December 9, 2012

"ZeroHouse can be located almost anywhere."

"Two flatbed trucks carry all the zeroHouse components to the site, and it can be erected in less than a day."

Meade says: "We buy some inexpensive acreage out in the country where it's beautiful, have this thing put up, and if they install a windfarm nearby, we sell the land, have the house moved somewhere else. It's off the grid."

Costs $350,000 for 650 square feet of "usable interior area" (including all the built-in furniture.) I think it looks like it would take off in high winds, but they say: "The tubular steel frame of zeroHouse can withstand winds of up to 140 mph." Up to... the lawyer in me says that's ambiguous.

77 comments:

rhhardin said...

You can shovel snow off the solar panels and use it for drinking.

Lyssa said...

$350,000!!! Without any land?

Here in TN, we recently bought a 3200 square foot house, all brick (so as to withstand any imaginable wind) and shockingly efficient, brand new gorgeous on a large, level lot, for less than that.

Rusty said...

Shipping containers are a lot cheaper.

Shouting Thomas said...

You blew out the site, Althouse.

Not set up for your kind of traffic.

$350,000 is a hell of a lot for so little house.

virgil xenophon said...

"In many locations it will produce electrical power in excess of that needed to...

"Many" is not "most," which means that the utility of this concept is distinctly limited if "grid-free" living is what one is contemplating..

Seeing Red said...

The tax man should love this, own a few parcels, keep moving off the grid.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

I think that the main problem would be that locations that provide both enough rain to supply all the water you need and enough sun to supply all the power you need must be pretty scarce. If you were to set one of these up in, say, the SF Bay Area, you'd be fine for water (but mostly w/o power) for four months of the year, and fine for power but parched the other eight.

Well, there's that, and there's Ann's concern that it might lift off in more than moderate winds. Houses have foundations for a reason.

Seeing Red said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DADvocate said...

That's a lot of money for a little house.

My past landlord built a couple of houses on the street I lived using the prefab method. He put in the foundations. Next, when I left for work one morning the flatbed trucks were there with the walls, floors and roof. When I got home, the first house was up, same story for the second house the next day. It took maybe 4 weeks to get the houses finished. Nice 1,500 sq. ft houses with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths in a good subdivision that sold for about $120,000.

lewsar said...

$350,000 is a ridiculous amount of money for 650 square feet of living space. what's that line about "a fool and his/her money are soon parted"?

Rae said...

$538 per square foot for an ugly little house that will never sell. Are they getting subsidized by the Obama admin?

Synova said...

350,000 and it's 100% environmentally sound clap-trap? No seriously... natural fiber carpet? I suppose it could all be wool, and that would wear well.

But it's not small footprint, it can't be. How much could you do for the planet with a 50,000 dollar mini house... a *trailer* and 300,000 left over to help people?

Oh, but then you'd be living in a *trailer*.

Oi.

edutcher said...

It's how the west, when it was east of the Mississippi, was won. Pick up and move when you see the smoke of your nearest neighbor's chimney.

Meade must have a lot of Scotch-Irish in him.

Big Mike said...

I agree -- there are lots of places in this country where one can buy a house appropriately sized for families and mounted on real foundatons for a lot less than $350,000.

Maguro said...

Christ, for $350K, you'd think they could at least make it a doublewide.

Coketown said...

I didn't see any financing options on the site. Most people don't appreciate just how difficult third-party financing for modular homes is nowadays--especially for one costing $350,000! And no land! So you're probably paying cash.

This whole small-house fad needs to hit the road. There is an opportunity cost involved. For every article on some new idiot moving into a renovated dumpster, the paper isn't running an article on gun control. And that is sad. To me. I know it flatters liberal sensibilities to think living in coffins is a practical alternative to suburbs, but it isn't. And it's not a trend; it's a fad. It's going nowhere. So knock it off.

Joe Schmoe said...

