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Green Advocate

Proof of Concept

Only the second Living Building Challenge−certified home, Burh Becc at Beacon Springs Farm is a study in regenerative design

“Every good design solution solves at least two problems.” —Michael Klement, architect

Marti and Tom Burbeck think about things like the shrinking Arctic ice cap, the global pandemic that is plastic pollution, and who might inhabit their home 200 years from now. So it is not surprising that the couple was drawn to the Living Building Challenge (LBC) when Michael Klement, principal of Architectural Resource, introduced them to the building certification program. It was an arduous road they chose to travel but after 3-1/2 years in design, 18 months in construction, and a year of performance auditing, their home is the second of only two LBC-certified private residences in the world.

Set on a pastoral swath of land in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Burh Becc at Beacon Springs Farm comprises 30 acres, a 4970-sq.-ft. Tuscan farmhouse−style main house, and a 2440-sq.-ft. barn/workshop/garage. It is a zero-waste, net energy−positive building whose operation contributes to the health of both its occupants and the natural surroundings.

Once an oak-hickory savanna, the site was in poor condition when Tom and Marti came to it. The land had been farmed for decades and was severely compromised. “The property has a lot of rolling hills, and at the edges of the old farm fields the grades were typically 2 ft. lower than the hedge rows around it, suggesting there had been a lot of erosion with the type of agricultural practices being used,” explains landscape architect Shannan Gibb-Randall of InSite Design Studio. “The fields had typical old-field meadow species—some natives but a lot of weedy invasive species too. The hedge rows were also choked with woody invasives like buckthorn and honeysuckle.” In short, the site met the LBC condition that projects can only be built on greyfields or brownfields. 

The LBC was born of…

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36 Comments

  1. Deleted | | #1

    “[Deleted]”

  2. Doug McEvers | | #2

    Wow ! Air lock entries and Trombe walls. I included air lock entries in a couple of homes 35 years ago but no Trombe walls as of yet. There is a lot of information to process in this fine report, I appreciate the detail. At the heart of this house is superinsulation, a time tested construction path with occupant comfort at the forefront. The home and outbuildings are large and I am sure, very expensive. A total cost for the project as well as a breakdown for the components would be of interest. I like the design principle, an efficient rectangle, a minimum of heat losing surfaces.

    We in the building community will learn something from this project, thank you for making the information available. Too often highly touted projects promoting great efficiency get buried in the dustbin of history. Drake Solar Landing comes to mind with it's ground source system. There was also a project in MN quite a number of years ago that was to incorporate seasonal thermal storage in the form of a large taconite bin beneath the house. The idea as I recall was to be able to store enough heat energy in the summer to heat the house in the winter. It was an uber expensive project, would like to know how it does or does not perform.

    1. Michael Klement | | #19

      This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project.

      Doug, you picked up on a lot of what we tried to incorporate which was using as much 'low tech' as possible before bringing in the 'hi-tech'. Just as you noted time-honored, fundamental, basic, concepts such as simple rectangular form, optimizing orientation, thermal buoyancy, thermal mass, transition air-lock space, tuned over-hangs. I just discovered a really great book that you might find interesting: Lo-Tek- Design by Radical Indigenism, written by Julia Watson.

  3. Malcolm Taylor | | #3

    I don't want to pile on, the house is very nice, and looks like a great place to live, but I agree with Rick's comments., and I'm not sure the project can bear the weight of the rhetoric that surrounds it.

    This is one of only two LBC houses they have ever certified (which is simply absurd), and both seem to be very similar in that they are expensive boutique projects that appear to be more interested in showcasing their green credentials, than actually walking the walk of conserving materials or energy. I'm not sure that the whole programme leads anywhere useful, or has much others could adopt that would improve our housing stock.

    There is also something misguided about thinking that if you put enough features and technology into a rural farmhouse that it will enjoy a much longer lifespan than it's conventional neighbours. The factors that determine a building's longevity are primarily socio-economic, and demographic. Whether people live there in a century have very little to do with the design.

