Montague Urban Homestead, Massachusetts

Montague Urban Homestead, Massachusetts

Montague Urban Homestead floorplan (click to enlarge)

Montague Urban Homestead floorplan (click to enlarge)

I was browsing Build it, one of my favorite websites, and found the Montague Urban Homestead zero energy home pictured above. I was initially attracted to the home design by its simple lines and potential for do-it-yourself owner-builders (the focus audience of our blog). But then I saw the $180,000 price tag and was immediately put off. That’s not affordable to most. I started to leave the site but then realized how some of the good ideas in this design could be merged with natural building materials to create very low cost zero energy homes.

The Montague Urban Homestead was the winner of the Massachusetts Zero Energy Challenge 2009, and also the NESEA Zero Net Energy Building Award for 2010.

The goal of the design: “To eliminate dependence on the dirtiest/most harmful energy sources – coal, nuclear, oil, electricity from biomass – and meet our housing and energy needs with as little health and environmental impact as possible, in an economically-affordable, low-toxic, sustainable home.
The Montague Urban Homestead is a single-story, single-family detached dwelling of 1152 square feet, with three bedrooms and one bath. It also has an attached insulated but unheated mudroom of 96 square feet.

It has an audited HERS rating of -8 and a Platinum (highest level) LEED rating. The house is close to German “passive house” standards – a “Power House”, or “Below Zero Energy” house that is also free of many of the typical toxins used in building.”

A lot can be learned by studying award winning designs. Study enough of them, mix and match features you like, combine with low cost building methods such as straw bale, earthbag, pole building, earth floors and plaster, etc. and you can have a zero energy home that costs substantially less than contractor-built projects if you build it yourself. You can take existing designs like the one above to the next level. We know X, Y, and Z work (ex: insulated slab, solar water heater and heat recovery ventilator) and then it’s just a matter of using these ideas in a house made with more affordable, sustainable materials.

Source: Build it (very good website)
Full plans “as built” also at Build it
Zero Energy Earthbag House plans


Save $100,000 on Zero Energy Homes — 6 Comments

  1. Often passive house says you need to have very tight construction requiring high priced windows. What is your recommendation for window manufacturer that makes a high quality window at a good price?

    • There’s a point of diminishing returns to almost everything. Do you want to spend thousands of dollars extra over and above good quality windows just to save a few dollars on energy bills? At some point it’s not worth it. You’ll have to decide how much you can afford and at what point it’s no longer practical to spend more. Modern windows have energy ratings that give a good idea of their efficiency. I would rely more on the ratings than the number of big flashy ads.

  2. The floor plan is basic but some of the internal amenities are quite pricey… there must be better ways to vent the bathroom than a massive duct.

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