The tubular steel frame may withstand those winds, but not all of the other parts of the house will. For instance, say goodbye to the solar panels/roof deck shade in those winds. Hopefully you'll have enough advance notice to take them down before the bluster hits.

rehajm said...

I kind of like it. I can imagine a remote location on challenging terrain with no utilities, and/or where traditional septic was impractical. Sink the foundation anchors, level it up and you're good to go. The layout looks quite practical...

It's a huge step up from the shipping container, anyways.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

I could live in 650 square feet -- hell, I went to college, and successfully lived in about 100 sqft. -- but if they are advertising that as enough space for "four adults," they had better be very friendly indeed.

Much as I like the "off-the-grid" concept in theory, I think I would rather design and build something myself were I hypothetically to go that route. For one thing, I guarantee that it wouldn't be that ugly. I mean, there's modular, and then there's hurts-the-eyes modular.

chrisnavin.com said...

I could see Obama in there...let's buy one for him and see if he moves in.

He could put one in Hawaii, Indonesia, in Chicago, in D.C., in Kenya, in Kansas. Maybe one in Cairo, the West Bank, or Benghazi.

Lots of possibilities.

Michael Haz said...

$350K for a 650SF home? I sure do wish I had met people who wanted that when I was a home builder. Had that happened, I be a very wealthy man now.

As it is, $350K buys a well-built 1800SF home on a suburban subdivision lot, at least in most of Wisconsin. Expensive? You betcha, but still a pretty good deal given the costs of labor and materials, for a building that should last 100+ years with proper maintenance.

leslyn said...

Tiny Houses are their own subset in current building. They can be more expensive per sq ft because of building codes, what you're cramming into them, and the fact that in many jurisdictions, because of minimum square footage building requirements, they must also be portable. Most of those are on trailers, but I've seen one suspended from a swing-set type frame.

$350K is WAY out of norm for a tiny house. But hey, it's your money. If Meade wants it, blow it.

chrisnavin.com said...

Maybe we could put one in Waziristan, and Obama could oversee drone strikes from inside a carbon neutral box, watching US troops, Al Qaida, the Taliban and the locals fight it out.

World peace would be next...

chrisnavin.com said...

That reminds me: Obama's plan for dealing with targets in Afpak is to kill them from on high...or somehow propose that we include them in a world governing body...

Can you imagine how much more corrupt and dysfunctional the U.N. would have to be to get the Taliban and Al Qaida coming to the table?

Maybe not that much more corrupt, anyways.

Michael Haz said...

ZeroHouse is not close to complying with the Uniform Dwelling Code for Wisconsin. Not. Close.

Plus, where does the poop go? The composter thingy in the description sounds okay for veggie scraps, but not for poop, as anyone with a septic system knows.

And the fresh water comes from where, exactly? A rain-filled cistern? Uh, no, unless you want to add bleach to your drinking water.

The solar panels won't bear the weight of snow. And they won't provide enough power to heat the home in winter.

These architect's wet dream projects are the herbal remedies of the building business. They sound interesting, but just don't work.

If you want to move form place to place, take advantage of the technology that already exists. Buy an AirStream trailer.

bpm4532 said...

Very pricey. Seems like a kids playhouse for the Hamptons.

Peter Hoh said...

You can't move it around, but a former missile silo would have the advantage of withstanding a direct hit by a tornado.

Peter Hoh said...

What happened to the plans to get a modified Sprinter?

Michael said...

I met a man on a plane from the Abacos who lived on his sailboat in the harbor of Green Turtle Key. He was traveling to Nantucket where he spent the summer. On a boat in the harbor. Two two hundred thousand dollar sailboats, two wonderful locations.

You want small spaces that are liveable and portable? And tested, unlike the stupid house in the article.

chrisnavin.com said...

My hack theory: The ZeroHouse is the reiteration of modernist and postmodernist architecture.

It's been modified of course, but the Bauhaus is still there: using architecture to remake man according to moral and sociopolitical goals.

