Local architect John Zona has been designing innovative buildings in the Jacksonville area for the last 40 years. He is an accomplished architect with almost two dozen design recognition awards under his belt. Leading by example, Zona’s home strives to set is the concept of “net zero”, which is an environmental design that Zona believes everyone should pay attention to.

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A net zero building, is one that uses only as much energy as it creates. Zona and his wife, Susan, agreed that they wanted to create a sustainable design, meaning they wanted to build and live in a net zero home made up of green products that also exudes inherent design integrity. The main building is the living quarters; the smaller building the guest house and Zona’s office.

“In short, our goals were to create, by example, an architecturally significant home that would cast a low carbon footprint, be a net energy giver, not a taker, and monitor the results to improve the process and share the wealth of information with students, peers and visitors every day,” he explained.

By utilizing the concept of sustainable design, Zona threw out the idea of “conventional design.” Sustainable means utilizing compass points, not architectural trends, to create a design. This resulted in his house, and the guest house, being built in the shape of footballs, where the north and south ends of the home were much longer than the east and the west. This feature takes advantage of Florida’s natural sunlight as a main energy provider for the home. Windows were primarily placed toward the north, and patios and sunscreens were placed toward the south to take advantage of the sunrises and sunsets.

“Our goals were to create, by example, an architecturally significant home that would cast a low carbon footprint, be a net energy giver, not a taker, and monitor the results to improve the process and share the wealth of information with students, peers and visitors every day.” – John Zona

Some other key features the home boasts are three large screened porches to promote life outside and less air conditioning use inside, recirculating attic fans, an air conditioning unit with a very high SEER rating, a replacement well that allows water to heat air pumps, and a complex water harvesting system complete with its own overflow pond.

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While many dub his creation a revolutionary environmental statement, Zona calls it good architecture.

“People think that green design is something new and different and trendy, but old-school architects are wondering what the hell is all the buzz about? It is just good design to consider sight orientation, compass points, and economical situations when building, so you don’t waste energy and are as considerate as you can be,” said Zona.

Sustainable design may not be a new concept to him, but Zona does see the positive benefits of people taking a heightened interest in this design. He believes it is great that people who don’t know anything about architecture are still interested in learning how they can decrease their carbon footprint through design. Zona thinks it’s especially important that people are paying attention to what products they are using and where they come from.

Every product used in the creation of Zona’s home was carefully researched and chosen by him and his wife, alongside friends, suppliers, manufacturers, and consultants who understood Zona’s vision and wanted to help. Not only does the house utilize as many green products as possible, most of the green products utilized were purchased from local vendors. The masonry blocks and the concrete are from local vendors and the roof was made from locally grown southern yellow pine.

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The solar panels are the biggest energy saver in the design, although they are not incorporated yet. Zona was waiting for them to become more affordable and should be in place this spring.

Sustainable design features tend to be more expensive in the building process, but they are a long-term investment. By saving money on air conditioning, electricity and water each month, you earn back money you spent on more sustainable products. In addition, you also receive government tax credit on solar panels, rainwater harvesting, and more efficient air conditioning methods.

“My approach was to get back to basics and try to figure out all the ways I could use less energy than I create,” he said. “I believe that that’s what we should all strive for.”

Zona admits that not all of his design features have gone as smoothly as he had hoped. For example, the compost toilets have been a much bigger hassle than expected (he may remove them) and the basements are a nightmare on heavy rain days, since they must be pumped to prevent flooding.

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Despite these setbacks, Zona says his net zero creation is a great place to call home.

“It’s wonderful,” he said. “I love living in it. The geometry is not confining; it expands spatially. The natural light that sprays the house every day is wonderful. It’s a quiet, peaceful, warm environment to live and work in.”