Page 4 of 6
"It's overloaded with green features," Myers says. "There's over half a million in it. You couldn't reproduce it for less." In the basement, where a fuse box would suffice in a traditional home, there are panels to control the photovoltaic solar array, the wind turbine, the radiant floors. There's an energy-recovery ventilator, and there are two geothermal pumps.
But all the gadgets have so far confounded the buying public. "Appraisers, buyers, buyers' agents," Myers explains, "are not sophisticated enough. We're not to the point of appreciating all of this yet. But this is the home of the future. This is where we're moving."
In the year since the house went on the market, Myers says, there hasn't been a single serious offer.
The other 804 houses, including four funky modular homes, sold before construction was completed. There's an unofficial waiting list for the studio's work, which appeals to a certain aesthetic while remaining affordable. This one was different.
"If this house were $240,000, I could have sold it 10 times," Myers says. "The reality is, you can't build this for that price. And really, at $325,000, they're taking a loss. A big loss."
With that home still on the market, 804's bank account was dry when the current students started the school year. "I told the kids in the fall, I don't know how the hell we'll do this," Rockhill says.
In October, Greensburg paid the final $80,000 installment on its arts center. It's a laughable amount to build a family home, let alone another LEED platinum structure. "But somehow they manage to pull this off, year after year, in an elegant, beautiful and successful way," Gaunt says of Studio 804's track record.
To pull it off this year, they're going low-tech — and selling cheap.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Jennifer Mayfield hoists a plastic hose over her left shoulder and slides a surgical mask over her face. A fluffy substance that looks like laundry lint streams through the tubing and into the walls of the Prescott house. The gray flecks settle in her hair and cover her T-shirt like a thin layer of fur.
Mayfield's task isn't flashy, like the installation of a wind turbine or a solar panel. It's a simple and dirty process. But filling the walls with cellulose is perhaps the most important aspect of the Prescott house. The recycled newspaper will distinguish this home from any other within hundreds of miles.
The idea was Mayfield's. She studied in Germany for a year, where houses are built with several tons of insulation, drastically reducing energy costs. There's a name and certification for the style of building: "passive house." To meet the requirements, the home needs to be virtually airtight. The energy consumption must be 90 percent less than the standard home.
Nancy Schultz, an architect in Minnesota, built one of the first passive houses in the United States. It's so effective and so comfortable, she says, that it's easy to forget the seasons. Even in winter, the cold outside doesn't seep in. While she was away earlier this year, the systems that heat the house went down. "For 10 days, there was no heat; nothing was on," she says. "Inside, it was holding at 51 degrees. And it was minus 20 outside."
To get that kind of performance, Studio 804 is using tactics that have baffled Kansas City, Kansas, inspectors. Because they have to hold all that insulation, the thick walls are made from lumber typically used in floors. "These wall cavities are crazy," Mayfield says. "During the first mock-up, we stood in them and took pictures. You can stand in these wall cavities."