Pushing the Envelope on Sustainable Living

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Photography by John Carlson

An integrated design approach is key to designing truly sustainable structures. By using different technologies in ways that amplify their effect, buildings can become ultra-efficient in a way like never before. The intersection of water management, thermal mass, passive and active geothermal energy, and solar power will revolutionize building in the decades to come. This house is one of the first of many that will change the way we think of energy in homes. While many of these energy management strategies (thermal mass, passive energy design, etc.) are actually thousands of years old, we now have the technology available to use these physical principles in ways that formerly were the province of pure experimentation – reliably and to a level of efficiency green building’s pioneers could only dream of.

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This rehab project is full of features that take it far beyond the limits of building standards for remodeling, while blending seamlessly into the surrounding neighborhood. As scientists, the clients were interested in pushing the envelope with new technologies and getting as close to a carbon-neutral lifestyle as possible. They also wanted to create living spaces that would carry them throughout the balance of their days. For them this meant aging-in-place design strategies, low maintenance materials, and a healthy home with super-efficient construction.

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This 2,400 square foot home is made for future needs – low consumption of resources, low maintenance needs and the ability to easily convert to first-floor living. All these features create a resilient home that will require very little in operating expenses for decades to come. The house is pre-plumbed for future water and waste recycling, and rain-water collection as future building codes allow. It also uses low water resources through an efficient plumbing system and outstanding low-flow fixtures.

RehauTM earth tubes running eight feet below ground temper incoming air and modulate the home’s humidity and a small geothermal system provides this home’s heating and cooling needs throughout the year. BioPCM phase change material is used to greatly increase the thermal mass of this lightweight framed structure, taking advantage of passive heating and cooling cycles. This thermal battery helps shave peak heating and cooling loads, saving energy while creating an ultra-comfortable home. With smart framing, advanced energy systems, efficient lights and appliances, and lots of thermal mass, this home performs like few other structures. With an ultra-efficient home, solar power becomes very effective, even in Michigan. DOW POWERHOUSE™ solar shingles were used on the home’s south-facing roof to generate power. This home has been certified LEED™ Platinum by the USGBC and has a HERS Score of 29.

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