Red, Yellow, Blue, and Green
The primary goal was building a house that rested easy on the planet. The color and comfort came naturally.
Ask most people to draw a picture of an eco-house and you'll get an image of a high-tech hangout with space-age solar panels on the roof, wind turbines spinning in the yard, and a few Spartan but serviceable furnishings inside. It might be an accurate portrait of some green houses, but not all. And that's what designer Stephen Beili set out to prove when he broke ground on his dream home. While the shingled exterior echoes the traditional deep eaves and architectural supports of Craftsman-style cottages built a hundred years ago, the interior is all about innovations that offer the greatest creature comfort at the lowest cost to the environment.
Beili hired a young builder named Rob Moody, who drove a truck powered by recycled vegetable oil. At every step in the construction, Moody and his crew strove to use materials and resources efficiently to reduce the home's impact on the environment. They installed a precast concrete foundation that eliminated extensive basement framing. They framed the top two levels with 24 inches between the studs, not the conventional 16 inches, to reduce lumber consumption.
An open-work staircase wall lets fresh air and natural light stream through. The stairs are built out of locally sourced white pine, using wood harvested from two small trees instead of one mature giant. They painstakingly cut all lumber in such a way that they could use every single piece.
A low-VOC finish preserves the living room's wood floor while reducing off-gassing. Behind the slatted walls, a three-level air shaft acts as a funnel for natural light—and a laundry chute, too.
To accommodate the homeowner's 6-foot-8 frame, the kitchen's concrete countertop and sink were raised to 42 inches high from the conventional 36. A bank of dual-pane, low-e windows captures views of the lot's mini forest of native trees, while providing natural light.
The kitchen design incorporates an Energy Star-rated fridge and dishwasher, and a salvaged and reconditioned '50s-era gas range.
The lower level's exposed concrete floor offers an easy-care alternative to a surface layer of wood, carpet, or tile. When the sun becomes intense, a birch plywood panel hung on a track slides over to shield the home office area.
Real ginko leaves float in a custom-made resin shower wall, while river stones pave the shower floor, introducing unexpected elements of nature indoors. A low-flow showerhead, camouflaged behind the translucent wall, wastes less water; the exhaust fan is on a timer to conserve electricity.
The loft bedroom overlooks the main floor via open floor joists along the sides of the room. Energy consultant Isaac Savage tested for air leaks with a blower door before spraying the upstairs walls and rafters with an open-cell foam insulation that is 30 to 50 percent more energy-efficient than fiberglass batts.
One ductless air-conditioning unit, installed in Beili's upstairs closet, cools the entire house, elminating the potential health and efficiency issues of conventional ductwork.
The master bath's vessel sink and extra-long tub are hooked up to a tankless, whole-house water heater.
The covered main entry of the 1,400-square-foot home opens onto an undivided living, cooking, and eating space for relaxing and entertaining.
The downstairs—which is below grade in the front of the house and accesses the yard in back—holds a home office, a shower, storage space, and the mechanicals room.
Upstairs, the dormered bedroom loft has an adjoining bath and open joists along two sides for a view to the rooms below.
The open design has heating and cooling advantages as well. Though the basement and main floor are the only ones plumbed for radiant floor heat, and the master bedroom alone is outfitted with a single, ductless air conditioner, everything works together harmoniously. "In winter, the heat transfers to the cool walls of the house," says Beili. "In summer, cool air drops down from the bedroom and cools the rest of the house." That just isn't possible in a home with impenetrable walls, floors, and staircases.
(adapted from an article by Joseph D'Agnese, TOH Magazine, October '06)