Project Team

Our home is a newly constructed single-family residence located in downtown Maynard, Massachusetts. Maynard is a micro urban community west of Boston full of sidewalks, stores, and eateries.  We reside in the house with our two children.

As potential first-time homebuyers we had initially searched Maynard for an existing starter home that would provide 1) comfort 2) healthy indoor air quality 3) walkability enabling us to function as a one-car family and 4) outdoor space for our children to play.  But what we found left us uninspired. We envisioned living in a passive solar home that was efficient, sunny, and contemporary and wondered: is it possible for a family on a small budget to build such a home onsite using conventional methods and materials?

Initially we had doubts, and almost abandoned the idea. But visiting the three winning entries of the Massachusetts 2009 Zero Energy Challenge encouraged us. We committed to the project when we found a rare 1/4 acre lot in Maynard perfect for our needs.  To stay within budget we kept the footprint small at 1248 sq ft and the house was designed with multi-functional spaces on a single floor. The result of the integrated design team approach is a solar energy home that is beautiful and comfortable and which reflects our values and our aesthetics, while more traditional choices for exterior materials and details allow the house to fit into our New England neighborhood. And with ample attic storage and no need for a furnace we gratefully omitted the New England basement. The design also reflects the idea that 'home' is the outdoors, too.  We included three exterior doors for easy access to the patio, yard and garden. The great room with its vaulted ceiling is filled with natural sunlight such that we rarely need electric lighting before sundown.

The passive solar space heating, solar hot water system, and the superinsulated envelope result in very low energy use, while the solar PV array produces more energy than what is used on site. What makes our house unique is that we are net-zero energy not just on a year-to-year basis, but every month since the PV and solar hot water systems went online we have produced as much or more than we consumed—even in the coldest and cloudiest months and without sacrifice to comfort or convenience.  Our 4,000 kWh yearly surplus would cover the energy needed for daily driving with the electric car we hope to someday acquire. Other sustainable features include Energy Star appliances, WaterSense fixtures, and a rain water collection system for gardening.

One unexpected result from building in a downtown location is the community response.  From passers-by and groups of students to NESEA open house participants, our community wants to learn from what we have done.  Our message is simple: sustainable, comfortable, and attractive net-zero homes are now within reach of moderate income families. We will continue to send this message as we enjoy our home for years to come.

Quick Facts


Location Maynard, Massachusetts
Building Type Single-family residence
Project Type
Basis of Performance Claim
Conditioned Floor Area 1,248 sq ft
Total Cost of Project $243,000

Energy Summary

Energy Data Type
Renewable Energy System Type(s)
HERS Index -8
Annual renewable energy generated 8,292 kWh/year

Envelope and Mechanicals

Subslab assembly

6” total thickness rigid XPS (3 layers of 2” thick boards), entire area, R-30

Foundation wall assembly

2” thick rigid XPS exterior insulation (R-10) below and above grade, entire depth of foundation wall to the top of foundation footing (4 ft). No basement.

Above grade wall assembly

Double stud wall, 12” wall cavity, dense pack cellulose (GreenFiber Cocoon2), R-43
Cedar board siding (1”) with vented rain-screen (3/8”).