Looking for an Annual Energy Bill of $128?
Maybe You Need a Custom Home

net zero custom homeMatthew Bowe is no stranger to unique home designs. As one of Northern Virginia’s premier custom-home builders, the founder of Matthew Bowe Design Build has spent the majority of his career helping clients bring their visions to life. Recently, new clients presented him with an exciting opportunity: building a custom Net Zero home.

The term “Net Zero” is used to describe homes that produce as much energy as they consume. These homes have very little impact on the environment, taking energy from the power grid only when they need it. Much of the time, they produce a surplus of energy which is, in turn, returned to the grid and credited to the homeowner’s account.

Thrilled to get started, Bowe brought together his team of design and engineering professionals to work through the design phase. The group included a renewable energy consultant who would serve as the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) Home Energy Rater throughout the entire process.

The homeowners had a few requirements for their project. First of all, they didn’t want the home to be boring or ugly; energy efficiency could not negate its aesthetics. Secondly, they wanted the house to be sized efficiently with a main-level master suite, an informal open-concept design, livable front and rear porches, and a large three-car garage.

When it came to the home’s energy-efficiency target, solar panels and geothermal heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) were to serve as the basis for achieving the effort.

net zero custom homeEvery other design option was decided upon collectively with input from the clients, Bowe’s design team, and the renewable energy consultant. Design changes were weighed based on their impact on performance versus their cost.

“The design process was an iterative one. We would propose combinations of materials and equipment, and then the consultant would evaluate them in their software,” Bowe explains. “We continued to make design changes until we met the design and performance goal in the most cost-efficient manner.”

It seems that no detail was overlooked. Bowe modified construction assemblies, applied advanced framing techniques, and met robust air-sealing and insulation specifications. He incorporated insulated exterior sheathing panels to stop thermal bridging and create a continuous thermal break on the home’s exterior, and his team blew in dense-pack cellulose to improve wall performance.

The roof was insulated with spray foam, creating a conditioned attic that would further reduce energy needs. Spray foam was used around the floor system, too, at the rim joist to minimize air leakage.

The heating and cooling system decisions were critical. A properly-sized, low-profile solar array on the roof generates the power required to operate the home and allows the clients to send energy back to the grid. Their geothermal HVAC unit serves as the central heating and cooling system, utilizing the earth as a heat source in the winter and a heat sink in the summer.

A desuperheater, which uses what would otherwise be wasted heat from the refrigeration cycle, heats water in the adjacent water heater. It provides approximately 50-percent of the energy needed to meet domestic hot water needs. The other half comes from an energy-efficient hybrid heat pump water heater.

As the RESNET Home Energy Rater conducted the final audit of the home, everyone was hoping for a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of 10 or less. The average home in the United States has a rating of 100.

The HERS score shattered their expectations. “The house was rated a ‘2.’ It’s 98-percent more energy efficient than the average home,” Bowe reports. “The energy consultant had never scored a rating that low.” The HERS report estimates that annual energy expenses will amount to $128 – $64 of which is fees.

Bowe himself is extremely pleased with the outcome. “It requires collaboration and engagement. With that, you can achieve a lot, and do it economically,” Bowe says. “Every client has a unique goal with the projects they bring us. We just put together the right team and make it happen.”

With a beautiful, custom-built house 98-percent more energy efficient than the average American home, Bowe’s clients can now rest easy in energy-efficient comfort – and look forward to writing that small check for $128 each year.


Matthew Bowe is Northern Virginia’s premier custom home builder, including custom additions and custom remodeling. From vision to concept to plan to construction, we take custom home building to a new level. Thoughtful planning. Intelligent design. Personal touch. That’s the Matthew Bowe difference. Contact us to begin making your dream home a reality.