Net Positive Studio Conducts a Cost Estimate on St. John Prototype

As the design of our home continued to progress into its final form, we had students create an accurate cost management plan. While the design is at the core of our work, we need to understand the implications of our design. For a time-sensitive project like ours, understanding how we built it and with what materials were the main focus. Hours of labor, material types, quantities, sizes, procurement, and total costs turn this hypothetical project into something tangible. Looking at prices helps us understand how each detail, material, and our approach to prefabrication compares to typical construction.


By using “unit-level cost estimating,” precise “takeoffs” of material quantities can be taken from the BIM model, and we can manage and keep track of the price of specific building elements and categories. Through this process, we could provide a precise construction cost for the studio’s scope of work (without labor), while also estimating costs for what a future build with a contractor might cost. Through rigorous cost estimation, we keep updated estimates on the design as well as use cost information to make decisions along the way, helping to maintain an inexpensive design.

The image shows the current estimates we have created. For our current project, the cost is split between both our Net Positive Studio and the Stafford County Economical Development group. This brings the total project cost for the 2019-2020 studio year to $91,800. The studio believes that future builds will be able to bring down the cost of the home further to approach our target cost of around $120,000.

Net Positive Studio Designs Mechanical Electrical and Plumbing Work for the St. John Prototype

In our Net+ House, we considered not only insulation, openings, orientation but also considered efficient MEP systems to solve our purpose. The mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment are selected based on their energy-saving property, efficiency, and cost. We used Mitsubishi – 30k BTU – M-Series Multi-Position Air Handler. The SVZ-KP air handler includes an ECM blower motor to provide more efficient and more intelligent airflow for your home. With a removable blower, the air handler can be easily cleaned and maintained. The air handler also includes a washable filter to ensure the air in your home is as fresh as can be. With the ability to be installed vertically or horizontally, the SVZ-KP air handler can be easily adapted to fit in any duct system. We have this AHU unit placed on the north of the building which will be easier to maintain.


The ERV system that we used is of Panasonic and provides tempered air supply, humidity control, and a balanced amount of exhaust to help maintain balanced, positive or negative pressure throughout the home. The ERV system is placed inside the bulkhead and has a polypropylene wall cap connected with Styrofoam adapter which allows both exhaust [from the right] and supply [from the left] airflow The dividers inside the bottom portion of the Y shape chamber and the new wall cap help prevent cross-contamination.


The light fixtures used in the house are mostly LED and are selected carefully which is aesthetically pleasing as well as saves energy. Hot water connections have been provided in both bathrooms, kitchen, and washer. The Master bath, kitchen and Washer shares one heating unit and the second bath has its separate unit, EcoSmart 18 and EcoSmart 11 respectively. EcoSmart tankless electric water heater delivers endless hot water, while at the same time-saving space, time, money, which will help us to reduce overall energy and water use.

Solar Decathlon CD Set – Submission

For the first several weeks of the Fall semester, the Net+ Studio has been working hard to complete our construction and structural documents for review in preparation for the Solar Decathlon. Our team is happy to say that we submitted our revised drawing set to the Solar Decathlon on February 18th and are now making final changes to its panelized construction method. The studio has begun hand drafting large-scale details before pre-fabrication begins. The drawings submitted to the Solar Decathlon represents our complete house design for the competition and the city of St. John, Kansas. The studio is excited to start building and showcase our project for the competition this semester. In a few short months, we will be unveiling our net-zero home at the Washington DC showcase and St. John, Kansas to help inspire a new form of affordable design.

