architecture energy

Building of the week: Acre homes

It’s 2016, and if all had gone to plan, Britain would only be building zero carbon homes from this year on. That plan went into the shredder last year, but there is one other part of the world with a similar goal: California. By 2020, all homes in California are due to be net zero energy buildings. By 2030 all new commercial buildings will be the same.

That’s a tall order. Only 1% of California’s new homes were built to that standard in 2015, but the target is spurring innovation and the price of net zero energy is falling. A predicted 10,000 homes will meet the standard next year, and as more and more companies develop their offer, there should be a host of options by 2020.

One example is Acre Designs. When Jennifer and Andrew Dickson heard about the new target, they knew it was a unique opportunity. They relocated from Kansas to California with the plans for their zero energy homes, with two prototypes already built to prove the concept to funders. Their vision is for a compact, affordable kit house that can be assembled quickly from pre-fabricated panels. The building is highly efficient, and once you’ve put the solar panels on the roof it is entirely self sufficient – no energy bills here.


Ah, I hear you saying – easy to do in California. Sure, and they’re ahead of you there. They’re building one of their homes at a ski resort in Colorado to show that it works in colder climates too.

There’s one other thing that’s clever about Acre homes. People might be sceptical about the size of the house, which is smaller than what many Americans are used to. It might be nice to stay in one and try it out first. So Acre have a scheme where they will help to finance a house in return for a pledge to let it out for at least 50 days a year on AirBnB. It means that Acre will get demonstration homes all over the US for prospective buyers to stay in and see if they like it. Smart.

As the housing industry in California comes up with new solutions for low energy homes, the technology and techniques to build them will become more widely available and the price will come down. We may get zero carbon homes in Britain indirectly in due course, not through government targets, but because they will as cheap to build as conventional designs. I look forward to owning one myself eventually. But the rewards of that innovation will have fallen elsewhere, and Britain will have missed out on the chance to be ahead of the curve.


    1. I think you’re jumping to a negative conclusion there, and one that the article you’ve linked to doesn’t support. It points out a potential loophole or two in the technical details, but is still broadly supportive of the idea.

      There are different ways to define net zero energy, some of them more robust than others, but even a weaker definition would be a massive improvement.

  1. hi jeremy, its a massive start for politicians but so easily and hugely improved. they only ever evolve where we need to revolutionize. all homes can now easily be off grid for massively less that $500,000 US but that would disrupt, too much, todays businesses.

    the home is badly designed, wastes too much space, uses too much material that will only last a few decades with constant upkeep, etc., etc.. i enjoyed the wood burning option.

    always the talk of sacrifice when none is necessary. no one seems to understand how much waste there actually is. i would peg it as far more than 95%.

    the stove in the home is aprox 13% efficient, the land size impractical, if we are to provide a proper standard of living for all 7.4 billion. i could go on and on.

    we need much much better. it is available.

    1. Sure it is, but I’m not suggesting this is the one true model for housing 7.4 billion. It’s one of many better options now available to Californian house builders as new standards approach, that’s the scope of this blog post.

  2. Sadly this entrepreneur is American, not British. But hey, we could learn from him. So his proposition isn’t perfect, as others point out. Great; that means that those who follow can improve on the offer and avoid these pitfalls. Will someone here step forward to pick up not just the idea of the house but also the great marketing approach.

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