The hipsters are just reformulated hippies. A few elements I see:

-Romaticized vision of nature and man's potential harmony with nature (sometimes utopian, sometimes merely idealized....always impossible to achieve)

Back to wind and the sun, and the good, simple life in nature away from modernity. Technology will be hidden and minimal and effective.

-No matter how individualized the boxes, the same collectivist principles would govern the individual's life. These boxes are for the greater good, comrade.

The Swiss Family Robinson would still have to pay exorbitant taxes to the Al Gore's of the world.

I don't know where I'm going with this...

Michael said...

I met a man on a plane from the Abacos who lived on his sailboat in the harbor of Green Turtle Key. He was traveling to Nantucket where he spent the summer. On a boat in the harbor. Two two hundred thousand dollar sailboats, two wonderful locations.

You want small spaces that are liveable and portable? And tested, unlike the stupid house in the article.

leslyn said...

@Michael Haz:

Airstreams are wonderful.

Joe Schmoe said...

By coinky-dinky Gore's Montecito manse is ten times the size at 6,500 sq. ft. One of his bathrooms is probably bigger than this thing.

Joe Schmoe said...

It's a novel idea, but Meade and Ann, definitely talk to someone who's lived in one for at least a year.

It likely requires water and electricity delivery unless you are ready to go periods of time without either. Solar systems need a lot of maintenance and repair, too.

And you'd need a barn on site for all your cars and bikes and other stuff.

Joe Schmoe said...

Oh yeah, the other thing that cracked me up is Meade's quote about the wind farm moving next door. Once the wind farm is up, who's gonna buy your land? It's worthless at that point. The wind farm is your only likely buyer, and without competition they can pay you a pittance for it.

chrisnavin.com said...

I like the Prius parked outside.

That's a nice touch.

Ralph L said...

How do you move it? Does the upper story swivel?

Where's the garage for that Prius?

The idea of living without stuff is very appealing--for about 10 minutes.

Ann Althouse said...

They should give us one to live in and blog from.

Chip Ahoy said...

We see you're stuck on this small house idea. Very well.

We all agree the price is astronomical and ridiculous for what you get. Still, there are some good ideas there. The whole two-floor zoink/zoink entry porch/service porch deck/deck propeller porches, four decks, what's a service porch anyway? Never heard of it. But there you go, two trailers with porches stacked on top of each other like a propeller. Why only two?

Ralph L said...

zeroHouse can be left uninhabited for extended periods of time.
And probably will be.

tiger said...

WAY too over-priced for what you get; 'new construction' is around $125/sqft and remodeling around $200 per sqft.

This is around $550 per sf.

The ROI is terrible.

Peter Hoh said...

Chip asked: what's a service porch anyway? Never heard of it.

It's the place you stash stuff you don't really need, but can't quite throw out yet.

Anthony said...

For $350k, I'll sell you an existing 625 sq.ft. house in an "improving" neighborhood, with full utility hookups already installed, and I'll have solar panels put on the roof. (But I'll keep the gas connection for your heater and stove.) I'd even find a way to throw in a bunch of goodies. Or, I'll pay to have someone take that house off the foundation, ship it to your lot, build a foundation on your lot, and set the house on it.

By the way, I'm not entirely joking. If you want a sturdy, 625-sq.ft. house, and have $350k, I'd be willing to talk.

Synova said...

"These architect's wet dream projects are the herbal remedies of the building business."

Thread winner. :)

DADvocate said...

For reference, racquetball courts are 20'x40'=800 sq. ft. Go to your local YMCA and look at the racquetball court for a long time and try to imagine fitting a house into it. You can do it, but you're talking about a small cabin for two people.

Michael Haz said...

Small, portable homes are readily available in the US. They are called "Park Models" and are a variety of mobile homes. They are small, well-built, suitable for year-around occupancy and relatively inexpensive.

