Launch Slideshow

Almost Off-the-Grid

Almost Off-the-Grid

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    Eric Roth

    ECOHOME
    2010 EcoHome Design Awards
    Grand Award


    High transoms along the roofline heighten the indoor-outdoor connection and frame distant views.
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    Eric Roth

    On this sunny bluff overlooking Cape Cod Bay, 11.7kW of solar panels on the south-facing roof gather much of the home's required energy.

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    Eric Roth

    Inspired by the slope of the dunes, the home's rooflines fit elegantly into the site and soar upward to capture distant ocean vistas.

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    Eric Roth

    Sloped ceilings soar up toward ocean vistas and lower down into more personal interior spaces.

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    Eric Roth

    Heat gain from west-facing windows was countered by a tighter, well-insulated building envelope and thoughtfully zoned HVAC.

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    Eric Roth

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    Eric Roth

    View from foyer looking across the open kitchen into the dining room.

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    Eric Roth

    The entry way opens up to both living and sleeping sections of the flexible floor plan as well as offering immediate access to the beaches beyond.

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    Eric Roth

    An expansive deck rests steps above grade obviating the need for view-blocking railings.

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    Energy Diagram

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    Floor plan diagram showing how the house can be closed off or opened up depending on the number of occupants.

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    Site plan

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    Warren Jagger Photography

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    Warren Jagger Photography

    Inside, steel I-beams stand in for exposed timbers.

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    Warren Jagger Photography

    A respectful reinterpretation of New England farmhouse vernacular, this vacation compound uses a woodshedlike covered walkway to link the main house and a garage/guest apartment.

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    Jeremy Jachym

    CUSTOM HOME
    March-April 2009
    On Site
    Structural Integrity


    Native grasses, which require little or no watering, naturally go dormant during Northern California's annual dry season.
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    Jeremy Jachym

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    Jeremy Jachym

    Clean geometry and an abbreviated finish schedule yield interiors that are relaxingly simple. The dining area centers on a table whose top is a single slab of reclaimed redwood.

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    Jeremy Jachym

    Translucent canopies link the building's three pavilions.

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    Jeremy Jachym

    Glazing in the main living pavilion is oriented for solar gain and views of the surrounding Madrone forest.

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    Jeremy Jachym

    A short uphill hike brings one to the pool pavilion and a shallow lap pool heated entirely with solar collectors.

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    Paul Body

    Residential Architect
    March 2006
    K + B Studio / Kitchen
    Main Course


    The kitchen is the command center for all public spaces within the home. "From the kitchen you can communicate with people in all of the nearby rooms and see out to all of the exterior spaces," Burke says.
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    Paul Body

    Glass walls on the exterior and a lack of walls inside let the 1,500-square-foot house live large. Outdoor terraces and porches nearly double the home’s total square footage.

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    Brad Burke, San Diego

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    Audrey Hall Photography

    Residential Architect
    June 2007
    In the Middle of Nowhere


    Alongside the unpaved road to Lori Ryker and Brett W. Nave's home and studio, alpacas and horses nibble placidly at the surrounding grassland. Dusty pickup trucks drive well under the posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour. The Livingston, Mont., compound is so remote, its exact street address doesn't show up on MapQuest.
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    Audrey Hall Photography

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    Audrey Hall Photography

    Alongside the unpaved road to Lori Ryker and Brett W. Nave's home and studio, alpacas and horses nibble placidly at the surrounding grassland. Dusty pickup trucks drive well under the posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour. The Livingston, Mont., compound is so remote, its exact street address doesn't show up on MapQuest.
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    Audrey Hall Photography

  • An energy-efficient, low-maintenance building shell and both passive and active solar energy systems yield a building that can fend for itself in a remote location subject to extreme weather.

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    An energy-efficient, low-maintenance building shell and both passive and active solar energy systems yield a building that can fend for itself in a remote location subject to extreme weather.

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    Eric Millette

    Residential Architect
    July-August 2011
    Green Piece
    Mountain Solo


    An energy-efficient, low-maintenance building shell and both passive and active solar energy systems yield a building that can fend for itself in a remote location subject to extreme weather.
  • Interior materials include a variety of salvaged woods and sprayed earth plaster.

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    Interior materials include a variety of salvaged woods and sprayed earth plaster.

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    Eric Millette

    Interior materials include a variety of salvaged woods and sprayed earth plaster.

  • The knotty pine ceiling is the inside face of the SIPs that form the roof.

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    The knotty pine ceiling is the inside face of the SIPs that form the roof.

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    Eric Millette

    The knotty pine ceiling is the inside face of the SIPs that form the roof.

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    Ed Caldwell

    Residential Architect
    March 2005
    Natural Habitat


    The straw bale Johnson residence in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is virtually free of the power grid. Upturned roofs collect sunlight and offer views of Job’s Peak.
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    Ed Caldwell

    Photovoltaic panels generate electricity, and solar thermal panels combined with radiant sand beds beneath concrete slabs provide heat and hot water.

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    Ed Caldwell

    The fireplace is shaped with sprayed earth.

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    Ed Caldwell

    Inside the Johnson house, salvaged fir slats echo the exterior siding, and glass panels on the floor transmit light to a hallway below.

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    Ed Caldwell

    The “truth” window.

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    Ed Caldwell

    The old exterior cladding reappears as wainscoting in the new building, and the old doors are boiut into a frame that folds open like a Shoji screen, merging the main space with the screened porch.

Custom, single-family houses are a luxury and some would argue that they never truly can be considered sustainable because of the abundant energy and materials required to shelter one set of occupants. The classic interpretation of the American dream, however, is based on owning that personal parcel of land with a big house where the entire family can gather around the hearth. And although family compositions are changing, that iconic idea that owning a custom house is equivalent to “making it” is unlikely to change anytime soon.

The architects and builders whose work is represented in the accompanying slideshow do their best to offset the extravagance of building a solitary dwelling by incorporating energy-producing and resource-conserving systems. These thoughtful design pros also manage to capture the best views without forgoing solar orientation; create gorgeous buildings using nontoxic sustainable materials; and take advantage of breathtaking settings while building as lightly as possible on the land.

The projects seen here strive for an even deeper shade of green through energy independence. Some are completely off-the-grid while others feed excess energy back into the grid, but all of the designs focus on renewable energy such as solar and geothermal. Efforts to save resources don’t end with energy—these houses employ sustainable features inside and out, from top to bottom. Mechanical zoning, passive cooling and heating, super insulation, water conservation and recycling, energy-efficient lighting and appliances, nontoxic finishes, and reclaimed materials are just some of the environmentally sound amenities.

Many of the projects also sit on large pieces of untamed land that are being preserved thanks to private ownership.  Architect David Warner, for example, bought a piece of land slated for the development of 14 houses. A favorite hiking haunt of his, Warner didn’t want the forested acreage to be bulldozed so he bought it, retired the development plan, and built a house on it for his family. “We had all these biological resources we wanted to maintain,” he explains, including a pair of northern spotted owls. “There's only 2,000 nesting pairs left in the world, and we have a pair on our property.” Yet another reason to credit Warner and his sustainably minded colleagues with doing at least one version of the right thing.