Building the Net Zero Home

Read the AIA article, by Steve Cimono, here.


 

Buying a home used to be a big step on the road to the American Dream, but it’s become both a fear and a hassle. While optimism about the housing market in general continues to rise, many people aren’t ready to assume the massive mortgage and expensive utility costs that come with a few acres and a picket fence.

That’s not even mentioning the design flaws: While many casual consumers wouldn’t be able to pick a well-designed house out of a lineup, most homes don’t go through any sort of residential design process. What’s worked before is reapplied again and again, even if it’s not fulfilling a homeowner’s needs.

All this is to say that there’s an opening in the marketplace for a smartly planned home that’s both reasonably priced and efficient, one that Acre Designs of Kansas City, Kan., is aiming to fill.

Acre was founded by Andrew Dickson and his wife, Jennifer Dickson, Assoc. AIA, with the goal of producing carefully constructed homes for a new wave of consumers. The Dicksons noticed that their own home, rather than fulfilling a dream, was costing them an outrageous amount in upkeep and utilities. Even more so, it wasn’t the home they always wanted; it’s what was available at the time.

“A home is often our most expensive purchase and our largest asset,” says Andrew Dickson. “For most people, though, it’s the least designed.”

Enter Axiom House. It’s a 1,800-square-foot test home from Acre that the company is looking to fund partly through thecrowdfunding platform Indiegogo. Axiom was planned and built for the homeowner, from both a visual and an efficiency standpoint. Each of its six floor-plan configurations achieves net zero status, using passive solar principles and a solar panel array to ensure zero energy bills for its residents—and they can all be built in 60 percent of the time it takes to construct a traditional home.

Dickson’s message is clear: Rather than fall back on the poor planning and excess that created energy crises and market collapses, take advantage of cheaper photovoltaic panels and modular wall systems, and make your long-term investment worthwhile.

“Pre-2008 this wouldn’t have been possible,” he says. “Solar was too expensive and people only wanted bigger, bigger, bigger; no one was worried about efficiency.”

But in 2015, when sustainability has become more than just anoft-discussed buzzword, the time may be right for Acre. The AIA 2030 Commitment received a record number of participating firms and project data for 2014, and the conversation around theimpact of materials has never been louder. Energy efficiency, crowdfunding, net zero: These are the rallying cries of the next generation, and that’s who Acre wants to serve.

“Through Indiegogo, we’re trying to start the conversation with young people before they make mistakes,” Dickson says, “before they lock into a mortgage that shapes their lives. We want to offer them the opportunity to take a chance on something that is much more beneficial long-term, and more interesting.”

A rendering of Axiom House, Acre’s prototype net zero home that’s currently beingcrowdfunded on Indiegogo.

Images courtesy of Acre Designs.

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Axiom House not only achieves net zero status; it’s also designed by an architect, a feature that few other residential homes in its price range share.

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Cheaper solar prices and an overpriced home of their own motivated Acre founders Andrew and Jennifer Dickson’s attempts to turn the dream of Axiom House into a reality.

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They may have chosen the right place to start. Kansas City has become a hub of entrepreneurship and technology; as the first city to receive Google Fiber, it’s drawn an influx of burgeoning tycoons from around the world like moths to a flame. Couple that with its reasonable home prices and more room for development than either of the coasts and you’ve got a relatively blank slate upon which to begin a project this ambitious.

If the work in Kansas City goes as smoothly as Dickson hopes—Axiom House should be completed in the summer of 2016—Acre is looking toward Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colo., for its next batch of homes. Dickson knows that climate and the marketplace will play a role in how efficient these homes remain, and how many they’re able to build. He’s confident, though, that Acre is embarking on this endeavor just as the tide is about to turn.

“The customers are ready, the technology is ready, the prices almost match,” he says, “and efficiency legislation and energy prices are moving the needle. If we can hit our targets at building at—or slightly under—standard construction prices, plus slightly smaller homes, it becomes a no-brainer.”

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