John Spears

Architect John Spears stands outside his studio, which features solar panels on the roof. Spears has started creating entire zero-energy neighborhoods. Photo by Darren S. HigginsCategory: Individuals 19 or older who are actively promoting and living a green lifestyle

While working for international aid agencies, architect John Spears spent years designing self-sufficient housing in some of the world’s most impoverished places. Then about four years ago, he brought his “zero-energy” homes to the Washington, D.C., area.

Even with his experience in such challenging countries as Mexico, Nigeria and Vietnam, the Gaithersburg resident says it was surprisingly difficult to convince skeptical Washington-area homebuyers that he could build houses here that would all but heat and cool themselves by utilizing passive solar design and careful workmanship.

But he persevered, and over the last few years he has designed and built custom homes for clients in Bethesda and elsewhere in the region. He also has started creating entire zero-energy neighborhoods. He designed several blocks of town houses that are under construction in Frederick’s historic downtown—a project that has already garnered awards and accolades.

Spears, 65, was an expert in solar design long before the phrase “green building” became popular. He received his architecture degree in the 1970s. For the next several years he researched solar technology and worked in the private and public sectors (including a stint in Montgomery County government) on standards for energy-efficient construction and indoor air quality.

Spears built his own zero-energy solar home in Gaithersburg in 1985. Though he continues to travel for international aid projects, he’s more focused on providing his signature homes to local buyers.


Lisa Sarafidis and her husband, Yianis, say Spears’ knowledge and experience convinced them to hire his team to build an energy-efficient, three-story addition to their three-bedroom Bethesda colonial. It’s expected to be completed in November.  

When Spears delivered the plans, “we knew we had picked the right people,” Lisa Sarafidis says. “We especially appreciated how they worked with our budget to achieve the goals we had for the house.”