What is “Net Positive” Housing?

Homes in the U.S. are responsible for a staggering 1/5 of national energy consumption, consuming more energy than commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings. Moreover, the cost of housing and utilities increasingly burdens today’s household budgets, an average utility expenditure that can exceed $2000 annually for heating fuel and electricity.  A net-zero home addresses the energy impact of housing through energy efficiency, and then offsets the energy it uses through renewable energy generation such as PV panels.

Our studio believes that we should go further than just net zero housing and energy efficiency. Today our society and our region are facing a critical shortage of affordable housing options, crippling individuals and communities.

Today, nearly half of Americans earning under $50,000 per year are now overburdened by housing costs, spending more than 30% of their income on housing. Yet for every home built for under $150k, more than 18 homes are built for over $300k. (Source: 2016 U.S. Census)

These statistics illustrate the broken system of housing in the U.S., which has evolved to preference larger, expensive, and energy-intensive housing. Meanwhile, older housing is not always a ‘bargain’ for new homeowners, with deferred maintenance commonly making mortgages impossible. If you are young, retired, a single parent, a one-job household, or simply have a modest income: affordable housing options are limited, scarce, or even nonexistent in many places.

Yet housing doesn’t just need to save energy or sell for less: it needs to give something back. Housing needs to support comfort, safety, financial security, domestic life, social relationships, and overall well-being for homeowners. Housing needs to achieve social and economic sustainability just as much as environmental sustainability.

The Net Positive Studio takes its name from these foundational principles of sustainability: that environmental, economic, social, and community imperatives have to be addressed and demonstrated together, and not just one goal at a time. We are designing and building more than just energy efficiency homes; we strive to design homes that are better living environments and that can improve the lives of occupants and strengthen neighborhoods and communities.

Designing for Performance: Beyond Passive House and LEED

Sustainable building certification systems like Passive House and LEED consists of, among other things, targets and prescriptive criteria that help realize highly efficient housing. While this system is appropriate for some projects, the Net Positive Studio focuses on right-sizing the home design while using advanced design and analysis technology to reduce energy use in the home, while optimizing the design of the home to balance performance and cost. As a result of this process, we have learned that a well-designed, compact house requires only a modest amount of solar power to offset – and even exceed – the amount of energy it will use. This process allows the studio to design housing whose quality and performance will speak for itself (we hope), without a certification system, while using the most affordable and sensible strategies to realize net zero housing – demonstrating that by way of good design, analysis, and building, almost anybody can afford a Net Positive house.

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