A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.


Ann Althouse links to another in a long procession of “big idea houses” – what is zeroHouse?

The zeroHouse is a small, prefabricated house that can easily be shipped and quickly erected.  It features a full kitchen, bath, and all elements necessary to comfortably support four adults.  What sets the zeroHouse apart from other prefabricated structures on the market, however, is its ability to operate independently, without the need for any external utility or waste disposal connections.

The zeroHouse can be used in many applications, including residential uses in remote or ecologically sensitive locations, as ecotourism resort units, or as living or office modules for remote employment such as mining, construction, or relief agency uses.

Interesting. I’ll come back to the residential use part, but note here that if a relief agency has $350k to spend on a tiny temporary structure like this, there’s something seriously wrong with how it is managing its resources. My Google search on this was useless, but surely there’s some other alternative that, while perhaps less trendy and SWPLicious, could provide relief to more than 2-3 people for the expenditure of the average annual income of seven Americans.

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.  It can be installed in places that would unsuitable for standard construction including water up to ten feet deep, or on slopes of up to thirty-five degrees.

zeroHouse employs a helical-anchor foundation system that touches the ground at only four points, requires no excavation, and only disturbs the ground to a minimal degree.  It is especially suitable for use on environmentally-sensitive sites, or locations where no permanent structural elements are permitted.

The accompanying pictures include an installation on a rocky lot quite similar to those in my neighborhood, where you’d be lucky to find dirt a foot deep into which you could drive those fancy (and large) self-leveling stainless-steel augers without – as was the case with the four posts for my deck a couple years ago -disturbing the ground to a significant degree.

Having environmental consciousness as one of its prime motivations, the copy for “big idea house” naturally touts the house’s green attributes…with the typical myopia of green cheerleaders who ignore the non-green aspects of the technology they idolize. “With the zeroHouse, completely fossil-free living is a possibility.” Perhaps, in the sense of ongoing operation of the home. But those Kevlar-reinforced aerogel doors, durable color-impregnated foam-filled wall panels, powder-coated steel frame components, etc. got their plastics from somewhere, and while polyethylene for foam can be derived from sugar cane and the like, I’m guessing the rest didn’t come from hemp, recycled vegetable oil, or unicorn droppings. As for the rare-earths, heavy metals, solvents, etc. used in the production of the batteries, aerogels, and solar panels, they wisely avoid any similar product-life-cycle-ignoring claims of eco-virtue.

Setting aside criticisms of their marketing, however, I think there’s more to question in the actual utility of the house. The concept is billed for residential use – albeit with the caveat “in remote or ecologically sensitive locations”, which leaves enough ambiguity that it could mean that it’s only really meant for weekend or short-term use as a residence. But if like so many recent “big idea house” ideas it is meant to be an alternative to traditional homes with their “excessive” space and energy footprints, it fails on the same point as the others: it doesn’t take into account how people actually use their homes.

Take for instance my own house. It’s an average-sized house, which means it’s roughly three times the square footage of the zeroHouse. It was (near as I can tell) built as a weekend house, so there is no basement space and no extra space in the garage beyond what is needed for cars. I joke that it was designed by a submarine engineer rather than an architect, because every square foot of floorspace and every lineal foot of wall is accounted for in some way — there is no wasted space, each room has an intended use, etc.. Consequently, this means there is also very little storage space (why would you need storage in a weekend house?), and there is no “flex” space for ad hoc or hobby uses like one might find in a basement or larger garage.

Idea homes – whether from zeroHouse, Bucky Fuller, Futuro, etc. — all suffer from this same limitation when it comes to long-term or primary occupation. They aren’t designed to support flexible use, but instead replicate in a detached home the practical limitations of apartment living, or limit one to a leisure lifestyle that employs the space more as a hotel room than a home. Such limitations are to be expected with idea homes marketed (like the Futuro) as holiday cabins, but it becomes a problem with concepts like zeroHouse and its modern contemporaries whose eco-moralizing marketing carries the unsubtle suggestion that our principal residences should be built on the same principles of design: small size, hyperefficiency, green energy, minimal impact, etc. The “big idea” behind each “big idea house” ignores how people actually live and work in their homes in real life, seeing them less as residents of a home than as the operators of a domicile system. Or worse: human dolls in oversized dollhouses.

Which is, of course, a manifestation of the flaw inherent in all technocratic solutions to human problems (perceived or real): the notion that humans are malleable and interchangeable, and can be successfully plugged into efficient, planned, uniform systems.


Comments are closed.