Net Zero Heroes: Married Couple Takes On Energy Bills


Similar to the inception of most innovative ideas, the net zero Axiom Home from Acre Designs was born out of frustration.

Married couple and architectural partners Andrew and Jennifer Dickson battled for many years with their home situation, struggling to create efficiency and comfort on a budget.

“We just realized that we were not winning the game of home ownership. Most of the money was going to the banks followed by building companies and insurance and taxes,” says Andrew Dickson.

He serves as an industrial designer and interior architect for Acre Designs, while his wife, Jennifer, operates as an architect. Together, the couple wants to use their skills to approach housing from a different angle.

Like in the development of any good modern consumer product, the Dicksons have tried to find ways to manufacture a home at scale in order to gain more value, quality and functionality.

The idea is to make many of these homes rather than a small one here and there.

Axiom Home prototype.
Axiom Home prototype.

Welcome to the Axiom

So what exactly is the Axiom Home prototype?

It is described as a revolutionary home for the cost of a standard one, and it is designed to embrace net zero criteria—meaning homeowners can say sayonara to their energy and utility bills.

Acre Designs’ philosophy is simple, defined by three principles.

Smart. Efficient. Affordable.

Axiom Emphasizes Energy Efficiency

“Energy efficiency is obviously one of our primaries. The homes are very efficient in their construction,” says Andrew Dickson.

He says the SIPs (structural insulated panels) his company uses for construction are technology materials that really offer an advantage over older techniques. Energy efficient appliances and utility components also make these homes smarter.

Acre Designs uses geothermal, energy efficient appliances and solar.
Acre Designs uses geothermal, energy efficient appliances and solar.

Acre Designs has tried to find the top in Energy Star rated refrigerators and laundry machines, not just those that meet the base rating. They do this because these devices allow the home to be 80-90 percent more efficient, which means they’re closer to reaching net zero standards even before solar panels are utilized.

“Solar is the final component in our energy efficiency,” says Andrew Dickson. ”We also use mini splits and our own passive geothermal system in some of our homes.”

He says the geothermal system uses a small amount of power to run a couple pumps and fans, instead of a full heat pump found in normal geothermal units. The result is cost and energy footprints that are lower for consumers.


Honing in on Home Automation

On the home automation side of things, Acre Designs is still looking for the right partners—examining some of the hub systems out there in order to integrate lighting and security into the home by default. Dickson does know it will be a built-in feature.

“Instead of doing it as an after-market afterthought,” he says. “It’d be like buying a brand new Audi and it didn’t come with a stereo or GPS or power windows.”

After these standards are in place, the Dicksons plan to explore operable shading options, which will be used as both security and part of the passive heating/cooling strategies for the home. This way, they can influence how much solar radiation enters the home.

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Crowdfunding and Builder Support

Acre Designs is currently in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to support its Axiom Home prototype.

According to its campaign page, the net zero model is being constructed in the Kansas City Startup Village, which is the birthplace of Google Fiber and the entrepreneurial hub of the area. The home will be open for public events, tours and demos. It will serve as a living laboratory for Acre and for home tech entrepreneurs.

Home automation will be built in to the Axiom Home.
Home automation will be built in to the Axiom Home.

The Dicksons also plan to use this campaign to figure out where to bring the Axiom Home and how to tap into consumer sentiment regarding the goals they are trying to accomplish.

“We want to start getting a better feel for what people want and that was a good way for us to A) raise funds for our prototype homes and B) also try to tap into what people really want,” says Andrew Dickson.

Even prior to the crowdfunding campaign, the Dicksons admit they have seen support from all angles for the prototype. It became apparent, post-feedback, that people are ready for something different when it comes to housing.

“It’s fairly obvious that a higher quality home with zero energy bills is kind of a no brainer if it’s in the same price range,” he says.

What’s most surprising is the support received from builders as well, whom the Dicksons initially expected to resist the idea.

“We introduced an idea to basically replace a lot of that front end for them and streamline some of this, and that has a lot of appeal for builders who are trying to get their toehold and gain an advantage over some of their competitors,” says Andrew Dickson.

And we all know getting your company to stand out from others in the marketplace is a crucial element to being successful in this competitive, modern day of homebuilding.

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