Now that the effects of climate change are visible and indisputable, consumers are more environmentally conscious than ever. In fact, as a 2021 UN study notes, 85% of them reveal that sustainability plays a key role when making purchasing decisions, motivating companies and manufacturers to respond accordingly. This explains the growing demand for electric vehicles and products made from renewable or recyclable materials. However, architecture – especially traditional housing – appears to be several steps behind compared to other industries. Although there have been many efforts to move towards a greener built environment, the way most buildings are constructed today is still outdated, which results in massive amounts of waste and contributes significantly to the global carbon footprint.
As Sasha Jokic, founder of construction company Cosmic, points out, “Homes account for nearly 45% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, with the vast majority (87%) of these emissions attributable to heating, cooling and heating using fossil fuels. Water .” Therefore, the necessary response from the housing sector is clear: it should aim for carbon-neutral and energy-efficient homes which, unlike in many cases, should be affordable in order to be widely accessible. Once this is prioritized with necessary urgency, we can begin to dream about addressing the devastating effects of the ongoing climate crisis.
To reshape the housing sector, the first step is to question the way homes are built today. The second is to adopt a completely new approach and allocate resources accordingly. With this in mind, Cosmic has developed the first comprehensive housing development chain for fully electric, self-powered homes. Their first product is an innovative ADU (Attached Housing Unit) prototype that provides additional living space and pays for it through self-generating clean energy. Also referred to as independent backyard home, it produces no emissions and avoids irresponsible depletion of natural resources, striving to improve people’s health and well-being.
A unified system that reshapes residential construction
In an effort to deliver these self-powered homes on a large scale, it was necessary to devise an innovative modular building system. Traditionally, projects are built one time, which means that design, engineering and construction costs are not shared between different projects. On the contrary, the Cosmic approach treats buildings as a product, creating an iterative system with the aim of achieving efficiency, sustainability and cost-effectiveness.
The result is a unified building model centered around an all-electric modular building structure, which in addition to serving as the foundation system, includes integrated mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. They can be combined in practically endless ways without the need to individually engineer each project from the ground up.
While the structure is made of metal and wood, the joists, joints and decking are made of pipe and sheet metal. The roof is made of fixed weld metal and other structural elements are made of wood from sustainable sources. Similar to other prefab constructions, all of these components are initially built in a factory and then transported in flat pack containers to the building site. With a maximum unit weight of 600 lbs (272 kg), unloading and assembly only requires a small telescopic crane, avoiding the use of cranes. Altogether, standardized design improves predictability, reduces costs, and accelerates project delivery by 50%.
Generating more energy than it consumes
Aside from providing additional living space, this tiny house stands out for its ability to generate more energy than it consumes. This not only balances the power in the Abu Dhabi unit itself, but also provides heating, cooling and power to the main house or any electric vehicle.
Abu Dhabi University is able to generate and store both electricity and thermal energy when it is more efficient and cheaper and then distribute it at home when needed. – Sasha Jokic, Cosmic Founder
But how is this achieved? Simply, by integrating smart and innovative systems. This includes in-roof full-size solar panels, hybrid energy storage – thermal storage systems, and lithium-ion batteries. Additionally, the self-contained home features a heat pump for smart heating and cooling, as well as an ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilation System) that exchanges indoor air with fresh outdoor air for excellent air quality. To operate all these technologies in a centralized manner, each Abu Dhabi University also includes an electrical control panel.
When combined, these features enable sustainable living, eliminating dependence on fossil fuels and emphasizing user well-being. But what is unique to Cosmic University is that this does not compromise affordability. By producing additional clean energy, electricity bills are drastically reduced, and eventually the home is able to pay for itself. Thanks to the Cosmic ESA (Energy Service Agreement), owners can get their tiny home at no upfront cost, earn credits by generating power and make monthly payments for full ownership, making sustainability affordable.
Sustainability without sacrificing good design
Like any industrial process that results in affordable housing alternatives, there is a risk of completely compromising aesthetics, comfort, and creative freedom. While maintaining the efficiency of the modular process, Cosmic presents a different scenario. ADUs come in two different sizes that serve as a base, but allow multiple layouts: Cosmic Studio and Cosmic One. While the first is a 350 sq ft (33 sq m) multifunctional space for living and work, the second is a 700 sq ft (65 sq m) two-bedroom, one bathroom with rooftop terrace.
Manufactured from the same natural, non-toxic materials, both models feature a modern minimalist style that is both comfortable and versatile. In particular, wall panels are made of cross-linked plywood and various types of plywood. While the floors are engineered hardwood, cladding options include stained cedar (in black, gray, or natural finishes) and copper-colored composite panels, allowing the user to choose a desired aesthetic.
Exploring the future of the built environment
As Sasha Jokic points out, “Climate warming and the global pandemic have reshaped our living environment, and we are not going back.” As this becomes clearer, a new building standard that refers to flexible, energy-efficient homes should be adopted. To be sure, current efforts are not enough – and those still have a price that is out of reach for many. The industry sure has a lot of catching up to do.
But by creating well-designed, fully electric, modular homes at lower cost like Cosmic, it is possible to imagine a greener lifestyle while simultaneously addressing the worsening housing crisis. Of course, architecture is a vast industry and there are many other ways to explore it, but the key seems clear: for people to participate in their sustainable future, they must be given access to the necessary tools and technologies. In this way, they gain the ability to improve their built environment (and their quality of life in the process).
Cosmic has built its first prototype and will go on sale in the US during the second semester of 2022. To find out more, visit their website.