Habitat for Humanity of Minnesota, Zero Energy Home

Using the Habitat for Humanity model of a simple, decent, affordable home, Architecture and Engineering Students at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design are working on a replicable prototype for a home that produces as much energy as it consumes – a “net-zero” home, or Zero Energy Home (ZEH). This plan can potentially be constructed in several different configurations, making it useful for Habitat for Humanity affiliates – and all housing producers – across the state looking to preserve the long-term affordability of the homes they build while keeping up-front costs low. The objective is to promote not only the feasibility of a ZEH, but also the concepts and materials necessary to construct it.

A prototype version of the ZEH will be constructed this year in Princeton, MN, by the East Central Habitat for Humanity affiliate in partnership with the Episcopal Church in Minnesota and the international, triennial Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) held at Bethel University. Working with complete plans drafted by the student group from the University of Minnesota, the EYE student group will construct the shell of the home in one week at the Bethel campus. The home will then be moved to the site in Princeton and completed by East Central HFH volunteers.

The design begins with a very small, simple footprint (or size) and an orientation that takes full advantage of natural sunlight. These two design elements have little up-front cost, and in many cases actually save money. From there, the home incorporates high levels of insulation and high-efficiency windows. As a result, the home itself does not need much energy to heat or cool. In this way the energy generation source – solar panels – does not need to be very large to handle the energy needs of the homeowner.

Jeanette Jensen, a single mother of two teen-aged daughters, will purchase the home with a no-interest mortgage. She will also contribute at least 250 hours of “sweat equity” in the construction of her home. Jensen, a long-time resident of Princeton where she works two jobs, will save hundreds of dollars in utility costs each year in the ZEH.

While this home will be more expensive to produce, through its construction we will demonstrate that the benefits outweigh the costs. The consistent energy savings will preserve the long-term affordability of homeownership, which is not only part of the Habitat for Humanity mission in partnership with low-income homeowners, but also an attractive idea for ALL homeowners.

This home will be developed into a case study for wide distribution. It will be showcased at the statewide Habitat for Humanity conference in March of 2012, and promoted through Habitat for Humanity International’s intra-net, “my.habitat”, a hub of best practices for the 1,600 Habitat affiliates in the United States. In this way, it will not only benefit Minnesota affiliates, but also be available as a model nationwide.

(from HfH of MN press release, May 5, 2011)