Architect David Peabody conceives Fairfax City’s first net-zero-energy home with a sleek, modern aesthetic
Alexandria architect David Peabody only designs green projects—trying, as he says, “to make buildings that are as benign as possible.” So it made sense for an Alexandria couple wanting to build an energy-efficient residence to call him first.
In fact, the electrical engineer and his wife approached Peabody with a request that pushed the sustainability envelope farther than most. “They wanted a zero energy-ready structure that could handle the home’s needs, plus those of one car and a hot tub,” the architect explains. “They wanted to employ passive-house methodology.”
Peabody designed the contemporary structure in cube form—a shape that optimizes surface/volume ratio to lower energy loss. Two sloped, south-facing roofs support ample solar panels, while a central core bisects the cube; high clerestory windows bring ventilation and northern light to the home’s center.
Peabody incorporated a six-inch-thick, exterior insulated finishing system (EIFS) that, he says, “is ideal for passive houses. It can look like traditional stucco, but here it’s panelized for a contemporary look.” A high-pressure laminate rainscreen clads parts of the exterior as a wood-look accent.
Designer Christie Leu collaborated on the home’s modern interiors. “They’re empty-nesters and wanted to be casual,” she explains. The three-story abode boasts wood surfaces with no-VOC finishes—including purple cabinetry that makes a bold statement in the kitchen. Beside a maple-paneled wall, a floating walnut-and-metal staircase occupies the home’s core. In the kitchen/great room, a fireplace wall of flamed- and brushed-basalt tile adds subtle texture. Furnishings selected by Leu blend sleek and organic styles.
Architecture: David Peabody, AIA, LEED AP, Certified Passive House Consultant, Peabody Architects, Alexandria, Virginia. Interior Design: Christie Leu, Christie Leu Interiors, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Builder: O’Neill Development, Gaithersburg, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Moody Graham, Washington, DC.
How do you orient a passive-energy home?
You should have decent southern exposure and your primary view should not be west-facing, as west-facing windows create too much heat gain.
How does regional climate influence your designs?
Our climate is benign, but it can be extreme. We pay special attention to humidity as well as heating requirements. We aim to spend the same amount for heating as for cooling.
Can you retrofit a home for sustainability?
The building envelope offers opportunities to improve efficiency. Replace windows, add attic insulation and consider exterior wall insulation when renovating. Don’t over-insulate your basement or you’ll lose the benefit of the ground cooling your house.
How do you select a mechanical system?
Most mechanical systems are over-designed so mechanical contractors don’t have to field phone calls on hot summer days. They tend to be inefficient. You want a contractor who will do the calculations correctly and design to the actual loads of the house.