ZenniHome Design & Engineering Deep Dive

ZenniHome Design & Engineering Deep Dive


Bob Worsley (00:00):
Stephen, let's give the audience a little bit of an opportunity to get to know you. Let's cover your background a little bit, where you went to school and your architectural background.

Stephen James (00:18):
Oh, yeah, sure. I grew up in, along the Wasatch Front in Utah and ended up spending a few years in Europe and Germany doing some service for the church I belonged to and fell in love with cities, and as a result, I decided to study architecture and ended up in Minneapolis, and what I loved about practicing architecture there and studying there is the Scandinavian influence and this sort of warm modernism. A word for it is kind of hygge, which is this sort of comfortable feeling. So that's one of the things I captured in this place and working with such great people there is what is usually deemed as sort of a cold acetic style could actually be cozy, and so that was one of the things we tried to achieve in the ZenniHome concept.

Now, for the last 20 years, I've been working in community building in a place called Daybreak, which is a master plan of 20,000 homes plus mixed use, transit-oriented development. So I really think about design at the scale of the room, the home or the unit, as well as the community in which it sits, and part of what we were trying to accomplish here is how do you develop a product that can kind of play in different scales as a single ADU, perhaps in a backyard, or something that might scale into a residential unit house or scale vertically in an urban setting, and so those are some of the objectives that we've been pursuing here, and that's kind of an outgrowth of our interest in city making or the supporting of delivering great cities.

Bob Worsley (02:27):
Well, Steve, I have here with me, I took my background screen off because someone I know gave me a copy of this great book called Made Spaces. So tell me about this work, and I think you were in Europe for a few months doing this.

Stephen James (02:42):
Yeah, that's a fellowship that I won a number of years ago. It was a design competition, and as a result of that, I got to define an area of study and I'm really interested in why places work and I traced the evolution of western culture and civilization from early Greece to Roman colonization into Europe and eventually into Northern Europe, and really just looking at the varied ways in which certain civilizations or communities solved for a common problem of the blending of places to live, places to work, what to eat, the nature of cities. So that publication was a result of the things that I learned in that work, and it was sort of seminal in my life in the way I think about the role architecture plays in creating great places.

Bob Worsley (03:49):
What does that have to do, Stephen, with the whole 15-minute walking thing that's such a big thing now? What is that? And I'll bet you saw that everywhere in Europe when you were doing your book.

Stephen James (04:03):
Well, and that's part of the reason why I decided to study the architecture actually before I worked on the book, is I spent time in Europe living differently. I mean, having grown up in rural Utah where you just couldn't wait to get your car when you turned 16, and frankly, most of us were driving by the time we were 14, to find myself deposited in the center of cities through rail delivery was just fascinating and I loved it. So the idea of the 15-Minute City really is that why do we expand the scale of things? It requires greater energy, more resources, more time.

And as I think about life, now that I've started the second half of it, I start to think a lot about how I want to spend my time and where I want to spend my time, and the more I reflect on it, I want something that is small, that's affordable, that doesn't lock me in place and gives me the resources to spend my time doing those things I enjoy. And so part of this idea of how do you live small or how do you live big in a small space is part of the idea that we're trying to explore as well. So we're thinking about the ZenniHome idea through these scales. Again, I think I described that earlier, the ADU, single family home, the multifamily home, what about the family compound. There are many ways to think about this and how do you develop places or rooms within spaces that you can use in many ways so you're not just building and covering the land with empty rooms.

Bob Worsley (05:55):
And Stephen, people need to know your background a little bit to appreciate how much you want to get out of meetings and spaces and go do fun things. You're a snowboarder extraordinaire. I think you said you had over 20 snowboards.

Stephen James (06:09):
Yeah, probably over my lifetime. I've probably broke in 20 snowboards. No, I was one of the first in Utah in the late '70s, early '80s to begin riding. So I really love climbing mountains and finding unique ways down. I'm getting a little older now and have to be a bit more responsible than I once was, but in the summertime I spend most of my time or as much time as I can on a bike, either a road bike or a mountain bike. There's nothing quite like having the wind in your face and seeing how beautiful this world really is.

