Focused on a healthy indoor climate with superior energy efficiency and a minimum impact on environmental resources, the first Active House in North America is now under construction near St. Louis. The 2,500-square-foot home in Webster Groves, Mo., emphasizes balanced and efficient energy consumption; occupant comfort including healthy indoor air; and the use of durable, local, and recycled-content materials.

ECOHOME is following this one-of-a-kind project from start to finish through first-person accounts from the construction team. Here, project manager Matt Belcher discusses the finances of the project.
Matt Belcher
Matt Belcher

The economics of building a high-performance home are fairly simple and straightforward: If it’s not affordable to build and operate, it’s hardly sustainable. Utility and maintenance costs also must be considered in the financial equation, as they can add 30 percent or more on top of the monthly mortgage payment.

As with every project, our clients for the Active House USA project had a bottom line for their budget. And just like any other house, we had to obtain a construction loan and eventually a mortgage, which means that we had to obtain an appraisal that was not only comparable in value to the surrounding homes but also would give us credit for the home’s sustainable features.
We worked with our lender partners and specified that since we are building to above-code certification programs, such as ANSI ICC-700 (The National Green Building Standard), the appraiser should have experience in the valuation of these specialized properties. We felt that the only way we could get a true valuation was from an appraiser who understands high-performance properties.
To assist with the process, we provided the lender with a written specification for selecting the appraiser, a spec that we shared at the 2013 International Builders’ Show that can be downloaded here
In this case, even with all of our prior planning, we had to have a second appraiser come out because the first wasn’t qualified to make certain determinations. However, the properly educated appraisal professional’s appraisal of $500,000 fell into line with the construction costs. That means that through good design, materials selection, and sound quality management, the initial cost of the home will support its investment value. 
Beyond the Mortgage Process
But the real economic benefit is the long-term reduced operating and maintenance costs, not just those for the mortgage period. While Active House USA has the same initial value as its neighboring 100-year-old historic homes, it will greatly outperform them and have much lower energy, utility, and maintenance costs. In addition, since we are building well above current building and energy codes, for an extended period of time our client’s home will not suffer from obsolescence as building codes update, which we think further supports the value of the investment.
Another key future benefit of Active House USA is that we are building with non-toxic, durable materials for health, comfort, and low maintenance. Whenever Active House USA might reach the end of its useful life, the entire structure can be recycled, as opposed to only 80 percent of the home we replaced.

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The ultra-efficient house will blend in with 100-year-old neighboring dwellings.