What if you could buy an affordable Zero Energy home that could be erected on your property in a matter of days, instead of the many months it usually takes to build a home on site? New startup Acre Designs promises to make this idea a reality, and could revolutionize the paleolithic home-building industry with their new, innovative approach to quick and efficient building using a kit home model. After receiving backing by Palo Alto startup incubator Y Combinator, Acre Designs is gearing up to start building Net Zero Energy kit homes throughout the country. They are on a mission to build better, more high-tech homes on a large scale that are both affordable and super energy efficient. And considering that the state of California is mandating all new homes to be Net Zero Energy by 2020, it seems that Acre Designs couldn’t have launched at a better time.
One of the most well-known startup incubators, Y Combinator has been around for a decade now and has been described as “the world’s most powerful startup incubator.” Their backing has the potential to catapult Acre Designs’ groundbreaking housing plans to the national level, and just in time, to meet the 2020 Title 24 demand.
In summer 2015, California revised the Title 24 green building mandate, which now stipulates that all new buildings by 2020 be Net Zero Energy. By 2030 all commercial buildings need to follow suit. With roughly 180,000 new homes being built in California each year, and almost none of them Zero Energy, you can see that there is a tall order to fill here, in the span of just four years. Clearly California needs some green building experts to help rise to this challenge.
When Acre Design founders (married couple) Jennifer Dickson and Andrew Dickson heard about this new California law, they decided to pack up their lives, their business and their family of four in Kansas City and head to California to try to meet this new aggressive green building mandate.
We covered Acre Designs last year when they were still based in Missouri, and in the process of building a prototype outside of Kansas City. The prototype is now finished and is being lived in and loved by the Griffin family.
The Dicksons were actually originally intending to live in this cute 800 sq ft, prototype net zero energy home with their two young daughters, but the call of Y Combinator and the new 2020 energy mandate was just too irresistible. So, in January 2016, they packed up their family and headed for Palo Alto with a new goal of cranking out affordable, mass-produced Zero Energy homes to meet California’s stringent new goals.
Acre Design’s prefabricated kit homes can be assembled in a matter of days, using wall units called “structural insulated panels” (SIPs) that snap together on site like LEGOs. Their first test home was just completed in December in Missouri at 860 square ft, with a 300 square ft loft. New homeowners Mark and Tammy Griffin had the farmhouse style one bedroom/one bathroom home built on their 40 acre family property.
The prototype Griffin home in Missouri is designed to be powered entirely by the sun – for electricity, heating and daylight. The house is oriented towards the sun, with south-facing windows soaking up sunshine to heat and light the home, and a radiant heating in the floor provides additional heating when needed. The home also utilizes geothermal heating and a Heat Recovery Ventilator and Mini Split to heat and cool the air. When photovoltaic solar panels are added to the home later this year, it will be fully net-zero, meaning that the Griffins will never have to deal with paying energy bills again.
Acre Designs is currently offering two different design options to their clients; Series A (the pitched-roof ‘Modern Farmhouse’ style home, with two stories, similar to the Griffin home), and Series B (a single-story, butterfly roof style ranch house that has a more midcentury modern flavor to it). Both designs come in three different size footprints/plans; a 1200 sqft 2 bedroom home ($400K), 1500 sqft 3 bedroom home ($450K), and a 1800 sqft 4 bedroom home ($500K). We know many readers will look at these prices and ask, incredulously, “what is affordable about this”? The answer to this question is to consider the long-term value for the cost.
Until this option, Net Zero Energy homes have typically been very expensive, custom-built homes. Acre Designs is attempting to provide high end, precision-built, zero-energy homes, complete with solar panels, at about the same price it costs to build a cheap, leaky, inefficient stick-built house. And they’re also betting that economies of scale will help them lower the costs in a few years when they’re able to scale up their production. With Acre Designs prefabricated homes, you’re paying a little more up front for a quality product that saves money in the long term with no energy bills, and continual home repairs. Acre Design home prices include construction, appliances, and a photovoltaic solar system, and they’re also implementing a “Sleep-on-It” program: they’ll help finance a home if the owner plans to rent it out at least 50 days per year.
The first “Sleep-on-It” home will be built for a couple in Cannon Beach, Oregon. The couple will be listing the home on AirBnB for most of the year, so those interested in testing out an Acre Designs home will be able to do so right by the ocean.