Pill notes that a house can only be as efficient as the people living in it; net-zero energy performance is more easily achieved by a combination of structural and behavioral approaches to reducing energy loads. All members of the four-person Pill-Maharam clan took steps to reduce their personal energy usage—paying careful attention to hot water use, using a clothesline instead of a clothes dryer, and minimizing use of artificial lighting during the day—but the family's lifestyle is comfortable and seemingly without sacrifice or major inconveniences. Pill estimates the project cost about $196 per square foot, not including the wind turbine or septic system.
The house's outstanding performance, attractive design, and use of readily available high-efficiency and renewable energy systems, along with the family's careful attention to energy use made it the ideal choice for the NESEA Zero Net Energy Building Award, which was bestowed for the first time in March 2009. The organization was searching for a net-zero energy building—residential or commercial—that combines a variety of aggressive strategies for reducing energy use with renewable energy generation and that could serve as a model for net-zero energy design. So while good looks were important, replicability was key. According to NESEA, the Pill-Maharam project qualified on all counts.
"NESEA was very pleased to be able to [bestow] this award to such a high-performing example of net-zero energy building," says David Barclay, NESEA's executive director. "This particular residence is an exceptional example of the combination of super energy efficiency that can provide for a very comfortable lifestyle. This is not a house that's cold or uncomfortable."
"Being in Vermont made designing and building a net-zero house more challenging, but I feel really optimistic about the fact that we were able to achieve it," Pill says. "It's totally doable right now, and I can only imagine what we'll be able to do in the future."