Alchemy Architects’ weeZero: A Net-Zero weeHouse Near Moab, Utah

Reader Contribution by Susan Melgren and Web Editor
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In the remote Utah desert, on a stretch of red-rock land, Alchemy Architects erected its first weeZero home. Designed for net-zero capabilities, the 1,220-square-foot weeHouse near Moab, Utah, makes good use of efficient design, sustainable features and its site’s climate to reduce its overall energy load as much as possible.

Oxidized Cor-Ten steel siding helps the 1,220-square-foot weeZero home blend into the red rock landscape of the Utah desert.

Sunny and dry, the temperate climate of the desert around Moab provides excellent conditions for both the passive solar orientation and solar panels that the weeZero home uses to reduce its energy use. South-facing windows allow the small home to soak up heat from the sun during the day, and because the climate doesn’t often see days below 30 or 40 degrees, the home retains most of that heat at night. Solar thermal panels heat the home’s water–much of which is supplied from a water recycling system that harvests rainfall–and is also connected to the home’s in-floor radiant heat system, a more efficient system of heating that allows the home’s ambient temperature to be kept a few degrees colder in winter than with a forced-air system.

Solar thermal panels provide hot water and are tied to the home’s in-floor radiant heat system.

The weeZero’s Cor-Ten steel siding is durable, maintenance-free and can be recycled at the end of its life. Inside, bamboo floors, natural and recycled countertops, and energy-efficient lighting accent the interior’s modern look. Good design allows the two-bedroom home to feel larger than its compact 1,220 square feet. An open floor plan creates a feeling of spaciousness between the living, dining and kitchen areas, and a built-in bedroom nook saves space by providing a sleeping area without the square footage required for an entirely separate bedroom. Another design trick? To offset the low eight-foot-high ceilings, Alchemy used low-emissivity floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Having the windows span the entire height of the home eliminates what Alchemy’s principal architect Geoffrey Warner calls the “shadow line” (the line above windows and doors that sunlight never graces), effectively illuminating–and heightening–the ceiling.

A bedroom nook provides a private sleeping space without requring the square footage necessary for an extra bedroom.

Although the home was designed to be net-zero, it currently doesn’t have all of the features necessary to balance its energy use to zero. “The budget didn’t allow us to spend the extra money to offset the house’s electrical load, so we just designed the house to accept a line of photovoltaic panels in the future,” Warner says. “Every situation is a little bit different in terms of what makes sense for the customer, the site and the budget. In this case, there was access to electrical close by, and the owners are currently using the home as a second home. When they move out there in five years or so down the road, they’ll be able to hook up the photovoltaic panels.”

Bamboo accents enhance the home’s modern interior.

A dual-flush toilet and low-flow shower fixture help reduce the home’s water needs.

Like all weeHouses, the weeZero was constructed in an off-site factory then trucked to the site and lifted into place with a crane.

Images: All Photos Courtesy Alchemy Architects