About Machthaus

Summary: Machthaus is a single-family, off-grid, urban-infill Milwaukee home.  It is designed as a largely repeatable model for small-home city housing with goals of sustainability and minimized operating costs.

Design: Steve Servais of Common Advantage Construction and Nikolai Usack, owner.

On Macht: In German, Macht is ~Power, Might, Strength, Ability to Do and Make“- this house will make all of its own electricity and hot water…and most of its heat and cooling.  It will also harvest rain water and wind, facilitate food production, be durable and operate largely maintenance-free.  Macht!

Ultimately the house should help shift construction paradigms towards urban off-grid housing designs.   I hope Machthaus becomes an expression of power over “conventional” design and tradition/bad thinking in home construction.

Timeframe: Underway!  Project kicked off May, 2016

Size: Living Area- 525 ft2, Overall- 725 ft2

Location: 2243 S. Winchester St. Bay View, Milwaukee.  Machthaus is being built as a ‘back-house’ to take advantage of southern exposure for passive solar design.  I obtained a variance for a “back-house” build-permit.  Luckily, neighborhood precedents existed, District 14 has a progressive Alderman and we (as Pragmatic Construction and Common Advantage) have had success building back houses to enable solar access in in other Milwaukee neighborhoods (e.g. Riverwest).

.Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 9.19.21 PM

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 9.16.42 PM
Tipi frame marks the spot.

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 9.16.56 PM

As-Is Aerial view

To-Be Aerial view

Project Budget: 150K (excluding lot, and including a detached garage for the neighboring property).  Note: Full project budget will be posted as construction proceeds.

Lastly, Why a Blog?
For years I have been an advocate for transparency in Green Building.  When I was a partner in Pragmatic Construction (2008-2011) we regularly blogged all of our builds to show people the “true-face” of sustainable building- even the important but ugly bits (like deconstruction and remodeling).   We wanted to demonstrate the difference between thoughtful Green building (integrated technologies designed to the site) and the all-too-common “Veneer-Green” (solar panels and bamboo slapped onto the same-old-form).

For Machthaus, the first modern off-grid urban build in Milwaukee, I would like to be transparent with the project timeline, budget, actual costs and ongoing performance metrics.  When it is complete, I will make it available for public viewing.  The blog format seems the most conducive to sharing information in the design and build phase.  Hopefully you want to come along for the journey, share your thoughts with us and ultimately visit the finished artifact.


9 thoughts on “About”

    1. Hi John- sorry for the delay in response. I had estimated 525 square feet of conditioned living space. The main floor (in final plans) came in at 516 square feet. If you count the two lofted areas living space would be 629 square feet. Conditioned space is still 516 as lofts are 50% open to conditioned space. With landings and stairs the whole house is ~750 square feet.


  1. My fiancée and I just saw this on our way back from the dog park. I fell instantly in love and had to try and find it as soon as we got home. Incredible idea and a great use of the space


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Milwaukee . Urban Infill . Off-Grid . Small House