Not Only is It Way Affordable, This Net-Zero Home Packs a Paycheck, Too

Exterior of the Start.Home With a slew of energy-saving features and a price tag of less than $240,000, the Start.Home could be the green home of the future. Image: Stanford Solar Decathalon

You could say energy efficiency is a reigning obsession here at HouseLogic. Not only can it help homeowners save money by taking back their utility bills, it packs a clear-cut environmental benefit.

The problem is that many of us think saving energy is difficult or too expensive to achieve. The Start.Home, an experimental solar-powered house designed and built by a group of Stanford University students, tackles that dilemma.

How so? The Start.Home is a 1,000-square-foot prototype that cost less than $240,000 to build. It’s packed with simple but ingenious features that make energy savings a no-brainer, such as:

Smarter room switches. Instead of traditional light switches, each room is equipped with a pulsating touch screen that’s used to turn on electronics and lights. It’s also designed to measure the room’s electricity use. The rate it pulsates suggests how much power is being consumed. When the switch is turned off, it shuts down all the lights, electronics, and even the outlets — no more vampire power loss.

Hands-free, leg-operated sinks. Designed to make turning on and off faucets effortless while preventing you from turning on the water and walking away. Just lean into the sink to turn on the tap and move back to stop the flow of water.

Art that represents the home’s energy consumption and production. A wall-mounted sculpture expands and contracts throughout the day to gently share with homeowners how much electricity their solar panels are generating, and how much energy the home is using. You can see it in action in this video:

The energy-saving goodness doesn’t stop there. The students also came up with a smart green building idea that boosts efficiency. It’s called the “Core.” It’s a prefabricated module that contains and controls the Start.Home’s electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems.  It combines “smart” and green technologies that enhance savings, including:

Control pods that the students designed to help homeowners manage their comfort settings

Sensors to self regulate the home’s temperature, humidity levels, and even lighting using data gathered by the home’s external weather station (it hangs over the home’s deck)

A heat recovery ventilator that gathers escaping heat and recirculates it to lower heating costs

Here’s a tour of the Start.Home’s Core:

The Core can also make green houses more affordable for consumers. Installing technical systems is the most expensive part of building, according to Stanford University.  Mass-producing prefabricated modules like the Core (think auto assembly line) can lower construction costs.

But wait, there’s more — this house has a moneymaking benefit.  When the solar panels generate more energy than the abode consumes, the homeowner can sell the surplus electricity to a local utility company. 

What are your chances of living in a home like this in the future?

The Start.Home was created for the Solar Decathlon, a building competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The event introduces new sustainable building methods to the public while showcasing the work of the next generation of green building leaders. The Start.Home won first place in “Affordability” and third place in “Market Appeal.” 

Related: 4 Trends That Predict the Home of Tomorrow