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Zero Net Carbon Buildings

Environmental Innovation Center
Zero Net Carbon buildings save energy and reduce carbon emissions by meeting energy needs from zero-carbon sources like solar or wind.
A Zero Net Carbon (ZNC) building is designed to meet all its energy needs from zero-carbon sources such as solar or wind. ZNC buildings can help residents and businesses reduce energy use and emissions to support healthy, climate smart communities.

Below is a list of resources for developers, builders, business owners, and homeowners to learn more about ZNC and Zero Net Energy (ZNE) buildings.

Climate Smart San José is the community’s approved climate action plan that is aligned with the California Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategy Plan around ZNC buildings, which targets all new residential buildings meet Zero Net Carbon standards by 2020 and all new commercial buildings be ZNC by 2030. 

Trainings are available for residents and businesses to learn about converting to ZNC buildings. View ZNC and energy training events.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and Resources


What is a ZNC Building?

What are the benefits of ZNC buildings?

Where can I see a ZNC home or commercial building in San José?

Where can I see other ZNC buildings in the U.S. and Canada?

What are some tips for the ZNC building process?

What City permits will I need to build my ZNC building?

How can I get my home or business ZNC certified?

What should I know if I’m interested in owning or buying a ZNC home?

What local and state policies are supporting the development of ZNC buildings?



What is a ZNC Building?

A Zero Net Carbon (ZNC) building refers to a building designed to meet all its energy needs from zero-carbon sources such as solar or wind. To achieve this, buildings cannot use natural gas or other fossil fuels in their operation. A Zero Net Energy (ZNE) building refers to a building that over the course of a year, generates as much electricity onsite as it consumes from the grid. This term only refers to the electrical load of a building and does not include natural gas or any other fossil fuel.

Most experts agree that to achieve the State’s climate goals, we must transition our energy sources from natural gas and other carbon-intensive fossil fuels to electricity primarily produced from low-carbon or no-carbon sources.

Source: Bay Area Air Quality Management District



What are the benefits of ZNC buildings?

California has set a course to increase the number of ZNC buildings in the next two decades. ZNC buildings save energy, reduce carbon emissions, and get the highest performance and value from all homes and buildings. They also offer comfortable homes with higher resale value and more productive workspaces. They are highly efficient and more resilient to economic and climate changes.

There are buildings today of many types and sizes where ZNC has been achieved with acceptable additional costs, and more emerge in California each year. Getting to ZNC will help residents and businesses save money and will encourage innovation and technological development to meet our energy needs locally.



Where can I see a ZNC home or commercial building in San José?

Cottle ZNE Home
Cottle ZNE Home
Cottle ZNE Home, 1820 Cottle Ave., San Jose


Built in 2012 by One Sky Homes, the Cottle ZNE Home is one of the first ZNE homes and winner of the 2014 U.S. Department of Energy Housing Innovation Awards. Read this case study about the Cottle ZNE Home to learn more about its design, features, and lessons learned.
  • Location: 1820 Cottle Ave. San José, CA
  • Project size: 3,200 square feet, 5 bedrooms/3.5 bathrooms, 2 floors 
  • Completion date: 2012
  • Building type: New single-family construction 
  • Incremental cost: $65,000, which is only 7% higher than that of a house built to code-minimum standards
  • Average monthly energy bill: $20
  • Annual savings: $2,900 per year compared to a home built to the 2008 Title 24 Energy Code


San José Environmental Innovation Center
Environmental Innovation Center
Environmental Innovation Center, 1608 Las Plumas Ave., San Jose


The San José Environmental Innovation Center (EIC) is a ZNE city-owned facility and first-of-its-kind “green enterprise” facility that houses services for residents and clean tech entrepreneurs. Read this case study from the New Buildings Institute to learn more about the EIC’s planning & design approach, strategies, and lessons learned.
  • Location:1608 Las Plumas Ave. San José, CA
  • Project size: 46,000 square feet
  • Completion date: 2014, additional renewables added in 2016
  • Building type: new construction: office, warehouse/retail, laboratory
  • Total building cost: $27,100,000 (excluding land)
  • Cost/SF: $589
  • Measured energy stats: 0.06 net EUI


Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, 1342 Naglee Ave., San Jose


The historic buildings at Rosicrucian Park were built as early as 1931. Julie Scott, Executive Director of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum remarked, “For years, experts told us it was not possible, with our historic buildings, to make Rosicrucian Park Net Zero Carbon.”