Bob Worsley (06:51):
So a home that binds you down where you don't have time to do that is a detriment to that kind of lifestyle, and something small and minimalist maybe gives you more time to go do that and enjoy-

Stephen James (07:04):
I'd rather spend more money on bikes than on a mortgage. There's this joke in the cycling community called N+1, N being the amount of bikes you have, and the goal is always N+1.

Bob Worsley (07:22):
Wow. That's great. So Stephen, let's just talk a little bit about Scandinavian architecture being so clean and minimalist and how it was just kind of a duck to water when I gave you the box, and Scandinavian architecture and minimalist architecture kind of doesn't shy away from just a plain old box, and tell us how you went from the original concept to designing something that everyone says is just the most spectacular small home they've ever seen, that you've designed.

Stephen James (07:59):
Well, architects have been looking at what they call a shoebox problem for a very long time. How do you develop a functional small space? And as we were examining a lot of these ADU units, one thing that I noticed was a lot of them were just long and skinny or there weren't a lot of windows, so you felt cramped when you're in them, and so part of what we were trying to do is bring more of the outdoors in, and if your windows go floor to ceiling and they're expansive in a small space, suddenly your room's bigger because a room is really defined by what you perceive. So that was key is how do you open up the box and then how do you lay out the rooms within the box in such a way that you're not cramping it again, and what spaces can play what function within a room? So that was one element of it.

The other is a simple rectangle is a key building block for any type of architecture, and my view with the ZenniHome is that as a simple rectangle, it can become adaptable or personalizable. So that means that how you set it on the site and what you add to it can help it become unique. The design itself is set up as a small rectangle with these large openings so that you could actually take a handful of these modules and put them together and link them, link the spaces by using multiple boxes, and we started to do a series of studies about how you might do that, which is actually kind of fun, creating a multi-module housing environments and they can stack or twirl around a courtyard, create privacy. We've begun to examine, partly because if you want to create community out of it has to be adaptable, you have to be able to keep it interesting so in and of itself doesn't become its own redundant cookie-cutter thing. And so there's something inherently flexible by using this simple rectangular form with strategically placed openings that could be future hallways or could simply be windows.

So that's part of the idea. The other was these key partnerships with Ori Living, for example, and really drawing on what was the aesthetic character of their product, this sort of robotic furniture idea, and so how do you build space around something like that? Because in a sense, part of the reason why the product or the ZenniHome is so simple and minimal, it's because of some of the key things that show up in it. You have the cloud bed as an example, or the kitchen. Those become sort of key moments within the space of any home, and then there's flexibility to adapt the rest of the space to your individual aesthetic or desire. So those are a few of the ideas.

Bob Worsley (11:31):
Well, Kenna, why don't you pull up the website and let's look at the little gif that shows the Ori bed and it shows the going up and down nature of that just so people... There we go. Tia did a nice job showing us the Murphy beds, the Ori beds, the walk-in closet and the unit. Yeah, this is what people are saying is really unique, and I have to say, Stephen, when we give tours, their jaws drop when you bring the bed down from the ceiling and people can see how the same space can suddenly become used three different ways. It's an office, it's a bedroom, it's a living room.

Stephen James (12:17):
Yeah. So the whole idea, remember Bob, was sort of more square feet per foot. So what we tried to do is figure out if the basic family home in, say, the '50s '60s was a 1600 square foot house with a few bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, how might you design a space where you get all the function of a house like that with no empty rooms? And so this was really the driver and the closet, the way that opens and closes are really brilliant. Yeah, it's fun and that's great. I hadn't actually seen those videos. I think those are put together quite well. That's fun.

Bob Worsley (13:03):
So Stephen, you were talking about the stacking of these, and the other thing that people can't believe is we've designed kind of one box to rule them all. It can be an ADU, it can be a lakeside cottage, it can be a granny flat in the backyard. It can be a module that adds to another module to be a regular home, a larger home, but the thing that really blows them away is you're building this and structurally you designed moment frame shear walls, whatever, so that these could actually stack five stories minimum. So what were some of the challenges of overcoming from a design perspective and otherwise stacking these things?

