Maine Architect-Builder Team Offer Modular Net-Zero Homes

Energy-efficient homes constructed from sustainable materials are gaining traction across the country, but two Maine companies say they have created the first US modular net-zero homes, featuring superinsulation, efficient heaters and solar panels; together, the features will generate as much energy as the home will use in a year.

Because they’re modular, the homes on offer from Kaplan Thompson Architects and Keiser Industries are priced comparably with traditional homes, and cost much less than a custom-built net-zero home. Phil Kaplan, principal of Kaplan Thompson, is hopeful that they will appeal to buyers who may not have been in the market for an net-zero home, but will be attracted to their comfort, looks and advantages.

“Sustainable design has gotten a bad rap,” said Phil Kaplan, principal at the architectural firm. “People think it has to be more expensive, or if it’s not, it looks like a box.”

The partners at Kaplan Thompson have designed three homes ranging from 960 to 1,680 square feet, with prices of $205,000 and $235,000, and none of them look like a box. In fact, they’re light, bright and adhere to many Not-So-Big architectural principles.

Like any true Mainers, the partners have focused on sealing out the winter winds, and their Modular Zero Collection has double the insulation of most homes — R40 in the walls, R60 in the roof — as well as extensive air sealing, hydronic heating and triple-glazed windows. The homes’ heating requirements will be about one-third of a typical new home’s. Their collaboration began in 2008, when they partnered on a net-zero modular office-studio in Rockport, Maine. That project was more expensive than their new collection, but it did gain national exposure.

Realistic Expectations

All of the homes in the line will be wired and plumbed for solar power, but fully installing both solar and solar thermal systems will cost a further $40,000 before tax credits. Of those who opt for solar, most will stick with the solar water heater option at the time of construction, but the partners are realistic about home buyers choosing to spend extra at present, whether or not the recession is technically over. For many, the super-insulation will be more than enough.

Keiser Industries, the builder in the partnership, has years of experience building to Energy Star standards and is working to integrate green building materials and methods into all of its projects. Its Energy Star package adds about $6,000 to the construction costs of a new home, but can deliver fuel cost savings of 40%.

“We think this is the direction of the future,” said Keiser Sales Manager Josh Saunders. “Even more than sustainable, energy efficient is what people are going to gravitate to. That’s where the payback is.”

Kieser is now beginning to sell the Modular Zero Collection to other members of parent company R.J. Finlay & Co.‘s New England operations, stressing the advantages of energy efficiency in the region’s climate, and the advantage of having a new home ready for occupancy within three months.

One response

  1. Though already common (re: “manufactured homes”), modular may have a bit of stigma to overcome – at least in parts of the south. They’re seen as firetraps that disintegrate in severe weather. It seems those could be overcome with stricter building codes though, and these homes may not suffer the same problems anyway.

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