The Affordable Zero Energy House


We weren't surprised that the first generation of "zero energy homes" came out of places known for being on the cutting edge: California, London and even Chicago. Today, we learned that an Oklahoma builder is embracing the ZEH concept, and building these energy-sipping beauties for under $200,000. Could energy-neutral housing be on the verge of going mainstream? We'd sure like to think so... and that's exactly what Ideal Homes set out to do in its partnership with the US Department of Energy's Building America program.

Ideal Homes is the first to build a ZEH under $200,000, making this model home affordable for most home buyers. The house was completed in September 2005.

"What [IH co-founder Vernon McKown] did," says George S. James, Building America project leader for Ideal Homes' affordable ZEH, "with my Building Science Consortium, is build a prototype to see what it would take to really do it at a price, at least in Oklahoma, that was not excessive. His houses normally sell for about $125,000, something like that. With the 5.3 kW photo cells and the ground source heat pump and so on, the selling cost is about $200,000."

"Zero energy homes get a black eye in my mind," says McKown, "Every time they do a demonstration site, they run out and they hire some brilliant architect and they go off and they build this one-off amazing house that sticks out of the neighborhood like a prairie chicken, and it costs a million dollars. Everybody looks at that and says, 'That's interesting. With enough money, you can do anything.'

"We wanted to show that you can take any house out of a builder's product line," McKown continues, "and make it a zero energy house and it would look and feel and be just like a regular house, and it doesn't have to cost a million dollars. We could do it under $200,000."

Ideal Homes' ZEH measures about 1,650 sq. ft. and has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a two-car garage. It's based on one of the builder's stock floor plans. ...

"Our little house was so ordinary that it was not interesting," adds McKown. "I just think the ordinary nature of it was what made it so extraordinary."

While the ZEH is a test house for IH Valencia community in Edmond, OK, it has drawn a lot of attention to the new development which features green elements such as capturing drainage water for irrigation, and then powering that system with solar energy. Furthermore, buyers of homes in the new community are asking about green features they can add, such as tankless water heaters and solar panels. The ZEH house will be rented out for a year to monitor performance, and then sold. Proceeds from the sale will go to the Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity. :: via rebecca's pocket