You buy one and locate it on rented land in a private community (the "Park") of similar homes. When you want to move it, hitch it to a truck and go.

There are several manufacturers in Wisconsin, including this one in Minocqua.

Amartel said...

It's a mobilehome with stairs.
It's a mobilehome but it's not called a mobilehome because it's for people who don't want to say they live in a mobilehome.
It's a mobilehome but priced like a regular house and without land to go with it.

Bottom line: It's a very expensive mobilehome.

Titus said...

love it.

wyo sis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wyo sis said...

It's an expensive cramped and ugly mobile home. Even by mobile home standards. And that's got to be some kind of record.

AprilApple said...

650 sq ft for that much dough? Not interested.

McTriumph said...

ZeroHouse is the Prius of the double wide. I can see Robert Redford, Ralph Lauren, David Letterman, Ted Turner, etc. buying them for ranch hand and servant quarters.

BaltoHvar said...

I'm with the thumbs-down group here. As much as I like the sort of F. L. Wright feel to the concept, too much $$ to buy it AND procure a place in the sun.

What happens if Gore-forbid the solar goes out? Or the composter? Sheesh - that would be unpleasant waiting for the Geek Squad to show up in the middle of somewhere you moved to because it is nowhere.

ken in sc said...

Lyssa, make sure you have a good storm cellar. A strong tornado will completely explode a brick house in minutes.

BTW, I once looked at a double-wide on Late Notley in NC. They were asking $500,000 for it. But it did include lakefront land and out buildings. We bought on Lake Chatuge instead.

Ann Althouse said...

"Once the wind farm is up, who's gonna buy your land? It's worthless at that point. The wind farm is your only likely buyer, and without competition they can pay you a pittance for it."

Remember, in the hypothetical, it was cheap land. Meade knows that my great fear of moving out into the country is that a windfarm will be put up nearby, so the idea is, we could grab the house and run, and count the land as a loss.

Ann Althouse said...

I agree that it's too expensive and that it's similar to a mobile home.

What's the right price point (assuming they can't rope in Priusheads at this price)?

Ann Althouse said...

What if it were $200,000? Would that work?

Ralph L said...

my great fear of moving out into the country is that a windfarm will be put up nearby
So find a place where there's only one hill and buy it.

This house is intended for righteous Earthnazis only. Of course, the carbon released to build it probably far exceeds that of a normal house, and none of the materials are "renewable."

Paddy O said...

Probably a sign that I live in Southern California that I think this sounds like a good idea.

In Pasadena, $350000 would get you a house about that size in a bad neighborhood.

Or a new condo in the eastern suburbs with no land at all.

Maguro said...

Remember, in the hypothetical, it was cheap land. Meade knows that my great fear of moving out into the country is that a windfarm will be put up nearby, so the idea is, we could grab the house and run, and count the land as a loss.

In that case, you don't need a $350K mobile home, you just need to make sure that you buy enough land that the windmills won't be too much of a nuisance if they're placed adjacent to your property.

Or just buy a cheaper mobile home. The only advantage this thing has over a regular mobile home is that you get more tree-hugger street cred.

Steve Koch said...

That is $538/sq ft for a mobile home, without any land. That is at least 10 times too much to pay. Why not just get a nice mobile home or manufactured home? They are already designed to be very portable so you can get lots of moving pros to move it anywhere and set it up for you quite cheaply. Meade can landscape the site so everything looks cool. If you want to get rid of it, there is a huge market for that. You can probably get something used for $25/sq ft. Take your time, always remembering the resale process should you decide you no longer want to live in the boonies.

Steve Koch said...

What some people do for reliable mostly off the grid energy is install propane tanks in their yard and use the propane as the fuel for their own electricity generator.

Rusty said...

Ann Althouse said...
I agree that it's too expensive and that it's similar to a mobile home.

What's the right price point (assuming they can't rope in Priusheads at this price)?


