Typically, the idea of a sustainable home is associated with an ultra modern or even a futuristic look, but this does not suit everyone’s tastes. While there are certainly many examples of energy efficient houses that look like they could have been built on a different planet, a recent project in St. Louis, Missouri shows that it is possible to design a green home that fits perfectly with the local style of its neighborhood.
The private residence of David and Thuy Smith is a prototype that is expected to chart the path for sustainable building in the coming years, as it draws on the latest practices in environmentally friendly construction both in the U.S. and in Europe, while preserving the architectural style that is in harmony with its historic Midwestern location.
First of Its Kind in America
Also known as Active House USA, the house is billed as the first residential space in the United States to incorporate the leading green and sustainable building practices from around the world. It was designed based on the specifications of Active House Alliance, a project launched in 2010 in Denmark. Since then, the alliance has been involved in the construction of many environmentally friendly homes globally, before finally arriving in America. Its principles include high performance goals for durable homes, responsible management of resources, and a focus on energy efficiency to reduce energy and water use as much as possible.
However, industry insiders stress that these principles are only guidelines, and that the premise of the Active House Alliance is that these specifications can and should be modified to suit specific geographical and climactic conditions of each building site in order to maximize green benefits.
Construction Techniques Involve Extensive Use of Local Building Materials
The project’s builders and designers have employed numerous green construction techniques that they expect will make the house eligible for prestigious North American sustainable building certifications like Energy Star, EPA Indoor Air Plus, Building America Builder’s Challenge and ANSI ICC-700 (also known as the National Green Building Standard). According to builder Kim Hibbs, these techniques include:
• Recycling of materials from the original home on the site. For example, the team ground the concrete foundation of the old house to use as gravel for the new construction
• Extensive use of VELUX No Leak skylights for natural light and passive ventilation
• Solar panels for water heating and geothermal wells for a substantial part of the energy requirements
Moreover, some 80 percent of the materials from the deconstructed house – after removal of potentially toxic substances such as asbestos – have been donated for reuse to organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Re-Source St. Louis.
Look of The Past, Goals of The Future
Despite its unassuming look – the owners expressly stated that they didn’t want a “funky” house that would feel out-of-place in the almost 100-year-old neighborhood – the goals of the two-story structure are ambitious, including negligible utility costs, better indoor air quality and minimal impact on the surrounding environment . To that end, its energy use data will be monitored by The University of Missouri Columbia Center for Sustainable Design for one year.
“[This type of house illustrates] the concept of the interaction between homes and their occupants and why it is important for sustainability that all elements of design work together,” said Stephan Moyon of VELUX America. “It’s a message that is being conveyed to architects and builders throughout the country.”