    1. User avater
      Stephen Sheehy | | #7

      And how much did it cost? My uneducated guess is $3 million, give or take.
      I do appreciate the concept of an integrated approach that considers factors like where materials come from, avoidance of toxic chemicals, beauty, etc. But the LBC is even less likely to do much for the mass market than Passivhaus.

      1. Michael Klement | | #29

        This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project.

        Stephen, out of respect for the homeowner's privacy I am not at liberty to discuss the construction cost of the project. However, you are bringing up a very good point. These LBC projects, and I have talked to several other LBC teams, are not cheap. I would offer that the difference is that you and I know there are folks who will make commensurate investments in homes whose only redeeming features are carrara marble counter tops and five gables to the street... but did I mention the counter tops? These clients were interested in making a difference, in their own way, for all of us. The mass market is ultimate influenced by the early adopters, who are in turn influenced by the innovators. LBC clients are those innovators, and in my humble opinion we all owe a debt of gratitude.

    2. Michael Klement | | #20

      This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project.

      Malcolm, you make very good points. Hopefully our comments to Rick’s comments in my post #18 (below) address some of them. We may not have communicated effectively our approach to increasing the lifespan of this home. It wasn’t so much about the features and technology but about the wholistic aspect of the approach. A home that has been designed with enclosure envelope systems to be moisture and water managed to withstand the ravages of weather and time. A home that has been planned to accommodate the home owners own trajectory of changing physical mobility. A home that is designed to accommodate a variety of owners with a variety of family profiles. And lastly a home that to our clients, and us, emulated a timeless and time-honored design aesthetic. Of course, that is subjective we know. But that was the goal

  4. Russell Miller | | #4

    Square footage ALONE turns my attention far away from this house.

    Following that, XPS, WOW!!

    1. Michael Klement | | #21

      This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project.

      Russell, all good points. Hopefully our comments to Rick’s comments in my post #18 (below) address some of them.

  5. Doug McEvers | | #5

    The choice of some of the building materials will get the dander of the green amongst us up. That said, people can choose to spend their money as they see fit. Is this house any worse from a global perspective than a luxury yacht or a Gulfstream jet? I do appreciate the fact the owners have decided to restore the native vegetation on this property., this alone says something to me. There will be some carbon offsets going on here that otherwise would not have been with the formerly degraded landscape. The deep rooted native plants will put carbon back into the soil.

    Talk the talk, all hat and no pollinators. I decided 28 years ago to undergo a project on our family farm, a brief summary here. https://monarchjointventure.org/success-stories/big-bluestem-prairie
    The replacement of highly erodible farmland with native vegetation has many benefits not the least of which is carbon sequestration. Some of the native plants have roots that can go down 10 feet or more. We had our best Monarch butterfly season in 2019 since I started observing them. My current quest is to restore about an additional 40 acres of mainly cool season pasture to a diverse, native landscape, similar to the original project. The replacement of the shallow rooted cool season grasses with deep rooted native vegetation will increase the carbon storage/soil building on our farm.

    1. Michael Klement | | #22

      This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project.

      Doug, good for you for recognizing that the scope of this project and its ambition towards sustainability reaches far beyond the skin of the building. This was intended to be a sustainable farmstead, with the home the center of a permaculture farm. Good luck with those additional 40 acres. That should keep you young forever

    2. User avater
      KileyJacques | | #33

      Doug,

      I just checked out your monarch butterfly habitat restoration project--it's fantastic. If you are interested in talking with me about your current 40-acre restoration venture, let me know. I spent 22 years in the field of horticulture, so I appreciate the work you are doing. It might make a good subject for my blog.

      1. Doug McEvers | | #34

        Kiley,

        I will take all of the volunteers I can get ! I head north tomorrow to finish some firebreaks, do a burn and hopefully not have to call the Fire Department.