See. With shipping containers you can arrange the inside any way you want and bolt two or more of them together and put the holes for the windows and doors where you want them. When you move, just unbolt them and have the roll off guy come and take them to the next location.

DCS said...

It belongs in a trailer park.

Paddy O said...

The difference between this and a mobile home is important to the overall price. This seems, if I'm not mistaken, not only a living space but also all the appliances and furniture, power supply, water filtration. Entirely self-contained. Mobile homes need hook ups to sewer and the grid, right? This doesn't. It can be absolutely anywhere while providing the basics for contemporary life.

Meaning, a lot of the cost is due to the sheer simplicity of the overall process. Makes sense for someone who doesn't want to or know how to deal with plumbing, electrical, etc. Just wants a livable space in a remote place--for the place, not the project of putting a house together.

Paddy O said...

"use the propane as the fuel for their own electricity generator."

Propane requires refilling and electricity generators are very loud, basically undermining the point of living away from all sorts of other noise.

I think there are "off the grid" people who are concerned about being far from people, and then there are the sorts of people who want to really be somewhere peaceful and quiet, for all kinds of other reasons.

I, for instance, could see this as a great writers hut. Especially if the second bedroom could be converted to an office/workspace.

A writer, or other artist, needs to be in a zone of creativity, specifically not having to think about all the other details of life.

Steve Koch said...

Paddy O,

There are millions of people living in mobile homes that are off the grid. They put sewage into a septic tank. They get their water from a well or a spring (just like Althouse would have to with the ZeroHouse). You can buy quiet generators. The propane refilling is infrequent and is done by the vendor.

The ZeroHouse vendor probably depends on government green handouts to survive and will probably be out of business in a few years or sooner. At that point Althouse will be stuck with zero support and zero parts for her ZeroHouse (which is why it is called the ZeroHouse).

The idea that ZeroHouse will permit Althouse to not think about the "other" details of life is wrong. You should not encourage Althouse to make an enormously expensive mistake that she will bitterly regret.

BarrySanders20 said...

I like the off-the-grid idea. It invokes a sense of self-sufficiency.

But the waste system would malfunction at some point, requiring purchase of the company's next project, the fancy eco-mod outhouse (with or without service porch).

Blog from there under the Outhouse handle.

Andy Freeman said...

> You betcha, but still a pretty good deal given the costs of labor and materials, for a building that should last 100+ years with proper maintenance.

You say that like it's something diferent.

My 1902 tract house is doing just fine, as are all of its neighbors. And no, this neighborhood hasn't always been "good" - it was college student housing and flop houses for a couple of decades.

My parents house, another tract house, is about 50 years old and it will easily make 100.

Before you start with "but newer houses", be sure to tell us your expertise in the area. (I've built cheap houses, albeit not in the last 10 years, and I still wander through construction sites. They're better now, but the litigation "improved" more.)

Michael Haz said...

Before you start with "but newer houses", be sure to tell us your expertise in the area. (I've built cheap houses, albeit not in the last 10 years, and I still wander through construction sites.

My expertise comes from having built more than 500 custom homes in Wisconsin during the time I owned a construction company. They ranged in price from $110,000 to more than $3,000,000. Half were "tract" homes; half were one-of-a-kind custom homes.

Not sure that I understand the point you are trying to make, but happy to oblige.

Paddy O said...

"The idea that ZeroHouse will permit Althouse to not think about the "other" details of life is wrong. You should not encourage Althouse to make an enormously expensive mistake that she will bitterly regret."

I didn't realize we were giving personal advice, just commenting on this particular product.

Again, the benefit with this is that it's a complete package, not a hodge-podge of other things that require more research and installation and other such demands.

It's an appealing idea. For $350000, maybe not. In terms of its overall appeal, I think it can make sense to some. Clearly not to you.

I just doubt that Althouse really looking to us for our approval or guidance.

Edmund said...

