors take a backseat to aesthetic details like sustainably harvested cedar siding, bamboo interior paneling, and splashy orange accent paint. Sunlight warms the radiant concrete-slab floor through large south-facing windows in the winter; in the summer, automated shades drop, and rooftop solar panels heat the backyard plunge pool. L.M.

An Edwardian Divorces PG&E
As the managing director of San Jose–based SunPower corporation, William Kelly unabashedly geeks out about solar panels. But when he set about expanding his family’s 1904 Noe Valley Edwardian, he took things a step further, getting “off the pipe”— eliminating the need for natural gas. Instead, a radiant system of water-filled tubing beneath the floorboards provides heat, and cooking is done on an induction stovetop. San Francisco firm Levy Art and Architecture expanded the home to 2,424 square feet, moving living areas to the south-facing rear of the house to harness the sunlight;a skylight over the glass-encased three-story staircase lets natural light reach from rooftop to basement. Meanwhile, SunPower’s photovoltaic solar panel system channels 7.6 kilowatts of electricity—enough to power the home and the family’s two cars. J.F.

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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