In 2017, the museum did the impossible and achieved zero net carbon status by installing super-efficient solar panels, updating the heating and air conditioning system in the Museum, installing two new cool roofs, and replacing the entire lighting system in the museum building.
  • Location: 1342 Naglee Ave. San José, CA
  • Completion date: 2017
  • Building type: Retrofit museum



Where can I see other ZNC buildings in the U.S. and Canada?

The New Buildings Institute Getting to Zero Database highlights commercial ZNC buildings throughout the U.S. and Canada including schools, offices, restaurants, and health care facilities. Use the database as inspiration for your next building project. The database has information about how these buildings were constructed including the materials used, land use strategies, design lessons, financing, and more.



What are some tips for the ZNC building process?

  1. Develop an integrated design approach: Incorporate multiple systems and strategies such as daylighting to decrease energy use; creating an air-tight, well-insulated building shell; and ensuring that the building is properly sited to maximize passive cooling and ventilation.
  2. Make it Energy Efficient: The following is a list of best practices that can be used to make a building reach ZNC and ZNE:
    • highly efficient heating and ventilating systems
    • tight building envelope
    • reduced plug loads
    • electric water heaters
    • LED lighting
    • advanced building controls.
    • Visit Silicon Valley Energy Watch to learn about energy efficiency resources, rebates & incentives, and financing for your home, school, or business.
  3. Electrify: In buildings, electrification frequently involves the shift from natural gas to electricity; for instance, switching out a natural gas range to an electric model, or a natural gas water heater to an electric heat pump. Electric powered equipment is often more efficient than comparable natural gas-powered equipment and is more environmentally-friendly because it can be powered by renewable energy sources like solar.
  4. Add a Renewable Energy System: The system should be properly sized to meet the remaining energy demand with renewable energy. If you are planning on adding a solar energy system, visit the Solar Resources page to find resources on how to properly size your system.
  5. San José Clean Energy: If you can't add renewables, or if your solar energy system can't handle all of your usage, San José Clean Energy has you covered. Stick with San José Clean Energy and opt for 100% carbon-free electricity.



What City permits will I need to build my ZNC building?

The City of San José offers online permitting for rooftop solar installations on single-family and duplex properties. By submitting online, qualifying projects can save $40 on permitting fees. Unlike other online permitting processes, those for rooftop solar installations do require plans, which can be reviewed at the time of inspection.

Learn more about online solar permitting.

The City of San José does not offer other specialized permitting services for ZNC buildings at this time. Visit the Permit Center for more information.



How can I get my home or business ZNE certified?

The New Buildings Institute has partnered with the Living Future Institute to streamline and strengthen the Zero Energy buildings database and certification process. Information on registration, documentation and certification process for residential, multifamily, or commercial spaces can be found on Living Future’s website.

ZNE certification is different from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. ZNE certification is specific to annual energy usage, while LEED rates the “green” features of a building with points for energy efficiency and renewable energy, but does not require ZNE.



What should I know if I’m interested in owning or buying a ZNC home?

The New Buildings Institute provides a helpful one-page introduction for prospective ZNC homeowners and homebuyers with FAQs to guide you in decision-making.



What local and state policies are supporting the development of ZNC buildings?

On February 27, 2018, San José City Council approved Climate Smart San José, a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure a long-term water supply. This plan supports the City’s efforts to promote more ZNC commercial and residential buildings in San Jose (see Goals 1.1, 2.2, 3.2, and the City Action Plan).

As spelled out in the California Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, the state has ambitious goals for the development of ZNE buildings. These include:

  • All new residential construction will be ZNE by 2020
  • All new commercial construction will be ZNE by 2030
  • 50% of commercial buildings will be retrofit to ZNE by 2030
  • 50% of new major renovations of state buildings will be ZNE by 2025.

Read more about the California New Commercial and Residential ZNE Action Plans here.