Stephen James (13:49):
Yeah. Well, certainly if you want to be able to take that unit and stack it and rotate modules on top of it where the columns go, kind of dictate some of how the window organization room is composed and where the bathrooms are and how the pipes would also stack vertically. So all that's been considered in this idea. As you start to think about the options of stacking, say, a smaller denizen, 320 unit over a 640 unit, making sure that you have that interchangeability, kind of think about Legos, stacking a small Lego piece onto a large Lego piece, and as you begin to play around with the configurations you can create structurally are really kind of fun.

So the ZenniHome have to be just one thing, and on the website there we saw an example of what a five-story stack might look like, which was another challenge because how do you compose this into multifamily projects? Where are the potential for material changes, color changes to set up a composition that works well across a much bigger wall? How does the balcony work? How does it relate to the rooms? How do you get onto it? So these are some of the ideas that we had to explore. How they connect. We explored a number of different technologies. For a while, we were looking at building these out of containers, and then we had an ISO standard we had to work to and how do you connect the corner blocks?

But we had wanted to deliver these in such a way that the exterior skin was already on it. Much of these buildings in modular construction, you get the building, but you still have to build the scaffold and skin it and bring it all together, and part of the idea here was how do you set a complete unit on top of another complete unit? And so it's taken a little bit of work to figure out how do these structural elements sleep together? How do they bolt together? How do you get access into the corners to make that work? How do you trim them? So these are all considerations that we've had to look at. How much structure is there in the floor versus the roof, and how high are the windows? Does that push the window up, or if you set it on the ground, how high out of the ground are? How do you get up to it?

We found that where we landed was the thicker floor and the lighter roof, but the adequate columns gives you... If this were to be a simple home or an ADU on the street, it elevates you a little bit. You have potential for an elevated porch, a little more privacy into the space. So I think we hit a bit of a sweet spot in terms of how this design is coming together. Of course, we're constantly looking at how to evolve the thinking and learn as we go, but it's fun to see how it's all coming together.

Bob Worsley (17:06):
And Kenna, I'm going to ask you to go back to the website and show the beautiful project Stephen designed for Downtown Mesa, and it's under construction now. Stephen, they demoed the building, they're vibro piling the columns. So this is Stephen's design, everyone. The city's thrilled and excited. The state of Arizona has authorized this and stamped it and certified it. It's a spectacular building, and what's ironic or what's interesting here is that these units are almost identical. There's slight changes on the roof, but otherwise it's identical to what would be used as a granny flat or an ADU in the backyard. So again, meeting the needs of one box to rule them all. Stephen, why don't you talk about this color scheme? You've got the white versus the brown tower, the thing in between this kind of cavernous, kind of almost a slot canyon in Arizona. Tell us what you were thinking there.

Stephen James (18:15):
Well, in this context, there were the goals of the city. It's right on the light rail line. We had to think through the parking concerns. It was a mixed use district. So there's a podium on the bottom that holds this up. And things that we were considering is in Arizona, what's the color palette? What's kind of the feel of the place? A lot of the progressive architecture there is built out of COR-TEN steel. In our case, we're not using a COR-TEN steel skin, but we have kind of a rust-colored fiber cement panel contrasting against a white in a sort of warm buff color against the concrete. So we were trying to reflect the attitude of the more sort of modern architectural ethos in the Phoenix area.

But also, this was really our first case study in how this would work, and so breaking the scale down vertically, having two little towers was kind of fun. Shifting up the color that's really easy to do. And then bridging between them, this set up with exterior circulation, we wanted to find a way to make it affordable to deliver. So these aren't enclosed corridors, but there's a internal sort of arcade that's stacked around a central court that offers shade, and part of the thinking too is given this open nature of the plan, how glassy it was, we wanted to make sure we got some separation across the courtyard from all that glass, but everyone has their own little cantilever balcony, whether the units on the inside or on the interior court. So we also had to figure out how to get that structure to translate compositionally down to the ground, and so that's the way that podium is set up in this rendering.

Bob Worsley (20:35):
So Stephen, I've heard, I don't know if it's true, but I've heard that this may be the most dense units in half acre in Arizona without being a high rise. So on one half of an acre, we have a grocery store, have five stories of 18 units per floor for a total of 90 homes, and we're about 75 feet tall, I think, at the top corridor level. So it's a pretty tall building. It's a 14 to 16 foot concrete podium you start on. It's got an elevator bank and the two stair rails, but you have 28 parking spots under podium, you have the grocery store, and then you have 90 homes all on a half acre. Doesn't that seem incredibly dense for a half acre?