"The tubular steel frame of zeroHouse can withstand winds of up to 140 mph." Up to... the lawyer in me says that's ambiguous.

The systems engineer in me that writes requirements that are part of legal contracts says it not ambiguous. In engineering speak, it means that if the wind is 0 to 140 mph, the tubular steel frame won't fail. At 140.0000001 mph it might or might not. Note that the wall, roof, doors, windows, etc. are not included. Also, the effects of debris impacts are not spelled out in that statement.

I'd guess that 140 mph was chosen to meet standards for "mobile homes" in various jurisdictions.

Amartel said...

ZeroHouse = ObamaHouse.

Of course!

You pay extra for the privilege of being "green" and "elite" (not calling it a 'trailer' or a 'double tall') ie., for the privilege of being an Obama voter. The high price of hippies.

Steve Koch said...


"I didn't realize we were giving personal advice, just commenting on this particular product.
I just doubt that Althouse really looking to us for our approval or guidance."

Althouse asked:
"What's the right price point (assuming they can't rope in Priusheads at this price)?"

Althouse asked our opinion about correct price and expressed her misgivings about the engineering. She clearly has doubts about this product and wants to discuss.

"Again, the benefit with this is that it's a complete package, not a hodge-podge of other things that require more research and installation and other such demands."

We don't know how well this is designed or built and it is quite likely that the vendor is not going to be around to support it. ZeroHouse is a experimental project with low volume, Althouse would be field testing the product.

BTW, it isn't a complete package. Althouse would still have to get water from somewhere, would still have to get her excrement into the ground (and the permit progress for that could be a booger), would most likely have an unreliable energy source. It would really suck when a freezer full of food got ruined because there was no power.

If you are going to live in the boonies, you better understand the mechanical details of your house. Using parts for which you can't buy a replacement makes maintaining your home very difficult.

"It's an appealing idea...In terms of its overall appeal, I think it can make sense to some. Clearly not to you."

The idea is cool but she would be buying a product, not an idea. She would be buying a product that is very difficult to evaluate and likely to be poorly supported and extremely difficult to maintain. Who knows if Althouse will be happy living in the boonies (no takeout food, for example). I just would hate to see her waste a lot of money on a product that will probably be quite difficult to resell without losing a huge amount of money.


Joe Schmoe said...

Paddy O, the marketing pitch of self-sufficiency is nice, but not likely entirely truthful. It's a lock that at some point you would need externally supplied something if you want to live like you do now year-round. Which means electricity is always on, your interior climate is completely controlled to your liking within a few degrees (summer or winter), your internet access is strong and uninterrupted, etc.

The claim is that once the battery packs are charged, you could go for a week without sun before losing power. It doesn't stipulate how you use your power during that week. I'd bet that at our regular rate of usage it wouldn't last long at all.

Battery storage isn't great yet, either. I think you would see performance drop soon after moving in, and replacing that would be a major expense. ZeroHouse refers to its utilities expenses; it doesn't refer to maintenance and replacement costs.

I like the concept, but having worked with various alt-energy systems, I know they aren't all they are cracked up to be yet.

Michael Haz said...

Living "off the grid" in an unhabited area is not a luxure, and is, in fact, quite difficult.

Are yo prepared to drive two or three hours to a grocery store, hardware store and even farther to a medical center? Maybe you can do that when you are 60, but how about when you are 80? What do you do when you need help?

My cabin is 30 minutes away from emergency medical help, 40 minutes away from volunteer firemen.

If I have a heart attack or an allergy attack, I die.

If my house catches fire, it burns down and I'm without a home.

It's romanatic to dream about living in the middle of nowhere with your loved one, free from the noise and bustle of the city. Until your loved one is in real trouble and you strain to hear the hustle and bustle of the ambulance before too much time passes. And that supposes that you can get a cell phone connection.

Unknown said...

I love this zeroHouse!
And I bet they could make this for a whole lot less.
I'm contacting the architects now!
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