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Money Matters: Building a greener future with sustainable housing

By Doug Fox - Special to the Daily Herald | Apr 27, 2024

Courtesy ZenniHome

ZenniHome is utilizing sustainable design principles to build one- and two-bedroom affordable homes with modern flair, smart home technology and innovative, eco-friendly living flourishes. The homes can stand alone or be stacked up to five stories high.

At a time when environmental consciousness is becoming ever more vitally important, the housing industry is making itself at home in the middle of this profound transformation.

Sustainable housing was once a niche concept, but it has moved its address to the front lines of architectural innovation and urban planning. With an increased emphasis on conserving resources, reducing carbon footprints and promoting healthier living environments, sustainable housing trends are influencing the way homes and communities are being built.

Let’s take a look at some of the key trends and influencers in the housing sector’s move toward going green, such as passive house design, net-zero energy homes, green building materials, smart home technology and green roofs and vertical gardens. Then we’ll discuss efforts currently underway to build sustainable housing.

Passive house design

Imagine a home so energy efficient that it could be heated with just a hair dryer. It seems impossible, but that is precisely the claim of a passive house.

Passive house design principles are gaining traction worldwide as an effective way to minimize energy consumption in buildings. Typical homes allow unwanted flows of energy between the exterior and interior. (Think about how your dwelling is hotter inside during the summer and lets warm air escape during the winter.) Passive house buildings, however, feature an airtight facade that prevents that back-and-forth air flow, maintaining a comfortable indoor climate year-round.

Passive houses accomplish all this with green strategies, including super insulation, airtight construction and high-performance windows. Passive house design strategies can be used in any climate and in both new and existing buildings, including hospitals, schools and high-rises.

Net-zero energy homes

Homes that produce as much energy as they use over the course of a year are considered net-zero energy homes. These homes utilize renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines to generate electricity. These are coupled with energy-efficient appliances and lighting systems to minimize consumption. Through careful planning and innovative technologies, net-zero energy homes are not only environmentally friendly but also economically beneficial, offering homeowners long-term savings on utility bills.

Zero energy homes come in all the similar makes and models of regular homes but are built to a higher standard. They are airtight, well insulated, carbon-free and energy efficient

“A zero energy home is not just a ‘green home’ or a home with solar panels,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy. “A zero energy home combines advanced design and superior building systems with energy efficiency and on-site solar panels to produce a better home. Zero energy homes are ultra-comfortable, healthy, quiet, sustainable homes that are affordable to live in.”

Green building materials

The choice of building materials can play a crucial role in a home’s eventual sustainability. From reclaimed wood and recycled steel to bamboo and hempcrete, green building materials are becoming increasingly popular for their low environmental impact and durability.

According to the website GreenCitizen, some of the top sustainable materials for an eco-friendly home include the following:

  • Bamboo.
  • Recycled steel.
  • Reclaimed wood.
  • Cork.
  • Straw bales.
  • Rammed earth.
  • Recycled plastic.
  • Sheep’s wool.
  • Hempcrete.
  • Recycled glass.
  • Mud brick (adobe).
  • Green (living) roofs.
  • Low-VOC paints.
  • Solar tiles.
  • Papercrete.
  • Timbercrete.

By opting for materials that are renewable, nontoxic and locally sourced, homeowners can reduce the carbon footprint of their construction projects while promoting a healthier indoor environment free from harmful chemicals.

Smart home technologies

Integrating smart home technologies into sustainable housing allows for greater control and optimization of energy usage.

From programmable thermostats and smart lighting systems to energy-monitoring devices and automated appliances, these technologies empower homeowners to make informed decisions about their energy consumption and reduce waste. Many can be set to function at a lower capacity when occupants are out of the house or asleep, reducing energy use by 15% to 20%.

By leveraging the power of artificial intelligence and data analytics, smart homes can adapt to occupants’ preferences and environmental conditions to maximize efficiency and comfort.

Green roofs and vertical gardens

Green roofs and vertical gardens are transforming urban landscapes by adding greenery to densely populated areas and mitigating the heat-island effect.

These living infrastructure elements not only provide aesthetic value but also offer numerous environmental benefits, such as improving air quality, reducing stormwater runoff and enhancing insulation. By incorporating vegetation into building design, sustainable housing projects can harmonize with nature and contribute to the creation of more resilient and livable cities.

Sustainable manufactured housing in practice

One company with Utah ties is pioneering major inroads into the manufactured housing industry. ZenniHome, with a leadership group based in Salt Lake City, is utilizing state-of-the-art technology and sustainable design principles to champion one- and two-bedroom affordable homes with modern flair, smart home technology and innovative, eco-friendly living flourishes.

Of particular interest is the fact that the homes can stand alone or be stacked up to five stories high, offering an ideal solution for developers building multifamily projects. Each home is steel-framed and features robotic walls and furniture to capitalize on the available space, with each room serving multiple purposes. Additional sustainable features include solar integration — reducing reliance on the traditional power grid — and plumbing systems that separate gray and black water — promoting efficient water use and reuse.

“We’re not just building homes,” said ZenniHome CEO and founder Bob Worsley. “We’re creating a lifestyle that embraces eco-friendliness as well as social consciousness. Sustainability is at the forefront of our mission, and it’s emulated in every aspect of our home designs. Our intentional decision to manufacture homes smaller than the average residence promotes a simpler, more thoughtful way of living while significantly reducing utility demands.”

In a first-of-its-kind partnership, the Navajo Nation has announced a total of $74 million in grants to ZenniHome. The grants include $50 million from the Navajo Nation’s Community Housing and Infrastructure Department to provide a minimum of 250 ZenniHome units to high-need residents across the Navajo Nation.

Additionally, in partnership with Indigenous Design Studio + Architecture (IDS+A), $24 million from the American Rescue Plan Act will be used to expand ZenniHome’s production by building a second factory next to its first one near Page, Arizona.

The homes provided by ZenniHome to the Navajo Nation will address the critical housing need and stimulate economic development. A 2011 Navajo Nation Housing Report found that 90% of all Navajo Nation housing was in need of replacement or major repairs. The nation needs as many as 34,100 new homes to meet demand, according to the Navajo Housing Authority assessment, which conducted the survey in 2009. However, this number is likely higher with the increase in tribal enrollment, the time that has passed since the survey and other factors such as the pandemic.

Staffed mostly by Navajo workers, ZenniHome has a goal for its factory to become the highest-producing housing factory in the world. When expansion is completed by the end of 2025, the factory is expected to produce up to 25 homes a day. ZenniHome is currently already producing homes; earlier this month, nine units were delivered to Los Milics Vineyards near Tucson, Arizona.

“By working together with ZenniHome, we are not just building homes,” said Buu Nygren, president of the Navajo Nation. “We are promoting a more sustainable future for the Navajo Nation where every citizen has access to affordable, quality housing and the promise of economic growth and stability.”

To learn more about ZenniHome and its final phase of crowdfunding, Worsley is hosting a webinar Monday from 4-5 p.m. Details are available at https://lu.ma/y04hgfix.

In conclusion, sustainable housing trends are reshaping the way we conceive, design and inhabit our living spaces. By embracing passive design, net-zero energy and affordable manufactured home principles, adopting green building materials, leveraging smart technologies and integrating green infrastructure, we can build a greener and more resilient future for generations to come.

As the demand for sustainable housing continues to grow, so too will the innovation and creativity driving this transformative movement toward a more sustainable and harmonious built environment.

Doug Fox is a project manager at Fullcast, a Silicon Slopes-based end-to-end RevOps platform that allows companies to design, manage and track the performance of their revenue-generating teams.


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