Studio Completes Redesign for St. John House

The Final Design for the sustainable home of St. John or, 806  N Broadway, turned into a modern form of many of the design principles that embody the homes of this small Kansas town. The main driver for aesthetic decisions relied on affordability and sustainability. The house is rectangular in plan, stretching from East to West to guarantee plenty of space for solar paneling. From the exterior, the house is wrapped with blue metal siding. As you approach the house from the east, the patio reaches out from the main entrance to greet those from either end. A white metal roof extends over this outdoor connection, forming a protective cover. For additional cover, there are two wooden sliding panels to provide shade in the warm months and remain open and sunny when it’s cold. On the northside of the house, sliding doors allow plenty of indirect light into the dining space. Adjacent to dining is a customized kitchen with movable island. The living space sits on the opposite end to provide an open arrangement for the family to engage in each space. The center acts as an open circulation provides across the building. On the west side of the house is two rooms with cabinetry to provide much needed storage. These can become bedrooms, workspaces, a play room or any other need the family might have, while a lavatory is sits between them for easy access. On the east side of the house are the washer and drier on-axis with the center circulation. The master bedroom lies in the southeast corner, which connects to spacious master bathroom. All these spaces allow the owner to live in comfort despite the limited space, making this home an important addition to the fabric of St John.

Studio Completes First Draft of Book

This past week, our team completed its first draft of the Net-Positive Studio Book! Its purpose is to show a comprehensive understanding of our project over this academic year. The extensive process that led us to this point included: how we operate, our research, schematic design, design development, construction documents, our panel prefab process and construction of the St. John house. The students are creating this book collectively as a studio, so that we will have a completed analysis of our project in May. Our book will be available on www.issuu.com once completed!

Studio Presents Final Design

The end of the semester arrived, and it was time to reveal all our hard work. Architects from BNIM, El Dorado, the Kansas City Design Center and professors from the college came to see the results of the Net-Positive Studio. We all had worked on so much to get to this point. Site analysis of the entire town, cost-estimations, mach wall construction, and so many other new experiences were just small parts of a huge step in our own design. It was just as hard for us to explain the intricacy of our process as it was to get our project to this point.

We began by explaining St John’s situation. Families who want to live there or have a reason to live nearby face one major hurdle: housing. There are no quality or inexpensive homes available. Banks don’t are wary of providing loans to improve and ultimately if one chooses to live in St. John, they are often forced to pick the first place they can find. Our goal is to provide a home and that embodies both the quality and price that citizens need to be happy in their hometown. We discussed our dozens of ideas before our project and how many approaches could be taken to solve this housing crisis in a unique way. Ultimately it led us all to a single concept. Privacy, connection to the environment, and a central core focused on keeping the St. John family together in a house familiar to what they love about the homes they grew up in, while also being contrasted by the qualities that make this place an icon for future projects.

Valuable feedback allowed us to stand back and see this design through an unbiased lens. Our principles were challenged so that we could further develop our reasons for building this net-zero home. Interesting details were honed into something completely unique, places that needed improvement were rethought, and suggestions were made to trade expensive constructs with equally powerful and less expensive moments. At the end of our presentation, our project had been shaped into something new, even if we hadn’t realized it yet. The design that evolved from our work would become a unique piece in net-zero, affordable housing and something that we all are proud to build in St. John.

The Net Positive Studio Presents Single Family Home Concepts to St. John, KS

After initial individual schematic research and design, our studio began to form teams to maximize the knowledge we gained from our early work. We formed three groups to form six unique ideas that embodied the desires of St John. These were: creating an affordable home that could be sold or rented out, minimizing wasted space, achieving net-zero energy efficiency, and making it easily repeatable so the county could continue to use our design. We explored structure, materiality, design, and spatial efficiency to understand how these needs could be met.

October 19th marked our first presentation of our early schemes for St John’s net positive home. This was done in front of local community leaders and enthusiastic locals looking to aid us in this ambitious project. The citizens of St John provided valuable feedback over lunch as we shared our ideas and questions for achieving an affordable home. A productive few hours gave us further insight and has pushed the Net-Positive Studio in the right direction.

Build SMART and Studio 804 Tour

              In order to better prepare for our own construction, we needed to learn from experienced leaders in the design-build studio and prefab process. There was no better place to start than Lawrence, Kansas. Although our Wildcat pride was at stake, Studio 804 has been building their own projects for years and have even made headway into many experimental designs that push architecture and technology. Meanwhile, Build SMART has streamlined the prefab process in order to prove that amazing architecture can be much simpler than current contractors make it.

