Toward Zero Energy Homes

Here’s an eye-opening reality check for thinking about steadily increasing residential utility bills. "Once utility prices go up, they're not going to go back down. And as utility bills continue to increase, it gets to the point where people are paying [hundreds and hundreds of dollars] a month. That's not very sustainable. To live that lifestyle and pay that bill, that's your utility mortgage. And it's one you'll never pay off." That’s Josh Somes, owner of Sustain Studio, a Memphis area design-build firm specializing in healthy, sustainable residential and commercial spaces. He’s one of a growing number of building professionals looking to transform residential construction into a greener industry. Programs such as LEED and Energy Star offer incentives, but when individual builders take on this challenge, the potential for energy efficiency makes a significant leap. Take “Terra House”, a sustainable demonstration home designed and developed by the Department of Architecture at University of Memphis. It features energy efficient and environmentally responsible techniques, materials, appliances and fixtures. More significantly – with solar panels on the roof, the house produces electricity and sells it back to the grid. Jack Cowan, another Memphis region innovator and owner of Cowanhouse, offers Zero Energy Homes that, like the Terra House, generate energy rather than simply consume it. Once the high costs of eco-carelessness start to hit people in the pocketbook, Cowan says, the broader consumer market will take notice.