The Net Positive Studio is an interdisciplinary research and design effort in the College of Architecture, Planning, and Design at Kansas State University. Built as part of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® 2020 Build Challenge, the project seeks to develop an affordable and net-zero housing prototype that can strengthen and sustain communities. Partnering with Stafford County Economic Development, a nonprofit organization, the Net Positive Studio team designed a single-family home for the rural town of St. John, Kansas. This home demonstrates an attractive, high-performance, replicable housing solution that can replace the community’s shrinking housing stock while encouraging households to invest in the future of their town.

Design Philosophy

The Net Positive Studio realizes several concepts and values that the Kansas State Solar Decathlon team explored in an early research phase, drawing on theories of space, user needs, and mental well-being in addition to passive design. These concepts were presented to community members in a series of meetings, where input was incorporated into the evolving design. This research guided the team's design decisions toward a home that provided users with strong mental, physical, and emotional health as well as providing robust energy performance in an affordable build. The following concepts were established based on St. John’s needs:

  • Central social space
  • Creating privacy without isolation
  • Hierarchy and outdoor spaces
  • Simple form
  • Modularity and repetition.

Kansas State's design concept sets a precedent for affordable housing that meets the needs of rural towns like St. John that will increasingly rely on affordable housing to sustain their communities.

Market Strategy

The prototype home for St. John intends to serve the population group most likely to seek a home in Stafford County: homebuyers between the ages of 25 and 44 years, with one to two children, and with a median annual income between $25,000 and $50,000. Analysis of the housing stock in St. John revealed there are few housing options for this group, with homes made scarcer by the loss of housing units due to neglect and demolition.

To provide a solution, the Kansas State Solar Decathlon Build team designed a protype home that could be constructed and occupied quickly, offering residents an affordable, high-quality space both physically and psychologically. Because the design is easily replicable, the Net Positive Studio meets all of the requirements necessary for ending the affordable housing drought in St. John, as well as giving the town an important tool for sustaining itself in the future.


  • A central gathering space permits a simple footprint that saves on costs and construction.
  • Passive strategies reduce heating, cooling, and lighting energy use.
  • Custom casework is used to maximize usable space, acting as both storage and internal partitions.
  • A south-facing porch utilizes large sliding barn doors that shade and block winds, allowing users to manually control the climatic environment of the porch.
  • A bioswale allows for stormwater to permeate the ground on-site and provides a landscape feature alongside indigenous plants and trees that reduce yard maintenance and costs.


  • The team used several prefabrication strategies to keep costs low and achieve efficient construction assemblies, including structural insulated panels (SIPs) and a proprietary prefabricated roof panel.
  • The Net Positive Studio used 3D energy analysis software to optimize the envelope insulation and daylighting as well as reduce energy usage and costs.