For the last 30 years, Tony Sarich has been building modular commercial buildings and schools as a co-founder of Manteca, Calif.-based American Modular Systems (AMS), which recently developed a new line of classrooms called Gen7 that are healthy, smart, and sustainable.
So when Sarich started designing his dream home, he knew he wanted to include the same technologies. What he came up with was River Vine: a 4,500-square-foot modular, zero net energy home on a 50-acre vineyard in Lodi, Calif.
In creating this concept home, Sarich faced the challenge of having too many choices because he wanted to include everything he’s ever dreamed of incorporating into a home of the future.
Sarich says the aim is not just to build a home he loves, but a home he can show off and help educate the rest of the industry on what modular and other building and technology innovations can achieve.
“There’s still a perception that a modular building is somehow ‘less than’ conventional construction, when the reality is, today’s modular buildings are equal to—and in many ways, can be even better than—a stick-built structure,” argues Sarich. “Modular homes are built on a permanent concrete foundation, giving them the same extended lifespan as a conventional building, and they offer the same floor plans, design choices, high-performance features, and overall energy efficiency as any home.”
River Vine will be built on a steel frame to support a wide-open floor plan and 18-foot-high ceilings. Floor-to-ceiling windows will give the expansive main living space plentiful daylighting and clear sight lines to the vineyard.
The home will mainly rely on a 9kWh south-facing solar panel array, geothermal energy, and residential batteries that store excess energy to produce the house’s primary energy needs. AMS also designed the home to reduce electricity needs by incorporating solar water heating and geothermal heating and cooling systems. Radiant flooring will also be installed throughout the home, tied in to hydronic heating and cooling integrated with a water-to-water geothermal heat pump.
“By installing underground pipes between the vines,” Sarich describes, “we hope to use the ground-cooling effect of the vineyard’s irrigation system to increase the efficiency of our home cooling system.”
While the home is designed to be zero net energy, most green builders realize that a home’s energy use ultimately depends on its residents. AMS will incorporate an energy management system to give Sarich’s family a hour-by-hour view of their energy production and consumption. The system will also be programmable to increase efficiency at times of the day or week, and even limit energy use during peak demand.
The home is also geared to be healthy, not just green. With an airtight building envelope, AMS is cautious about indoor air quality (IAQ) by using low- and no-VOC materials and paint. River Vine will also include a dual-filtration ventilation system with an air cleaner that will purify the outdoor air being brought inside and cycle interior pollutants out. The smart system will also determine ventilation needs by relying on carbon dioxide and humidity sensors for optimal IAQ.
Sarich understands that to make his innovative concept livable, the technology needs to be user-friendly. The entire home will use a simple home automation system that can turn on lights, close the garage doors, turn down the thermostat, activate the security system, turn up the music, and lock the front doors – all at the touch of a button or even a voice command. The home automation system will also connect with the energy management system for notifications about the energy components of the home, such as when an air filter needs changing.
AMS started production on the home in December and plans to have it complete by this fall. Once everything is in working order, Sarich is looking forward to analyzing how all the systems work together and tweaking them for optimal performance.
Sarich says that AMS isn't getting into the residential business but will use the home as a testing ground for new products, technologies, and energy-efficiency strategies for its Gen7 classrooms. “Our buildings are always evolving, so we’ll continue to design it forward, using what we learn from one building to advance the next,” declares Sarich.