We can’t decarbonize the buildings sector—which accounts for about 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions—without helping single-family homeowners reduce their carbon footprints. There are roughly 138 million homes in the U.S. alone, and 67 percent of them are single-unit, according to a 2018 report from the Urban Institute.
Grant Gunnison knows firsthand how uniquely challenging this goal is. While running his family’s construction company, he saw there was no scalable way to conduct home retrofits involving electrification, energy efficiency, and renewables. Each home was unique in myriad ways. Homeowners had to engage many different contractors, sometimes upward of a dozen, with each component siloed. Retrofits were confusing, complicated, and time-consuming—in other words, “a homeowner’s worst nightmare,” Gunnison says.
That’s why Gunnison founded Zero, a Greentown Labs startup and Healthy Buildings Challenge participant that’s built software to simplify home retrofits and deploy decarbonization solutions at scale.
“I think about trying to solve the problem at the 100-million-buildings level, because we have to design a solution at that scale,” Gunnison says. “Making this as simple as possible is critical, otherwise we’ll never get there.”
Zero starts by sending homeowners a diagnostic toolkit. In an hour-long virtual home assessment, Zero helps people gather wide-ranging information about their houses—think of it as “telehealth for your home,” Gunnison says. This process replaces bringing out potentially dozens of contractors, each of whom would examine a specific part of the house and offer siloed recommendations.
In the future, Zero plans to build out software for this step, which would allow homeowners to complete the assessment independently.
Once the discovery work is done, Zero feeds the data into its software to create customized, holistic home improvement plans that homeowners can use to identify and prioritize which retrofits related to electrification, energy efficiency, and renewables are most important to them.
“Our software takes in a couple hundred data points about a house and generates a plan telling you exactly what you should do,” Gunnison says. “Under the hood, it’s complex—there is a lot to consider when doing these types of projects—but we spell it out in simple terms. Beyond just helping people understand what to do, we make it actionable and build in project costs and savings, gather up all the incentives, and help them understand the carbon reduction impact of each project.”
With these improvement plans in hand, Zero then connects homeowners to vetted contractors who can carry out the work.
The startup is about to launch two pilots, one of which is with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) and its Decarbonization Pathways program. In addition to conducting these pilots, over the next year Zero plans to raise its first round of funding and start building out its team.
During the Healthy Buildings Challenge—a Greentown Launch program with Saint-Gobain and supported by MassCEC, focused on advancing building tech solutions for the health of both people and the climate—Zero has formed important relationships with Saint-Gobain’s CertainTeed.
“I’ve been able to meet with the entirety of CertainTeed’s leadership team,” he says. “To have that kind of access is unparalleled, I have to pinch myself, really. They’re just as excited about this as I am, which is huge.”