Stephen James (21:32):
Yeah, and the advantage here is it's a TOD site, so there wasn't more of a parking requirement. Many sites might require a one-to-one or even a 1.5 to one parking ratio, so that was an advantage of a site like this. So I think the product is well suited to transit-oriented development in particular.

Bob Worsley (21:54):
Yes, with light rail right out in front. And then we have charging stations. We're thinking of having some Tesla model threes available for tenants to use if they want to just share a car instead of having their own parking spot and their own car for the 90 units that we have there. Talk about ADA accessibility, the idea that if this is going to be one box to rule them all, build a bathroom that actually can work for a handicap wheelchair-bound person or anyone else, and then you're not doing the kind of dance that has to be done in most buildings to make sure that you have the ADA a required number of units in the project. Everyone's in an ADA-compliant unit.

Stephen James (22:50):
Yeah. I mean, what this means is that doors are a little wider. So we're contrasting big elements in small space. So just like the big windows help it feel a little more generous, the wider door helps it feel a little more generous. In the bathroom, for example, that wheelchair clearances are interesting because it creates more space requirement in the bathroom. So we thought, "Well, why don't we just use this whole bathroom as a wet room so that it can become more adaptable?" And so the whole thing is tiled, there is no sort of enclosure on the shower per se, so it's an easy place to wash a dog or take care of other things, rinse off a muddy bike in a setting like that. So it's not just a tub or an enclosed shower, it's really a functional wet room.

So that's in the spirit of doing double duty. This room can be more than just a place to brush your teeth or take a shower or use the lo, you can bring other things in there and wash them off. If you don't need or like a space that big, there's room in there to pull in a cabinet or a few other things if you wanted to. I know we've been looking at finding ways to adapt this if in a single family or an ADU, if you didn't need that, the interior fit out might evolve or change so that more storage could be put in there.

Bob Worsley (24:30):
So Stephen, the people talk about remote work and they want to remote work. This could be in your granny flat out in the back, but with office space kind of going through a little bit of a crisis with vacancy rates hitting record levels for the last several decades, we've anticipated that people would want to live in this home and actually do remote work from this home. How did we accomplish that design for them?

Stephen James (25:02):
Yeah. Well, part of the idea too is since these are designed for potentially more than one person. We deliberately place the two rooms on either end, so you get light from two sides at least of the unit, but we're also creating separation if a husband or wife or some roommates or whoever's living in it are both working remotely, you can get some sound separation. The kitchen becomes the link. So the kitchen too opens up to either of these spaces. So one room doubles as the primary suite in the scheme, and the other room transitions between a dining space in an office or a bedroom. So the idea is flexible. You can use these rooms in a few different ways. So that's part of the idea as well as the technology that we've discussed, including in terms of connectivity and the like.

Bob Worsley (26:09):
Stephen, I tried to talk you into... You had me come over to your home early on and you said, "Bob and Christie, let's walk through the house with virtual reality glasses," and so you put them on us, and we tried to get a sense of the space before we ever had one built. I told you that maybe we should use the bigger room as actually a virtual reality room since we have, kiddie corner to us, the Sidney Poitier Film School for ASU, where kids are writing games and doing virtual reality and AR, XR, all the stuff that's out there, all the Rs. And then Tim Cook this week announces these new $3,500 virtual reality headsets. Where do you think that's going? And don't you think we made the right call by not permanently wiring something into these, but you can literally, I think you said, bring a suitcase with the latest and greatest thing instead of planning on something that's going to be dated very quickly?

Stephen James (27:12):
Well, one thing that I learned being in the community development business is that a lot of people want us to include their technologies in their plan, and we're constantly adapting standards because something new comes out of it every year, and I think most things are headed in a wireless direction, and so it doesn't necessarily require a lot of integrated electronics. This idea of the new Apple product too is interesting because you could sit in a small space or sit anywhere and make your world much bigger. So this idea that we might potentially be working in a space, looking through a lens that is our screen with whatever backdrop we want, it's kind of a curious idea because as we work, the space in matters. We get inspired by the spaces we're in. Yeah, it's kind of fun how a small unit could work with evolving technologies.

