In Norway, A New Model For Zero-Energy Housing

Snohetta’s carbon-neutral model home looks like it’s been tipped up for a quick vacuum underneath. Could it be replicated elsewhere?

The building industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters. About half of the U.K.’s carbon dioxide emissions come from the construction and operation of buildings; in the U.S., buildings account for around 40% of the country’s emissions.


In Norway, ZEB, the Research Center on Zero Emission Buildings, is focused on eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. Together with the prolific architecture firm Snøhetta, the center is piloting a new model house that reduces energy use without looking like a windowless prison.

The almost 2,400-square-foot ZEB Multi-Comfort House, completed earlier this fall, has the look and feel of a high-end cabin, made of timber with walls of recycled bricks and stacked wood. The roof, lined with solar panels, is sloped 19 degrees to capture sunlight most efficiently. The black facade features plywood extensions that serve as shades to block the low-lying evening sun from heating up the windows. The architects estimate the carbon dioxide emissions required to manufacture and build the house will be offset by the renewable energy the house produces over its lifespan of approximately 60 years.

“The biggest challenge might be to convince everyone of the need to make a building that was both high-tech and homey, and that the one without the other is not a good house,” according to Oslo-based senior architects Anne Cecilie Haug and Kristian Edwards.

For the first year, the pilot house will be used to showcase eco-friendly construction, and data will be recorded on the home’s energy output and usage. Ideally, a family will move into the house at some point so that the researchers can gather data on real-life day-to-day energy use, but at the moment, the architects say that is still being worked out. The design itself could be scalable, according to Snøhetta, but it might be better suited to countries located farther south than Norway, where the solar panels would collect more energy throughout the year.

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.