              We began that morning talking to Paul Grahovac of the Build SMART program. His presentation included their standards for exterior, standard, and insulated panels. This led to examples of how capable their products are in construction. From standard commercial structures to apartments that passively track energy and water consumption, they have taken a basic building block of construction and formed it into an inexpensive object of quality design. Furthermore, they are never content with the status quo. Cheaper construction is only the beginning. Modern machinery allows them to test the resilience of their own product, pushing Build SMART to produce products that resist tornadoes, floods, and any other disaster that may come our way. In a short time, we learned quickly the possibilities that our own panels could achieve with the right input.

              After the valuable lesson on prefab, we needed better understanding how we could create and put together an entire home in our workshop in a single schoolyear. We had to visit somewhere that already knew the design-build process. Studio 804 was our best bet to understand how architecture students could begin such a task. As a fortunate addition to our trip, we came during the AIA’a annual regional meeting to discuss many projects and goals in Kansas currently. KU hosted the event, allowing us to present our work up to that point as well as here input from senior members of the AIA on our work and their own research. After the meeting, we explored the 804 workshop. This introduced us to homes of different sizes and intents. Converted airstream trailers and a home that can detect changes in a person’s movement so slight that it could tell emotional state or physical health instantaneously. If there’s one thing that we learned over this day in Lawrence, it was diversity in any project. Prefab may dictate how we build, but not what we build. Even a single change can produce hundreds of possibilities and it’s the Net-Positive studio’s job to balance this useful construction method with the unique home St. John needs

Alabama – Net Positive Studio Visits Rural Studio

The Net + studio trip started with a short 13-hour drive down to Greensboro, Alabama on November 10-13th where the students stayed in two 1850’s or earlier homes through Airbnb for two nights. The 1850’s homes featured many antique pieces of furniture with some updated amenities such as bathrooms and kitchens. The studio met in a local coffee shop with Emily McGlohn a studio professor for Auburn Universities Rural Studio with a short walking tour around Greensboro.

During the Greensboro tour, the studio visited Horseshoe Farm homes project which is still in progress and will be utilized as transitional homes for vulnerable women. The temporary housing uniquely contained three small studio units providing privacy and interaction amongst the other women staying in the units. The students then visited Rural Studio’s design lab where Rural Studio gave a presentation on their current local project, for the Hale County Hospital garden. They were very open about their successes and failures which helped the students realize that sometimes things do not go as expected with implementation from paper to reality. The studio then took a trip to Hale County hospital’s garden to see the project which was designed for rehabilitation. It included a bamboo garden (being redesigned), steel planters, a steel fountain, and several metal trellises with vines growing on and around them. After visiting the hospital, the students drove to Lions park which was completely designed and built by Rural Studio. The park contained several pavilions with ALPOLIC® metal composite material, A playground designed with suspended recycled oil barrels and pipes, and finally a fully functional skate park using concrete to create unique curves and ramps. The studio was very interested in the quality of craftsmanship of concrete pouring and welding of the oil barrels and they all enjoyed visiting the park. The students then ate a nice lunch with Rural Studio at Newbern Mercantile and later traveled across the street to Newbern town hall and Newbern firehouse.

After visiting these projects, the studio visited the 20k housing project model homes each 600-800 sq. Ft. and then later visited the studio’s Pod housing and building area on the Morrisette property. The last rural studio project visited was Perry Lakes Park. After visiting Alabama, the studio began its trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas to stay at the Graduate Hotel and visit Dake Wells firm in Springfield Missouri to get feedback on the St. John Project which was very informative and helped push the architectural side of the student’s project. Before heading back to Manhattan and ending the trip the studio was advised by Dake Wells to eat at black Sheep in Springfield Missouri; which all the students enjoyed.

Net+ Studio is excited to get back to work and start on a design presentation to the city of St. Johns.

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.