Bob Worsley (28:18):
And the large room there is about 15 by 15, and I kind of heard that that was an ideal space to do gaming and AR stuff. So it's actually big enough to actually be a green screen, you might say, for any kind of virtual reality that comes our way.

Stephen James (28:38):
Yeah. I mean, 15 by 15 room is a nice human scale room. It's a large bedroom, it's a wonderful office, and when you add the windows to it, it feels much larger. That was part of the idea of the porch too, is just to extend the space outside. So when you look to the edge of the porch, add eight feet to it pretty much, and it's quite large.

Bob Worsley (29:10):
Yeah, and so that's the other thing that people say, the most frequent thing they say when they come, besides being wowed by the Ori bed going up and down and how large the building feels, when they look at the floor to ceiling glass, and the word that keeps coming out of their mouth is just pure luxury. That just is a luxurious thing that's added here. You have to temper the glass because you go all the way to the floor, but the tempering of the glass isn't that much more than regular dual pane or triple glaze glass untempered. So tell us about why that was so important, because Stephen, as you know, it was hard to find and it was expensive.

Stephen James (29:56):
Yeah. Well, when you spend time in the model, so all these models were developed in Rhino, and as you're in the model, working in the model, it just became obvious the difference it made. The more that we could square up rooms and the more glass, I mean, the feeling was completely different. So I can't overemphasize how important, at least in the modeling and design process, that that was. It also helped sort of break up the facade, sort of break down the boundaries of that rectangle that we're working with, and as we've done this too, we've looked at a handful of ways to do this.

I mean, hypothetically you could do this without a porch and put it on your own sort of patio and add a fireplace, and we've studied this with shade sails coming off it. We've even looked at, since it's a structural roof and you could stack these things, if you want to do a pitched half-story above it, you could. So that's why as I think of this as a modular thing, it's ultimately adaptable and it can take on a lot of compelling characteristics, even when the windows and doors don't move, and so it's been interesting to study how much variation you can get out of something so simple.

Bob Worsley (31:26):
And so Stephen, the other day I drove up. It was yesterday, in fact. I heard there was a new ADU up on 4th and S showing up, and here's a Victorian home, two story, and in the backyard is this brand new ADU, $350,000. Tiny, tiny little ADU in the back. Our city's going to do this more, and how do we get more people interested in doing an ADU or cities allowing more ADUs? And why is it important to densify a neighborhood?

Stephen James (32:06):
Well, that's going to be place-specific. So when we look at Utah as an example, there's an extreme housing shortage. We can't deliver housing as quickly as we need it, and so policy's moved in a direction that actually encourages this type of thing, and then cities have specific zoning and policies in place that say where and how you can do it. But in the state of Utah now, anyone who owns a house can put something else on it. Generally, people will probably choose basement apartments because that's a thing here, so anyone could do a basement apartment. Cities are concerned about parking and the impact that parking on the street has if people who live there forever can't get access to parking. So you'll see a lot of people who have the room or the space for off-street parking are beginning to do this. It's harder to do currently in historic districts where they're overlay zones that are restrictive to this type of thing.

But generally in the work that I do, we have lots of applications for this type of thing, for ADU specifically, and we're even putting up them on lots that are as small as 4,000 feet. So it's really a matter of how much space do you have, how does it fit, what are the zoning requirements in terms of building separation? But I would be surprised if at least in the West, this doesn't become more popular. I think that the question is how do you demystify the process for people to do it? It's easy for a builder or if you have a contractor working with an architect, that can often be more expensive, but to have a kit home or a ZenniHome dropped on your site, if that process can be made simple for people, it'll become more accessible, easier to do.

Bob Worsley (34:26):
And the whole idea of identifying, you've got sewer water, streets, curbs, gutter, sidewalks already there, and you know how much as a developer, Stephen, it cost to build those de novo. So having that all there and then having the ability to double or triple densify an area, as long as you don't create a parking problem, it seems like a wise community concept to densify, not have to build new streets, pull sewer lines, water lines, long distances, et cetera.

