Sustainably Built Homes

SUN, STONE & EARTH HOME

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More than 50% of a conventionally-built home’s energy is used for space and water heating. The owners of this home avoid much of those costs thanks to intelligent siting that maximizes heating through passive solar gain in the winter (1, 3). A large solar water heater provides ample hot water for the household in all seasons; the heater is designed to be adjusted with the changing angle of the sun, but the owners found that this feature made the water too hot and so now leave it in place (1). A beautifully designed skylight with adjustable louver allows for manual variations of light and heat into the house (2). Note the locally harvested vigas and wood used in the roof design (2).

Green materials, techniques, & features: insulated, bermed stone masonry; post and beam; ferro-cement roof and floor; solar heat; solar hot water; composting toilet; recycled materials; summer shading via vegetation; gray water reuse, rainwater catchment.

Utilities and cost: These homeowners spend approximately 1/5 as much on utilities as a standard, similar-sized house. Construction cost was $18/sq. ft., (1985$).

Advice from the homeowners: Spend twice as much time simplifying your plans as you do initially creating them. Site for more efficient rainwater catchment. Design composting toilet for optimal oxygenation by designing it in an elevated position. The owners chose not to install a photovoltaic system because they believe they require more energy to make, buy, and maintain than hooking up to the grid does.

PASSIVE SOLAR EARTH VILLA

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The creative freedom of the sculpted adobe method allows for the organic, flowing shapes shown here in the kitchen and dining room of this passive solar home (1). South-facing windows along the length of the house provide most of the heat, while insulated panels put up during the heat of the day in summer keep the room cool until they are removed again in the evening. The wall made from discarded TV’s and mud is an example of creative reuse of waste, and a vivid reminder of the huge quantities of electronic devices that would otherwise end up in the landfill (2). The adobe bathtub was molded by hand into the desired shape, then tiled over using water-resistant grout (3).

Green materials, techniques, & features: poured and sculpted adobe; local vigas; salvaged lintels and windows; recycled materials; passive solar and wood heat; composting commode used from 1980-2001; solar hot water “pre-heater”; solar-wood spa.

Cost and utilities: Around $15,000 for materials and construction in 1982. $7/sq foot.

Advice from the homeowners: On-earth construction requires attention to drainage that non-permeable footing mostly avoids. Pay a lot of attention to insulation in the design process

COURTYARD MICROCLIMATE

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The courtyard for this owner-built compound provides food, privacy, and a cooler microclimate in summer, while still allowing for solar gain on the south wall of each building (1). Courtyard walls block the wind in spring, and absorb heat in winter, modulating temperature. The three structures here are all passive solar, and are made from: pumice-crete, straw bale, and puddle adobe. Ample solar gain offered by the south-facing windows and long, narrow design (5) requires an alert homeowner willing to raise and lower insulated curtains according to outside climate conditions (2). Small, high windows provide natural light to a room and minimize electricity bills (5). The uniform walls on the puddled adobe studio (4) are an example of superb craftsmanship without the use of forms or molds to shape the earth.

Green materials, techniques, & features: puddled adobe; pumice-crete; straw bale; passive solar; cluster housing; masonry walls and floors for heat sink; solar hot water; composting toilet; greenhouse on south side; summer shading via vegetation; gray water reuse; natural floor sealer made from 50% beeswax, 50% linseed oil.

Utilities and cost: The 20×30 studio cost $10,000, including interior work tables and shelving. Main house uses 2-3 wheelbarrows of juniper and oak per winter in woodstove, approximately $50 a winter.

Advice from the homeowners: Have fun brainstorming with other like-minded people in the community! The pumice-crete walls don’t have the R value we expected.

DAYLIGHT HOMESTEAD

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Lighting accounts for 20-25% of electricity use in the U.S. Daylighting is the optimal use of natural light, and can save 40-% on energy costs. The greenhouse in this owner-built adobe home affords huge energy savings from daylighting, passive solar gain, and geothermal floor heat, in addition to the benefits of a food source and relaxing environment (1, 2). The owner says, “It feels earthy and nurturing and very grounded inside and fits the landscape well.” This house maximizes the use of local materials such as locally-harvested wood, and the adobes were made on site with local dirt, which minimizes energy expenditure on transportation of materials. Windows in upstairs rooms (5) draw heat upwards and out in the summer months. Solar hot water (3) efficiently utilizes New Mexico’s abundant sunshine. Geothermal heat flooring takes the edge off in winter, and rock terraces collect and store runoff and prevent erosion (4).

Green materials, techniques, & features: adobe; daylighting; locally-harvested woods; insulation; solar heat; solar hot water; composting toilet; recycled materials; summer shading via vegetation; gray water reuse; geothermal heat.

Utilities and cost: This homeowner spends approx. 1/5 as much on utilities as a standard, similar-sized house. Built in 1980, the 1400 sq. ft. home cost around $20,000 over 20 years, $14.25 per sq. ft. 1/4-1/2 of a cord of wood a year is the only supplemental heating. Electric bill is about $25 a month.

Advice from the homeowner: Double-paned windows make a huge difference in retaining heat. Insulate the north adobe wall before plastering. Finish and seal mud plastered walls to prevent dust and chipping and to facilitate ease in cleaning. “Leave room for changes.”

SOLAR-SAVVY CASITA

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The thermal mass of the trombe wall and brick floor in this adobe casita absorbs solar energy and helps heats the house in the evening (1). The south-facing wall, solar panels and solar hot water heater maximize abundant energy from the sun (2) and eliminate electricity bills. The small size of this adobe allows it to be easily heated with a wood stove (3). Solar water heater provides a hot outdoor shower amidst the tranquility of nature (4). “It feels good to reduce my carbon footprint,” the owner says.

