In Love and Real Estate, Sometimes You Just Know

holland and nick brown's project zero home
Holland & Nick Brown for AOL
About a year ago, our family decided to look for a house we could buy and make our own. We had an idea for what we are calling a Net Zero Nest -- a remodeled home that is energy and water efficient on a mainstream budget, using existing, repeatable, and cost-effective technologies. A home that truly performs in a dollars and cents way for families who want to save money on energy bills, conserve resources, have healthy indoor air quality, and create a gorgeous kitchen too.

(See our finished project here. But it was a journey that started with a house built in 1957.)

project zero nest site
Holland & Nick Brown for AOLThe south-facing roof of our new house is shaded by mature magnolia trees, limiting the potential for electric production on those roof surfaces.

Finding the right family home felt almost impossible. We started looking last May and let's just say we kissed a lot of frogs. Looking for houses on-line reminds me of dating -- everyone presents themselves in the best possible light, flaws fully airbrushed. If your mind works like ours, you can't help but picture yourself in that master bedroom, or your table in that backyard. Then when you meet in person, reality is often a little deflating. We're usually tempted to "make it work" because of irrationally premature emotional investment, but eventually come to our senses. Patience is something we're trying to cultivate.

Homebuying is also a competitive sport these days. A few times houses sold before we could even get a chance to see them. One place actually expected us to make an offer as a condition of even seeing the inside of the house ... that is insane. So at times it felt like we would never find the right home for our family and our project. But it turns out good things DO come to those who wait.

pink bathroom
Holland & Nick Brown for AOLThe main bathroom is vintage pink with flocked wallpaper -- and a chandelier.
Our "good thing" was an introduction to Frank and Joanie Quinn. The Quinns inherited a wonderful 1957 ranch house from their beloved Aunt, Helene Rose. Frank is a climate scientist who was intrigued by our project idea and Joanie is a compassionate woman who sincerely wanted to help our family find the home of our dreams. They invited us to see the home, and within the first few minutes we just knew it was the place for us. Even full of boxes and crates, we had that kind of visceral reaction that you get when something is meant to be, so we made an offer. And after an unusually harmonious escrow period, the home was ours.

The future Net Zero Nest is a one-story 1,950 sf ranch with original everything, including windows, doors, and a fantastic pink bathroom with a chandelier. Because we are targeting net zero energy, we had a fairly specific wish list. We wanted:
  • South or West roof surfaces with good solar potential
  • A raised foundation for easy plumbing and HVAC work
  • Less than 2,000 sf of living space
  • One story, so we can eventually grow old here
  • A layout that accommodates passive heating and cooling principles
  • A detached home office for a cup of coffee commute
ranch tile
Holland & Nick Brown for AOLThe Quinns' house is 100 percent California ranch-style, right down to the decorative tiles.
There were, of course, some compromises. While the house faces West, the South side is heavily shaded by Southern Magnolia trees. The trees are grandfathered, so we can't replace them to accommodate solar panels. And because they are evergreen, we won't benefit from passive Winter heating.

In a remodel situation, you have to work within the constraints of your existing structure and site. We didn't get a detached office either, but we plan to create a multi-use office/den/guest bedroom with a separate entrance instead. What's important is we found our soul mate, and it comes with a two car garage!
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