Stephen James (35:02):
Yeah, you can just connect these types of units off your existing power, just plug into sewer. The real challenge is delivering infrastructure or plugging or tapping into main lines, and if you can just connect into existing service. Most zoning allows two units on one lot. Yeah, it seems like it makes a lot of sense.

Bob Worsley (35:35):
So our units are 125,000 for the large unit, and it's $350,000 to custom build this. I would argue that our unit is more beautiful, more beautifully designed than the one that's up the street from us.

Stephen James (35:51):
Certainly has bigger windows.

Bob Worsley (35:53):

Stephen James (35:54):
Certainly has bigger windows.

Bob Worsley (35:55):
It does, and it's kind of half in the ground. You're looking into a window well. But I hear they put a nice kitchen in it and it is beautiful, but it's small, and I just think we take everything to the next level in our unit and it would've been third of the cost or at least half the cost.

Stephen James (36:19):
Well, another thing to consider too is just the height of these things. So the unit to the top of wall is, what, 10 and a half feet high. We were very concerned about something that felt short and tight, and so we really pushed the roof up and ceiling up, so it's not cramped.

Bob Worsley (36:41):
And Stephen, as we ship these, because most containers are no higher than the high cube, which is nine and a half feet to get this extra foot, we went to a step deck, semi-trailer. They're readily available, they're not extra money, and so you just take a foot off the semi-trailer height and add it to your home and it makes all the difference in the world for the whole life of the home to have that extra foot of height. It worked really well. So Stephen, what do you look at for inspiration? At this point, you've just recently turned 50. What do you look at to see to get inspiration?

Stephen James (37:30):
I love traveling and seeing beautiful places. I'm, at this point, very concerned about... Well, I guess very concerned isn't the right phrase. I'm very interested in how to create community. So it's not just about the widget, the box itself, it's what are the many ways in which they can come together to help create a sense of belonging? How do we use housing stock, housing product to create a sense of community and availability, kind of housing equity, and how do we do that in beautiful ways? So that's really where my head is right now, is community-making. Making sure that resource smart housing opportunities are linked with resource smart transportation communities and carefully conceived parks and open space so that people feel good about where they live and what their experience is with their neighbors. At a time where there's a lot of divisiveness politically, helping people come down a notch or two is what I'm really interested in now, so it's fun to explore how this product can actually play a role in developing strategies around community-making.

Bob Worsley (39:04):
Well, Stephen, I have had probably hundreds of conversations with people that are calling us from all over the country and the world, just about the same topic, community, and so we have people who want to do kind of a med retreat, health related, and they want ZenniHomes cluster of these, like casitas. There's a project in Page that wants... They're coming out of Sedona and they want to create this really relaxing Amangiri kind of experience in this otherworldly looking place with colors and very little vegetation. Very raw texture you have around Page, Arizona, the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell. There's people that are talking about co-living communities. There's been a group that's approached us about women over 50 who are single whatever reason in life and feeling like maybe they're childless and how are we going to take care of each other in older age? And so do we want to live with 30 or 40 different single women and take care of each other and cook and grocery shop and have a sense of community and connection with people in a similar circumstance?

I mean, it goes on and on. Yesterday we talked to experiential people doing glamping, RV parks and exotic places. So this community thing and having a sense of connection, either a connection with nature or a connection with other people that like what you like and want to live in a community where you live is really a brand new frontier that we're excited to explore with people with our product.

Let's see if we can have a few questions from the... We're about about 45 minutes here. Somebody asked if we could talk about getting 20 pounds per square foot versus 70 pounds per square foot snow load. What we've done is in... We're clearly capable on the exterior structure to handle snow loads of hundreds of pounds, but what became tricky was the mateline where we have this open area and the size of our roof members that marry in the middle, and so I think our structural engineers have recommended a couple more posts that we could bury in the kitchen wall and in the refrigerator area that would give us up to a hundred pounds of snow per square foot, which gets you to most places. This year was an unusual winter year. Any comments, Stephen, on how do you get roof designs? I guess you could also... We've got a couple of designs to have a slope roof to just get the snow off the roof.

