Friday, April 25, 2008

Zero-Emissions House: Buy yours here!

Want to live off-grid? Want to reduce your residential carbon footprint to zero? Then the kind folks at ruralZED have designed the perfect modular home for you! These houses are currently being sold in England where it has been mandated that all homes built after 2016 must have zero carbon emissions. Prices ranges from $240 to $280 per square foot depending on how fancy you want to get. The ruralZED sticks to thermally efficient construction materials to eliminate wasted energy. It is framed in lumber , coated with heavy insulation, and the south facing wall is covered with windows. The floors are sealed with a sprayable polymer compound that seals all gaps and leaks, and all water fixtures are super low flow. The roof has also been designed as a huge planter with the vegetation acting as an insulator and water conservation device. But those steps are as far as the company behind the ruralZED travels. In order to actually reach the zero emissions plateau, the homeowner must purchase solar panels that cover the roof as well as a solar water heater. There's also an optional wind turbine that can provide electricity.

This is a huge step in the right direction, but the ruralZED has some big flaws. The price tag associated with a solar array big enough to provide all of a particular house's energy needs is laughable. The optional turbine has a 5 foot diameter, so I can't see much power coming from them. Actually building one of these homes off-grid would be a huge gamble, especially in the not so sunny latitudes of the world. (Maybe I shouldn't take "off-grid" so seriously.) Anyway, it's great that companies are working on these ideas and that they are already making some available now. It seems to me, however, that the money you could invest in a ruralZED would be better spent making energy improvements to your current home. As for the "off-grid" part, I'm not sure that is an attainable reality. What is attainable is the construction of new homes from only thermally efficient materials and polymeric sealants. Improved efficiencies are the key to quick carbon emission decreases. Only after that should we look to completely replace our source of residential power.

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