VISION House at Armory Park del Sol


Sometimes it’s fun to save the best for last. In the case of Armory Park del Sol in downtown Tucson, Ariz. where John Wesley Miller has constructed 93 net-zero houses over the last decade, the builder saved the last and what he unabashedly calls "the best lot" for his wife. But despite his pleadings, she refused to budge from their long-time home near the University of Arizona. So, when he realized his bride was absolutely steadfast in her resolve to stay put, Miller decided to do something really special. The result is the VISION House, which was finished in fall 2013. Talk about going out with a bang.

The show house, which will be open for at least 90 days, even if it sold before that, is priced at $888,000. That's somewhat above the average price for Armory Park, although a few houses in the development have sold for even more. But whoever finally gets the place will indeed have something special — a house that is safe, healthy, comfortable and durable.

Built to the Gold — and perhaps even the Emerald — level of the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard, the one-level house is optimized for performance, and includes the most efficient features, materials and technologies available — all without sacrificing style. One of the first to be built under Tucson’s net-zero energy standard, it has a preliminary HERS rate of minus-17, which means the house will produce all of its own energy and be able to sell its excess power back to the local utility. Other Armory Park houses cost only $300 annually on average to heat and cool.

VISION House Solar Panels

The features in the solid masonry house, which is built on an engineered 12-inch slab, are numerous — solar panels,10-foot ceilings, pre-wiring for fiber optics, zero-VOC paint, recycled glass countertops, among others. But Miller is particularly proud of the thermo-mass storage construction in which the concrete block walls are filled with concrete and then wrapped with polyisocyanurate insulation and covered with stucco. That way, the walls act "very much like a battery," the builder explains, storing energy when it is warm and releasing it when it is cold.

"Heat travels toward cold," says Miller, an NAHB life director. "It's one of the first laws of thermal design. So we have taken that natural process and made it work for us instead of against us."

Miller just plain likes the National Green Building Standard (NGBS). "It's (the building industry's) answer to LEED," he says, noting that it's far easier to work with than other systems. Easier, perhaps, but at the same time, it's "more stringent," too, in that a home's overall rating can't go any higher than the lowest rating it receives in any of the ratings categories:  site design, resource efficiency, water efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality and building operation and maintenance. But that's okay with Miller, because he believes that makes NGBS even more special — and the best.

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