Stephen James (42:19):
Yeah. I mean, this is one of the challenges. If we put interior walls down the middle of the unit, we certainly could resist more force in the roof. I think we are carefully considering where those happen, so it still feels open. So the backside of the kitchen wall between the kitchen and the bath functions a bit like a shear wall. Yeah, you had mentioned Bob, where the fridge goes and the washer dryer, and then we have between a 12 and a 15-foot span again to the outside. Yeah, we're trying to keep that as open as possible. I know you're working on a scenario, Bob, that's a little narrower and it doesn't have a mateline.

So as we evolve the idea and the structural plan, maybe there's a solution that can do that, but anyone in the building trades knows that you just can't infinitely span space. You have to hold it up. When you build it in a computer model, it holds itself up because there's no gravity. But yeah, this is something that we're trying to balance is how the space feels and how you build it. There are probably solutions related to hydroponics or electric sort of coils you might put in a roof to prevent it from actually collecting snow. So that would be something that would have to be considered, but there are solutions to do it.

Bob Worsley (44:10):
And there's two more kind of similar questions. One is on foundations, Stephen, slab pylons, helical piers. We've got four different designs that we are finished with now that will allow someone to put... I think the Airbnb founder has started a company that's doing kind of a slab with a turndown, with some rebar in it that-

Stephen James (44:40):
Thin slab.

Bob Worsley (44:41):
Yeah, so that's a slab. There's also helical piers with a little bit of concrete around them, so you get the lateral strength on that helical pier. But the nice thing about helical pier is they screw down 15 feet, so they're really great under gravity loads and if you have clay soils, but you do need a little lateral strength at the top where it hits our unit. And then what we did in Mesa was a concrete pier that was depending on frost level, how deep it needs to go with a steel receiver that connects to our unit. So we'll have four choices for people to tell us based on their soil conditions and frost conditions, et cetera, how you want to permanently attach your unit to the ground so that it's going to be incredibly safe and what's the most cost-effective way for contractors in your market to do that.

Stephen James (45:40):
So just to highlight for people who are on the call, each box has six structural points, one at each four corners of the box and one at each midspan on the inside and the outside. So when you put two of these together, there are 12 total points, but six of them can be aggregated into one. Anything along the mateline, two points can bear onto one structural element. So that means ultimately that there are nine connection points. Is that how you've been developing it, Bob?

Bob Worsley (46:18):
Yes. And helical piers, we've had bids as low as 4,000 to come out and set the helical piers before you show up. We're looking at a slab now that might be in that same range. So we're hoping this is under $5,000. Another question we have is what is the cost of the concrete work needs to be done? We think unless you're in some incredibly expensive area, that would be enough. The other question that was a range of costs there, and again, we'll have four choices so you and your contractor can decide what's most cost-effective and what you want to do on your particular site. I just toured, Stephen, the most beautiful place imaginable. It was called the Boulders, 15 miles east of Florence, Arizona in this granite... Granite, not marble. Granite boulders that are two and three stories high and beautifully, and it just shows up. There's about 200 acres of this and this particular gentleman owns this and we were saying, "We don't want to touch these granite boulders. This needs our units," and there's room for 400 casitas there.

So they want to do glamping kind of things out there, and we're looking at how do you not touch one of these boulders? Also, there was a foot and a half long heel monster on one of the rocks. I mean, just raw saguaro cactus, spectacular views, and the thought was, "We don't want to touch this ground any more than we have to." And so we were just exploring these different foundation pier ideas so that you could situate this and not disturb the ground and just live as close as possible to what mother nature delivered to that space and not ruin it by carving it up, hammering into it, et cetera, et cetera.

Stephen James (48:23):
Well, what's nice about the way the structure works too is that it can be lifted off the ground. It doesn't have to sit on the ground. We've examined what it might do even if you lifted it up eight or nine feet and it just had a steel frame with bracing underneath it, either that you parked under or put a deck under. So I think there are a lot of options for how to do that. It's really just site-specific considerations and what's the type of experience you want to create.