        [email protected]

  6. User avater
    Armando Cobo | | #6

    It concerns me every time the “size police” shows up here, mainly because most of my projects are large homes too, but they follow the DOE’s ZERH program. Does “not so green people” needs to apologize for being successful, and like to have plenty of space? Maybe they have large families and get together a lot. Maybe this house is not 1k sf per the “green people”, but we can all learn about high-performing houses from all projects, I know I enjoyed reading this blog. Maybe there is something to learn that can be used in smaller projects.
    Maybe my vehicle gives 25 mpg, and your gives 8. Does that mean you are not a “green person”, and should not comment here? Maybe I use a hand tools and you use pneumatic tools that require supplemental “not so green power”, so you should not be here either? Where the line that you cross, and where is mine?
    If to get a LBC house you have to spend a boatload of money, so what. Our houses get 1ACH50 every day for an additional 1-3% more money, and we found that to go PHIUS is not cost effective for us, so should a PHIUS not be promoted here?
    Should the GBA limit project size, cost or goals? Chill out. Let people enjoy talking about their projects, and try to learn from them. Too much negativity sucks!

    1. Malcolm Taylor | | #9

      Armando,

      Except for a lucky few, designers and contractors need to take the jobs that come through their doors. We try and push clients in certain directions, but that's often all we can do. I think you do an excellent job incorporating efficiency and climate appropriate assemblies into the projects you do, and I think there is a good argument to be made that if you didn't take the big jobs someone else would who doesn't care about those things.

      However I think this project starts from another perspective. It makes claims and has goals that somehow lead it off into what I think are really not very productive directions, and I think that's inherent in the LBC itself. What use is a programme whose goals are so rarified that only deep-pocketed people can meet them all, and even then only two have managed to?

      Maybe I'm just getting a bit jaded, but I'm tired of demonstration houses and aspiration projects with aphorisms like "Every good design solution solves at least two problems". Pick that apart. What does it mean, and how does it help anyone?

      1. Michael Klement | | #24

        This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project.

        Malcolm, thanks for keeping up the heat! We embraced this LBC project exactly and precisely due to its audacity and far reaching ambition. There is no doubt that to do everything that this program asks takes something. But so did going to the moon. In fact, during the project we often used the expression that this was the "moon-shot" for residential design and construction to inspire and enroll our trade professionals. It would not be within everyone's reach. But if your reach doesn't exceed your grasp, then ambitious new accomplishments would never be realized and we would still be using single pane windows and heating with coal. Oh... I guess we are still heating (indirectly) with coal.

        I got your discouragement with demonstration houses. Consider that demonstration houses might just be the way forward. Somebody being willing to pick up the gauntlet and see how far they can push the envelope. Not for everyone. I understand.

        Oh and by 'every good design solution solves at least two problems' that is a mantra at our office. The intention is that with every design decision there be multiple benefits derived.

    2. Michael Klement | | #23

      This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project.

      The "size police" moniker is well played. That said, there is something to be said for 'right size'. I think the real challenge is determining the client's 'why' underneath the design decisions that lead to the 'how' and ultimately the 'what'. I myself struggle with the idea that anyone can argue that any specific size can be decreed as "sustainable". But I do believe there is an argument for not addressing the client's 'why' with as space efficient a size as can be conceived.

  7. Rick Evans | | #8

    Armando,

    I admit that my post was really negative. I may actually take it down because of that. You're right, negativity does suck. I am not a building professional (yet?) and am viewing this through perhaps an idealistic lens. There is a lot to learn here (as you and Doug have stated) and I wouldn't appreciate it if somebody started hurling insults from afar about my beloved project.

    As I stated, I also don't have a problem with large homes,etc. This is all subjective. Some in my wife's family in Guatemala think we live in an absolute mansion. But the LBC seems to hold itself up as the ultimate green standard. I guess I just envisioned something better from a energy conservation perspective. Or perhaps I don't fully understand what the goals of LBC actually are?

