Since Free Green launched in April 2008, customers have downloaded more than 47,000 house plans from the website. As a result, the Boston-based company calls itself "the world's largest provider of home design."
Uyeda says he and his team add approximately one new plan per week and the designs are based on housing and trend data. Styles range from Cape Cod cottages to Mediterranean-style mini villas (the website tell users which region is best for a particular house), with some jaunty modernist boxes mixed in.
The contemporary theme they all have in common is energy efficiency. When constructed correctly, Free Green homes beat energy codes by 30 to 50 percent.
"We can simulate energy performance very accurately and efficiently," Uyeda says, clarifying that "We're not maximizing efficiency, but finding a cost-optimal point for efficiency." The plans are designed according to passive solar-design principles, and include instructions to builders concerning passive techniques like proper insulation and sizing overhangs for one's region. "The prospective homeowner can log on and get detailed energy modeling data for their zip code." Active sustainable technologies, like photovoltaic arrays, may be added but are not figured into energy savings.
So, are these green homes really free, too?
Sort of, explains fellow Free Green co-founder David Wax. Free Green does offer free house plans-which are sponsored by vendors. These manufacturers and other clients are charged a fee per download, in a business model that evokes Google's click-throughs.
And, reminiscent of iTunes, Free Green charges customers who want access to all of its house plans. For $9.95 per month, shoppers can download plans as PDFs; CAD- and Revit-format plans cost an extra $10. The company also offers a $159 annual membership in which more than 500 users are enrolled, as well as a custom design service whose higher prices, Wax says, are competitive with traditional stock providers.
Uyeda observes that, according to downloading data, he's noticing a trend toward smaller homes. Wax adds that many of those potential homeowners are empty nesters and "people who thought they were going to build a bigger home before the market crashed."
Another trend: A considerable majority of people who log on to Free Green stick to the free plans. That doesn't mean a homeowner is completely off the hook, expense-wise. Besides paying for construction, Uyeda advises consumers to hire a local architect to adapt a stock plan to a specific landscape and infrastructure, and to oversee contractor work. "Some architects think we're taking jobs away from them, but architects never designed a majority of homes in America," Uyeda says, remarking on the historical ubiquity of stock plans and mass-produced housing. "We created Free Green to funnel some of that work to them."