Stanford Director to Build Zero Net Energy Home

Mark Jacobson's home is the first constructed built on the Peninsula by BONE Structure, which uses patented light steel-frame building technology that allows for precision building.

by Jacqueline Lee, Palo Alto Daily News, Calif. / July 8, 2016
Rendering of the zero net energy home BONEstructure

(TNS) -- Mark Jacobson, director of Stanford University's Atmosphere/Energy program, likes to practice what he preaches.

When Jacobson embarked on building a new home, he knew it had to be zero net energy, meaning the house will produce as much energy as it consumes.

By 2020, the state will require that all new residential construction fit this criterion.

Jacobson's 3,200-square-foot, two-story home with 12-foot high ceilings near the Stanford Dish has a solar panel system that generates all the energy needed to power his house and cars. Energy is stored in Tesla Powerwall batteries in the garage.

There is no gas line on the property.

"The barbecue grill, heaters -- all electric," said Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who studies climate and air pollution. "Heat pumps run in reverse for air conditioning."

Charles Bovet, vice president of BONE Structure, a luxury custom home design company, said Jacobson's house can be 100 percent electric because of the energy efficiency of its shell, or envelope.

Houses designed by the company have an "outsolation" of polystyrene panels and polyurethane foam that provides more insulation than typical, which helps reduce energy consumption, Bovet said.

Jacobson's home is the first constructed built on the Peninsula by BONE Structure, which uses patented light steel-frame building technology that allows for precision building. All Bone Structure homes come zero net energy ready, Bovet said.

Taking a page from the auto industry, Bone Structure draws and cuts the materials -- mainly steel, minimal wood -- off site.

The pieces then arrive at the construction site with numbered step-by-step instructions and workers snap together the pieces in a system that locks together.

The frame of a home like Jacobson's could be assembled in about three weeks by a crew of five to 10, Bovet said. Jacobson's house is expected to be finished by October.

"It makes it very predictable so there's a lot less waste on site," Bovet said.

Jacobson said he considered various companies, but selected BONE because it offered ways to be efficient in the actual building of the home, too.

Jacobson was drawn to prefabricated benefits such as reduced waste and decreased dust on the job site, minimizing disruption to neighbors.

The cost is not any higher than building a normal home, Jacobson added.

Jacobson budgeted $1.5 million for the home, which comes with a 500-square-foot double-car garage, full appliances, three bedrooms, three bathrooms, kitchen, office space and laundry room.

Aside from Jacobson's home at the university, there are five Bone Structure homes under contract in Palo Alto.

Sandra Slater, the Northern California director of the Cool City Challenge, an initiative of the Empowerment Institute, attended an unveiling of Jacobson's house in June.

She took note of BONE Structure's use of recycled steel instead of wood -- prone to termites, rotting and expansion -- and a process that produces "very, very little waste."

"They have a whole systems approach, not just a piecemeal thing," Slater said. "I thought it was very cool, how the home is constructed like an Erector Set."

Gil Friend, the city of Palo Alto's chief sustainability officer, also saw the house and called the project "compelling."

Jacobson's home is consistent with the city's green building and energy ordinance, which aims to cut greenhouse gases and improve energy efficiency, Friend said.

Other homeowners in Palo Alto have met net-zero home goals by individual initiative, Friend said. And, the city is looking at ways to make the process more cost effective for homeowners and advocating for compatible state policies to make such projects more feasible.

"As you know, the state is going to be requiring zero net energy by 2020 and the city is looking at the next way to get ahead, which we like to do here in Palo Alto," Friend said. "Professor Jacobson has done that here by building a net-zero home today."

©2016 the Palo Alto Daily News (Menlo Park, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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