Can Net Zero Re-Energize the Homebuilding Industry? Can Net Zero Re-Energize the Homebuilding Industry?
Design

Can Net Zero Re-Energize the Homebuilding Industry?

by Allison Arieff

January 17, 2011

In Issaquah, Washington, just west of Seattle, there’s a 10-home development looking to upend the way homes are designed, built, sold, and lived in. Designed to radically reduce its environmental impacts, zHome is aiming to prove that homes that use zero net energy and 60 percent less water, emit net zero carbon emissions, have clean indoor air, and use only low-toxicity materials are not only possible but are scalable to mainstream home production. And zHome recognizes that the only truly sustainable housing option is multi-family, so in this development you’ll find no single-family residences.

G: The American Dream is so tied to the single-family home. Are people ready to embrace multifamily living?

BL: I started working around here as an urban designer and planner in the 1980s, and I think at least in the Puget Sound region, where zHome is located, we moved past that question in the 1990s. A major portion of our growth, including in suburban cities, is in multifamily buildings. Issaquah Highlands, the urban village where zHome is located, is nearly half multifamily. People regionally have really become more urban and urbane. Living in community, being able to walk to the local coffee shop, and not have to take care of a big unused lawn are very attractive to a large part of the population here. People would rather be kayaking or hiking than fussing with their house.

G: There's a huge misperception, about which I'm sure you're well aware, that green homes cost more. How will zHome cost out compared to "normal" townhomes?

BL: I think a ton can be done with smart and knowledgeable design and specification, particularly in the area of materials and appliances. But at a certain point, you are just going to spend more per square foot. Photovoltaic panels and ground source heat pumps are expensive.  For zHome, we set a benchmark at 20 percent more per square foot relative to a similar townhome in the local marketplace. 

I think the bigger question, though, is one of needs and values.  How many people really need (or want) the three car garage and the bonus room? zHome is what many people want and need—a well sized, quality, beautiful, incredibly green home for a relatively affordable price. It all flows in the same green direction—right sizing the home is inherently green and allows us to redirect that money into a home with a much, much smaller footprint.

People are so tired of incrementalism and lack of progress on the environment, and the thought of taking a huge step forward toward a radically reduced living footprint in a reasonable way just makes a lot of people very happy.


 
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Can Net Zero Re-Energize the Homebuilding Industry?