Bob Worsley (48:55):
And Stephen, there's questions here on some jurisdictions want different things. I would just say we've got very, very smart structural engineers. We look at everything in Miami with hurricanes, Downtown Los Angeles near the San Andreas Fault for seismic, and Park City, Utah for snow load. That's the three tests we put are structural engineers under. I'm convinced that any jurisdiction that looks at this engineering will give you approval based on the work we've done for an earthquake area, high wind area, a sheet flooding area, maybe even in Hawaii with small tsunamis, homes there have to be on piers, at least some level of piers for small two, three foot waves that might come from smaller earthquakes in the Pacific Rim. So we've done our homework, we're happy to share this engineering and convince your jurisdiction that one of these four choices will work for you and not have it be a budget buster for you.

There's one other question about California. We are working on California. California's tricky. It's got a number of different zones that have different rules, but we are working on that. As soon as we get a little further in our factory, we'll put more resources on that and get, besides Utah and Arizona, get California licensure and certification. But we are working on that. Let's see. We are built to IRC and IBC. We are not HUD, we are not RV code, which is much lower levels of sophistication. So Stephen, as you work at Daybreak, as you know, every builder has to build to IRC, IBC code. I don't know what year you guys are on out there. Is it 2018? 2019?

Stephen James (50:58):
Yeah. Each state kind of adopts codes at their own rate, and it's also the energy code and the plumbing code and all these other codes. So we're out in front of that.

Bob Worsley (51:11):
Yeah, we're using the most current standards and we're getting certified for those things so that we can prove to you and your jurisdiction that it works for you. Okay. Can you finance with conventional Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac? And the answer is yes. The only challenge we've had is getting enough of these out there so you get comps that the appraisers need. That's been the only challenge. So we're looking at other small homes in the area and looking at per square foot cost for those to give us a comp. So we're confident that we'll be able to overcome that appraisal challenge since this is such a new product and putting a mortgage on it is really a comparative price challenge with appraisers. Okay, let's make any final comment here, Stephen? We're four minutes from wrapping up. Any final questions or comments?

I'm going to just bring up here. We just launched our public Wefunder campaign for crowdfunding. It was friends and family. This last month we raised almost 750,000. It's now open to the public. I believe last time I looked were well over 800,000. We would love to have you go to wefunder.com/zennihome and learn about investing there. There's a minimum of $250 to invest, so we hope that's a pretty fancy dinner you could pass on and become part of our family. We're building this community, as Stephen talked about community and connection. We would love to build a ZenniHome community of people interested in minimalist living in smaller spaces, and we're very excited about that and would love to have you join our community as an investor and as eventually as any home occupant. We have tours you can get in Mesa. Our tour guide there is busy literally every single day. Appointments have been booked the last couple of days every hour of the day. Please sign up, we'll double book you into a group going to visit.

And then we also do tours at our factory in Page, which is fascinating to come and see how we do this. We, as you know, we put this on the Navajo Nation where a coal plant used to be, and that coal plant, when it shut down in 2020, laid off 1000 workers who are very skilled craftsmen, electricians, plumbers, welders, carpenters, and we've been able to put almost 100 of them back to work, and we think by the end we'll have 200 of those people back to work and plan to grow beyond that. So please come to Page and look at our factory, and while you're there, take Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, two of the most scenic things in the world to see and jump on a houseboat and enjoy Lake Powell.

Stephen James (54:41):
There's water in Lake Powell now too, I understand.

Bob Worsley (54:43):
There's water in Lake Powell. Stephen, I think you had a record snow year, about 903 inches of snow at Alta. So I don't know how much snowboarding you got in this year, but it was a fantastic year for skiers and snowboarders. And that water's now flowing down to Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which is nice. We can deliver to Albuquerque. We just need to get the certification with New Mexico. That's another question just came in. And we're going to do this weekly and we've got 16 webinars we planned. We thought we would start with Stephen today, back at the beginning of how this was designed and the inspiration. He's the genius behind how this looks, and we're grateful that he was able to take some time with us today. So join us each week and we'll give you a new content and a new guest every week. Thank you very much.

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1 comment

Christopher J Coonan

Christopher J Coonan

I am an Architect in California (also a U of MN grad), and I can share my vision for joining 2 units together….I am building a greatroom in between. I am interested in the spec’s for the solar system as well as the water maker and if the water heater is an electric option vs. needing gas? We will be off grid, so I am needing to plan some of the utility aspects.

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