Yes, you read that right. Not energy-efficient … energy-independent. And affordable. And hurricane-proof. And, we should add, constructed completely with metal building components.
Sounds like a warehouse, you say? While it’s true the inspiration was derived from the basics of warehouse construction, the result is cozy and welcoming with all the comforts of home. Home, in this case, being a 100% steel building with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and virtually no electricity, maintenance or repair costs … ever.
One of the creative minds behind it is Jim Henderson of JLH Sustainable Housing – a Naples, Florida-based entrepreneur who has spent the largest part of his career managing high-end logistics operations for private entities. Because logistics operations depend on quality warehousing, Henderson knew a thing or two about steel building construction. And because he’s passionate about the environment, he also knew a thing or two about energy efficiency. It’s just that he had never considered bringing the two things together to create an entirely new segment in the housing industry.
The idea came to life through a series of conversations with a contractor he hired to build an addition on one of his buildings. Brian Jones of Tamiami Builders is a third-generation commercial steel builder also located in Naples. “Brian got all the plans drawn up and then one day he said to me, ‘there’s a new technology out there and we’re pretty excited about it. We want you to think about it;” said Henderson. “So he came in with some samples of IMP-insulated metal panels. He explained that this is what they use in refrigerated drive-in buildings. He said ‘the cool thing is, it insulates it completely to the outside because there are no metal beams attaching to the outside. It’s all from the inside.”
Henderson loved the concept – and it inspired him to wonder why no one is using it to build homes. “I asked Brian, ‘why can’t we build a house this way?’ and he said ‘well, you can.’ So I said ‘then why aren’t people doing it?’ And he just said ‘I don’t know. Let’s build one. I’ll help you.’” And the rest … well, it isn’t history. It’s what Henderson hopes is the future. “The whole idea is, we wanted to provide a 100% energy-independent house. To my knowledge, no one has ever done this to the degree that we did.” The team designed an engineered solar system to produce the maximum amount of energy every day.
Henderson’s motivation is largely due to his passion for environmental sustainability, but another significant factor was the high cost of land in his home city of Naples. “This is some of the most expensive land in the country,” Henderson explains, “People commute an hour and a half into Naples to work because they can’t afford to live here. So I wondered if it would be less expensive to have one of these houses.” Part of Henderson’s mission is to educate people and encourage them to look at the bigger picture when investing in a home. “It’s not about how cheaply you can build it per square foot, it’s how inexpensive it is per square foot to own it over time. The average electric bill in Florida is $170 a month. The electric bill for this house is $11.50 – and that’s all it’s ever going to be.” That $11.50 is simply the cost to be connected to the power company. Because the house is its own energy source, there is no electricity bill. In fact, the house has been producing about 25.4 kilowatt hours every day since Henderson built it and only using an average of four. That means there is more than enough energy produced to power all of the appliances, TVs, computers and other essentials – and still charge an electric car if needed. Additionally, because there is no lumber used in any of the construction, it’s mold proof, bug proof, and won’t need any maintenance or repair to the roof, walls or shell for many, many years.
When Henderson realized he and Jones had landed on what might just be a big idea in housing construction, he knew he wanted to turn it into a business. Jones introduced him to his Star Buildings rep, Jane Henderson, who listened to the pair talk about the house and their vision for the possibilities. “I don’t know exactly what she did when she left here around 5:30 or 6 that night, but she came back the next morning at 9:00 to sign me up as a distributor for Star Building Systems Residential;” said Henderson, “It impressed me how quickly they engaged. They have been very supportive of our project and spent numerous hours helping us come up with designs for future homes.”
Henderson believes this is a model that every builder across America can eventually implement in their own communities. That’s his goal, anyway. “We want to make this available to any and every builder that has a license and can pull permits”, says Henderson, “and the beauty of it is, Star Buildings can look and see what the building codes are anywhere in the country and manufacture the building exactly to that code.”
Henderson’s tagline, “Building homes today, designed for tomorrow” communicates exactly the kind of innovative and future-focused thinking that we’re proud to stand behind.