TreeHouse isn’t your typical home-improvement retailer. The company sells eco-friendly building products to DIYers and the building trades in southeast Texas, a business model that extends beyond the goods on its shelves. And so, for its second location, which will become its flagship, TreeHouse wanted a space that was equally extraordinary while sticking to its green-minded mission. To achieve that aim, the company called on San Antonio–based firm Lake|Flato for the design, which features a south-facing saw-tooth roof, clerestory windows, and a massive solar array linked to a Tesla battery pack that will help the 25,000-square-foot Dallas store achieve net-zero energy when it opens in early 2017.
“From the get-go, we were encouraged to think outside of the box,” says project architect Lewis McNeel, AIA. “We had to be aware that there are point-of-sale locations, there are flows of customers in and out of three different entrances, there’s back of house space, shipping, and all that. The rest was making a beautiful architectural space for conversations to happen.”
Oft-dubbed “Home Depot for hipsters” and “the WholeFoods of home improvement,” TreeHouse opened its first store in Austin in 2011. For the Dallas location, the company sought a net-zero-energy building that incorporates passive design features, like daylighting, natural shading, and building-axis orientation, to minimize the building's energy load. “It was very important for us to create a space that represented the ideas and belief system that the company is built on,” TreeHouse CEO, president, and co-founder Jason Ballard told ARCHITECT in an email. “If we tell our customers that solar is a smart choice, that this material or that material is a smart choice, we wouldn’t have any self-respect or credibility in the community if we built a retail space that was thoughtless.”
While the store will carry some necessities required for building projects, the company’s focus is on selling sustainable items that require more than a quick stop in to buy or even just to understand. TreeHouse wanted to create an environment that would encourage people to stick around and discuss what products and systems they were purchasing. The 30-foot ceiling and clerestory windows will bring in ample daylight while low shelving will afford clear sight-lines across the space. High-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans suspend from the ceiling to move air and reduce the thermal load. “It’s going to be a very lofty experience,” McNeel says. “It’s going to be more about enjoying the volumes of space around you.”
The need to stave off the Texas heat while minimizing the building’s energy load resulted in a series of design decisions that break from the typical big-box form and instead reflect the local design vernacular. Those include the sloped roof with porch overhangs on the south-facing orientation, shading the façade during the summer months; north-facing clerestory windows to bring in daylight, which will reduce the building’s energy consumption by 75 percent alone; a solar array comprising 530 panels that produces 164.3kW; HVLS fans to move air; and mechanical systems that perform 60 percent better than those of a baseline, code-compliant building—all designed around an old-growth oak tree that came with the site.
“Lake|Flato has been [incorporating those design tactics] in our ranch houses and agricultural buildings from the beginning,” McNeel says. “It’s fun to get to apply them in a non-traditional building type like this.”
Additionally, high-bay LEDs and focused display lighting supplement the daylight when and where necessary, and sub-metering helps the facility managers make informed decisions about energy performance.
The project team reviewed the Austin store's energy consumption patterns in order to set the energy-performance criteria for the Dallas location. The team then explored design strategies and technologies, as well as store operations, to determine how much electricity could, reasonably, be saved with the new design. While a typical big-box retail store design would use roughly 550,000 kWh annually, TreeHouse says, it expects that the Dallas location will consume less than half that, at 248,000 kWh, and will generate 252,000 kWh of solar energy per year.
"Retail, as a project type, is an extreme energy hog and TreeHouse is all about trying to change the way houses are built and lived in," McNeel says. "They wanted to walk the walk as thoroughly as they could, and they figured if they can show how it's working on a really difficult, giant scale of a big-box retail store, then it's a very palatable idea to implement in your own little house."