Now that the effects of climate change are visible and indisputable, consumers are more environmentally conscious than ever. In fact, as a United Nations 2021 study suggests, 85% of them reveal that sustainability plays a key role when making their purchase decisions, motivating businesses and manufacturers to respond accordingly. This explains the rising demand for electric vehicles and products made of renewable or recyclable materials. However, architecture – and especially traditional housing – seems to be several steps behind compared to other industries. Although there are numerous efforts to move towards a greener built environment, the way most buildings are made today continues to be outdated, creating tremendous amounts of waste and significantly contributing to the global carbon footprint.
Like Sasha Jokic, founder of building startup Cosmic, points out, “homes count for roughly 45% of all the U.S CO2 emissions, with the vast majority of those emissions (87%) attributed to fossil fuel-fired heating, cooling, and hot water.” The necessary response from the housing sector is therefore clear: it must aim for carbon-neutral, energy-efficient homes that, unlike many cases, must be affordable to be accessible at a massive scale. Once that is prioritized with the necessary urgency, we can begin to dream of really tackling the devastating effects of the ongoing climate crisis.
To reshape the housing sector, the first step is to question the way today’s homes are being built. The second is to adopt an entirely new approach and allocate resources accordingly. With this in mind, Cosmic has developed the first end-to-end housing development chain for fully electric, self-powered homes. Their first product is an innovative ADU (accessory dwelling unit) prototype that brings extra living space and pays for itself by self-generating clean energy. Also referred to as an autonomous backyard home, it produces zero emissions and avoids the irresponsible depletion of natural resources, seeking to improve people’s health and wellbeing.
A standardized system that reshapes residential construction
In an effort to deliver these self-powered homes at a massive scale, it was necessary to come up with an innovative modular construction system. Traditionally, projects are built in one-offs, meaning that design, engineering and construction costs are not shared between different projects. On the contrary, Cosmic’s approach treats buildings like a product, creating an iterative system with the goal of achieving efficiency, sustainability and cost-effectiveness.
The result is a standardized building template centered around a modular, all-electric building chassis, which besides acting as a foundation system, includes built-in mechanical, electric and plumbing systems. These can be combined in practically endless ways without having to engineer each project individually from the ground up.
While the chassis is made of metal and wood, the joists, joints and decking are made of tubes and sheet metal. The roof is made of standing seam metal and other structural elements are composed of sustainably sourced wood. Similar to other prefab constructions, all of these components are initially built in a factory and then transported in flat pack containers to the building site. Since the module’s maximum weight is 600 pounds (272 kilograms), offload and assembly require only a small telehandler, avoiding the use of cranes. Altogether, the standardized design improves predictability, minimizes costs and accelerates project delivery by 50%.
Generating more energy than is consumed
Apart from offering additional living space, this tiny house stands out because of its ability to generate more energy than it consumes. This doesn’t just offset energy on the ADU itself, but also provides heating, cooling and power to the main home or any electric vehicle.
ADU is able to generate and store both electricity and thermal energy when it’s most efficient and cheapest and then distribute it into the household when it’s needed. – Sasha Jokic, Cosmic founder
But how is this achieved? Simply put, by integrating smart, innovative systems. This includes full scale solar panels in the roof and hybrid energy storage – thermal storage systems and lithium-ion batteries. In addition, the self-sufficient home features a heat pump for smart heating and cooling, as well as an ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilation System) that exchanges indoor air with fresh outdoor air for excellent air quality. To operate all of these technologies in a centralized manner, each ADU also incorporates an electric control panel.
When combined, these features enable sustainable living, eliminating the dependence on fossil fuels and emphasizing user wellbeing. But what’s unique to Cosmic’s ADU is that this doesn’t compromise affordability. By producing extra clean energy, electricity bills are drastically reduced and, eventually, the home is able to pay for itself. Thanks to the Cosmic ESA (Energy Service Agreement), owners can obtain the tiny home for no upfront cost, earn credits by generating energy and make monthly payments for full ownership, placing sustainability within everyone’s reach.
Sustainability without sacrificing good design
Like any industrial process that results in affordable housing alternatives, there is a risk of completely compromising aesthetics, comfort and creative freedom. While maintaining the efficiency of the standardized process, Cosmic presents a different scenario. The ADUs come in two different sizes that act as the base, but enable multiple layouts: Cosmic Studio and Cosmic One. While the first is a 350 square feet (33 square meters) multifunctional space to live and work, the second is a 700 square feet (65 square meters) two-bedroom, one-bath house with a roof terrace.
Made with the same natural, non-toxic materials, both models are characterized by a modern minimalistic style that is timeless, comfortable and versatile. In particular, the wall panels are made of cross-laminated timber and different types of plywood. Whereas flooring is made of engineered hardwood, cladding options include stained cedar (in black, grey or natural finishes) and composite panels in a copper tone, allowing the user to choose the desired aesthetic.
Exploring the future of the built environment
As Sasha Jokic indicates, “climate warming and the global pandemic have reshaped our living environment, and we are not going back.” As this becomes more evident, a new building standard that points towards flexible, energy-efficient homes must be adopted. Existing efforts are definitely not sufficient – and those that are remain at a price point that is out of reach for many. Certainly, the industry has a lot of catching up to do.
But by creating well-designed, all-electric modular homes at a lower cost like Cosmic’s, it’s possible to imagine a greener lifestyle that simultaneously tackles the aggravating housing crisis. Of course, architecture is a broad industry and there are many other routes to explore, but the key seems to be evident: for people to take part of their sustainable future, they must be given access to the necessary tools and technologies. This way, they gain the power to improve their own built environment (and their quality of life in the process).
Cosmic has built its first prototype and will start selling in the U.S during the second semester of 2022. To learn more, visit their website.