The houses that produce as much energy as they use

In the three years that Nicole Rae and Brian Mastenbrook lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, they became increasingly concerned about the California wildfires.

The sky would turn orange, ash would settle on plants and porch railings, and Rae, a 30-year-old teacher who has asthma, would have difficulty breathing.

In May, she and Mastenbrook, a 37-year-old technician, sold their home and moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Mastenbrook has a family in Michigan, and Ann Arbor officials are taking steps to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

They admired plans for a “net zero” community there, Veridian on County Farm, to be filled with solar-powered, all-electric homes that would be free of fossil fuels, the greenhouse gas emissions of which have contributed to climate change. “If these houses were built and ready to buy today,” said Rae, “we would have bought one already.”

The couple’s experiences as climate refugees may be dramatic, but in the US, more homebuyers are looking for net-zero residences, so-called because they produce as much energy as they use and – because they usually get it through solar energy – none Add carbon to atmosphere. And developers keep getting stronger to meet the demand.

There is broad consensus that residential buildings are vital to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels

Data on net zero homes is scarce, but a report by the nonprofit group Team Zero counts approximately 24,500 homes in the US achieving “zero energy” performance and estimates the real number is “significantly higher”. The Department of Energy has certified 8,656 as “Net Zero Ready,” which means they could go to zero with solar energy.

The numbers are expected to rise, not just from consumer appetites, but also from updates to building codes, more affordable solar technology, a growing familiarity with once-exotic gadgets like induction cookers and the “electrify everything” movement.

Now, investors are increasingly directing money towards sustainable real estate, making it easier for developers to make money on housing that addresses climate concerns.

And while the net zero movement is sometimes associated with housing for the wealthy, it is also leading to housing for those on the other end of the income spectrum who can benefit from lower energy bills.

“The housing industry is as disrupted as the auto industry,” said Aaron Smith, chairman of the nonprofit Energy & Environmental Building Alliance, citing the popularity of electric cars and manufacturers’ pledges to phase out gasoline-powered vehicles. .

But even if the climate crisis has made the need for sustainable construction clear, challenges remain. The construction industry has resisted code changes. The surge in demand for single-family homes triggered by the pandemic could weaken the urgency for change as conventional homes nowadays find buyers willing to buy.

A model home in the Catskill Project, a net-zero development in Livingston Manor, New York State. Photo: Arden Wray / The New York Times

Many consumers are still more interested in granite kitchen countertops and other cosmetic details than electric heat pumps, but surveys suggest millennials are likely to incorporate environmental concerns into their purchasing decisions, said Sara Gutterman, executive director of Green Builder Media. conducted surveys on this demographic group.

Jan Sehrt and his wife Julie, both Google employees with a three-bedroom condo in Brooklyn, New York, spent most of the pandemic looking for a second home to enjoy the outdoors with their two daughters.

After searching more than 1,000 listings online, the Sehrts selected a solar-powered, all-electric home in the Catskill Project, a net-zero upstate New York development, Livingston Manor.

Your house – which costs around 880,000 euros and is due to be completed next fall – will be one of 11 single-family homes designed to maximize solar energy and avoid energy losses through airtight building envelopes.

“We stepped into the model house and they said: ‘These are triple windows,’” says Sehrt, who has been familiar with green building since he was a child in Germany. “After that it was just one win after the other.”

There is broad consensus that residential buildings are critical in limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Buildings, including their construction, are responsible for around 40 percent of CO2 emissions, and housing for around half.

Retrofitting inefficient structures is the biggest challenge, but building sustainable houses is also important.

‘It’s the way we need to move as a planet, and a country … Hopefully, 30 years from now, it won’t be that unusual’

Homeowners have been experimenting with solar cells and off-the-grid houses for decades. Then groundbreaking developments began to emerge. Growing Community, on Washington state’s Bainbridge Island, introduced its first solar-powered homes in 2012; its third and final phase of development is about getting the way.

Marja Williams, a development consultant who accompanied Grow in the early years and has lived there since 2014, said her monthly electricity bill was only € 7 – the basic fee for the service. Your house produces more energy than it consumes, with the utility diverting excess electricity in the summer and crediting it to your account in the winter when the solar systems are less productive. A grow home, which originally cost around € 426,000, recently sold for almost double that, she said.

Builders like Mandalay Homes and Thrive Home Builders specialize in homes that use ultra-efficient energy. Others experiment with the net-zero construction.

Crown Pointe Estates recently presented what is arguably the finest version: the “pilot series” homes in the company’s MariSol Malibu project in Ventura County, California. The first residential building with over 1,300 square meters is on the market for 28 million euros.

Brookfield Asset Management and Dacra have partnered with Tesla on eleven homes under construction in Brookfields Easton Park in Austin, Texas. Except for the solar roof tiles, the houses will look identical to the other single-family houses in the estate.

They range from € 340,000 to € 604,000 and cost around 10 percent more than neighboring houses, but are intended to generate and store the entire energy needs of the residents, freeing them from electricity bills and susceptibility to power outages. Approximately 1,400 people showed interest in the 11 homes, said Brian Kingston, CEO of Brookfields Real Estate Group, who interpreted this as a “proof of concept”.

The development team plans to build 200 more of this type.

A model home in the Catskill Project.  Photo: Arden Wray / The New York Times

A model home in the Catskill Project. Photo: Arden Wray / The New York Times

Flat-bed single-family homes aren’t the only type of net-zero housing in progress: apartment buildings contain the majority of net-zero units in the United States. Sustainable Living Innovations, a Seattle-based technology company, is building a 15-story, 112-unit apartment tower with factory-made panels pre-installed with plumbing, electrical wiring, and mechanical systems.

A pre-built approach is being used on a much smaller scale elsewhere in Seattle: The Block Project is building microsolar houses for the homeless. The project of the non-profit group Facing Homelessness produces panels in a workshop and then assembles them on the courtyards of homeowners who have agreed to hand over part of their property to a 21 m² apartment for the needy.

So far, 11 of these houses, which cost around 66,000 euros to build, are inhabited and more are in the works, said Bernard Troyer, project manager at Facing Homelessness.

Veridian, the Ann Arbor project, aims to achieve a mix of income levels on its 14 acre property. Avalon Housing, a non-profit provider of affordable housing, will erect nine buildings with 50 apartments on part of the site. The 110 units of marketable homes to be developed by Thrive Collaborative (unrelated to Thrive Home Builders) range from € 117,000 homes to € 799,000 single-family homes.

Work on the site is expected to begin this fall and the market price apartments are expected to be completed in 2023, said Matthew Grocoff, founder of Thrive.

In addition to securing funding from mission-oriented funds, Grocoff has attracted local investors, including Mitch and Lori Hall. As a retiree with three grown children, the Halls decided not only to buy a townhouse from Veridian, but also to become the project’s largest equity partner.

“This is how we have to move as a planet and as a country,” said Hall. “Hopefully it won’t be so unusual in 30 years.” – This Article originally appeared in the New York Times

About Yadira Wilkes

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