Green materials, techniques, & features: compressed earth block walls; solar orientation; southern trombe wall; thermal mass floor; solar electricity; gray water use, solar hot water, composting toilet, composting toilet.

Utilities and cost: Around $30,000. $70 per sq. ft.

Advice from the homeowner: The house would perform better if some of the windows were better insulated. I could use a bigger hot water heater.

ABODE OF WHIRLING LOGS

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The ceiling in this rammed-earth home is an adaptation of a traditional Navajo whirling log roof made from local Ponderosa pine. The cupola windows are situated to capture sunlight in the winter time and ventilate hot air upwards and outwards in the summer time. The windows also provide daylighting along with temperature control (1). Walls made of recycled bottles are beautiful and provide both light and privacy while saving energy (2). The 18″ thick walls in this rammed-earth structure provide thermal mass, keeping the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The house is bermed 1.5 foot below-grade, further modulating temperature (3).

Green materials, techniques, & features: rammed-earth; poured adobe; recycled materials; earthen bermed 1.5 ft below grade, so the sunken rooms are cool in the summer; solar panels; geothermal floor heating; solar greenhouse; cupola; convective loop air heating; reflective fabric panel used to block hot air rising to the cupola and reduce volume of heated space; reflective tin roof.

Utilities and costs: 800 square foot home cost $20/sq.ft. (1985$). Electric bill is $30/mo.

Advice from the homeowners: Insulate west wall for greater temperature control. Start small and add on. Talk to others and observe.

FREE-FORM COTTAGE

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These homeowners loved the idea of “totally freeform, sculpted walls using only natural materials.” Their elegant cob house is made from simple, local materials: clay, sand, straw, and jewel-like glass bottles in the wall, which provide light and color while preserving privacy (1). The wood stove gives off ample heat in winter to the small, compact living space while the north facing wall with modest windows minimizes heat loss (2). Natural plaster made from clay, pigment, and mica offers a non-toxic interior finish that is elegant and healthy (2). Cobb is a versatile method, allowing for an endless variety of organic shapes and applications. This traditional horno oven eliminates the need for electricity or gas and, once heated with wood, retains heat well because of its thermal mass (3). Even with New Mexico’s scant rains, the large surface area of the roof allows for plenty of water to be collected for showers, dishwashing, and watering of plants (4).

Green materials, techniques, & features: recycled lumber; cobb (clay/sand/straw); earth plasters; passive solar; rain catchment; reuse of gray water; recycled materials; north wall is bermed into the hillside; water-efficient washing machine with ecocycle; composting toilet.

Utilities and cost: Around $7,000 to build including appliances ($12-$15/sq.ft.). Only a small amount of wood is needed each winter to heat the house.

Advice from the owners: “There is no reason that anyone can’t do it themselves”

OFF THE GRID CONTEMPORARY

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This passive/active solar, off-the-grid adobe home is an example of elegant, energy-efficient living. The few small windows on the east wall provide cross ventilation (3) while the south-facing wall upstairs allows for direct solar gain (2). Decking material is made of sawdust and post-consumer recycled plastic. The exposed, unplastered walls show the exquisite craftsmanship of the adobe tower (2). Beams, ceilings, and floors are locally milled fire-killed Douglas fir (3).

Green materials, techniques, & features: interior paints are zero volatile organic compound clay paint; floors are finished with beeswax and linseed oil; windows and patio doors have low-E glass. Tight construction minimizes air leaks. Radiant heating installed in concrete floors. Most windows are on south-facing side. Incorporates overhangs for shading from summer sun. Single-layer floor/ceiling between first and second floors with registers to allow airflow.

Utilities and cost: Because the homeowner has just moved into the house, no figures were provided..

Advice from the owners: “Listen to the land!”

UPSCALE EARTH SHELTER
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This passive solar home, designed and built by architect Mark Richard, is a perfect example of how recycled materials can be used with elegant results. The kitchen cabinets were made from reused oak flooring, the brick and rough-sawn lumber were salvaged from the demolition of WNMU’s Barnard Hall, and the flooring came from a demolished Hurley school. Glass for the large windows was recycled from sliding glass door glazing, and part of the wall near the wine cellar was refinished with used cork.

Energy-efficiency is at the heart of this building design. The saw-tooth roof design minimizes solar exposure of the roof and improves longevity of the roof membrane. Native and drought-tolerant plants are watered from a roof rainwater collection system that is gravity fed to the plants. Operable panels on greenhouse windows provide insulation at night. Built into the south facing slope, the north side is sheltered.

Green materials, techniques, & features: Recycled materials, rainwater drainage system; native and drought-tolerant plants; insulating panels; passive solar heat gain, radiant heat from thermal mass; shading from oak tree and landscaping; rebuilt onto existing concrete block woodshop; earth sheltered; cross-ventilation maximized with small east/west windows.

Utilities and cost: $65,000 including lot in 1983. 2,200 square feet including greenhouse. ½ to 1 cord of juniper or oak in winter. Pays more for gas service than for gas itself. Sweat equity probably saved 50% of construction cost.

Advice from the homeowner: Use insulated glass units instead of single pane. Use exterior site and interior plumbing for propane gas option. Longer overhangs and windows are preferable. Improve ceiling insulation.

Category: 2006, Archives, Green Design · Tags:

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