    1. Malcolm Taylor | | #11

      Rick,

      I wish you hadn't taken your p0st down. It was a legitimate critique of this project, and made a lot of valid p0ints. If our discussions here are going to be useful they need to be honest. Sometime that inevitably means making negative comments about something people may be very attached to, but the alternative is to let things go unexamined, and I'm not sure that serves anyones best interests.

      1. Michael Klement | | #25

        This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project.

        Malcolm, I agree whole heartedly. Which is why I re-posted Rick's original comments with my responses to his comments in this post. Here's to keeping open dialogue alive, well and robust in the GBA forum.

        1. Malcolm Taylor | | #35

          Michael,

          Thanks for your response. I'm going to do an about-face here. I shouldn't have made the comments I have, not because I don't believe them, but because I don't have the time (or frankly energy) to do justice to the important and complex issues they bring up. And if I'm not willing to defend them, I shouldn't have made them.

          This hit a bit of a nerve because right now the arguments architecture makes for being important and meaningful seem very thin while we face this pandemic.

          The house is lovely. My misgivings are about the usefulness of LBC, and certainly not your work.

    2. Doug McEvers | | #14

      Rick, I did not think your original post was overly critical. You made some valid points on poor material choices for this project (all of the foam). I said a long time ago on this forum, a truly green home would include in the purchase price carbon offsets for all of the materials used. Silence followed but it would separate the grain from the chaff with regard to some type of green building standard.

      1. Michael Klement | | #26

        This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project.

        Doug, I agree whole heartedly. Which is why I re-posted Rick's original comments with my responses to his comments in this post. Here's to keeping open dialogue alive, well and robust in the GBA forum

    3. Michael Klement | | #18

      Rick Evans | May 11, 2020 08:16am | #1

      This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project.

      Michael said: Rick, I am taking the liberty to re-share your post, in its entirety, because I thought you brought up some really valid points. A healthy discussion is what GBA is all about. Kind of our own “peer review” of one another’s work with the intention of forwarding all of us collectively to a brighter tomorrow.

      Rick's Comment: I'm not sure how to feel about this home...
      I think these people had the best intentions and I commend them for seeking out and achieving the Living Building Challenge. I appreciate the attention to ensuring that healthy materials are included in the home, etc.
      But, I am having a hard time getting too excited about this home for the following reasons:
      1. For just two people, this home is massive. 5,000 square foot house AND a 2,500 square foot garage? Nothing against huge homes- but for only two people, can you really call yourself "green"?

      Michael Response: Rick, understand your concerns about square footage. We noted that there was an error in the published square footage. The actual square footage of the net living space not including mechanical, plumbing pit and un-finished basement storage space is 2,880. Rick you are absolutley correct that additional square footage does have a compounding negative impact on the sustainability of a home: embodied and operational. However, in this case, our home owners considered that creating a farm homestead intended to last for 200 years that although only serving two currently, that they wanted to create a home that embraced the sustainable principle of ‘long life- loose fit’. That very likely after their tenure at Burh Becc at Beacon Springs that the next family may have children, or be an extended family, or be multi-generational, or even multi-family with farm hands all under one roof. I'm with you on this challenge, Rick. The thing that I have the opportunity to shift my thinking on is that there is some ordaned magic number for a home's square footage that is considered annotable as 'sustainable'. I'm slowly being pried off that point of view- this project helped me to do that.

      Rick's Comment 2.) Choice of Insulation: I personally love rigid foam as exterior insulation. But I also admit that it is not very 'green'. The article mentions the SIP roof (EPS). But quick research shows that the exterior walls consists of a layer of Thermax (Polyiso) and an exterior layer of... wait for it.... XPS! The slab and foundation walls are also all XPS. (Facepalm) See link below.

      Michael's Response: Rick, could not agree with you more. We first started the design of this project in 2012. If we were to do it all over again, knowing what we know now about embodied carbon and GWP, we would have done it completely differently. Hind sight is 2020. At that time we were focused on operational carbon (energy efficiency).

      Rick's Comment 3.) High Embodied Energy Materials: I see a lot of concrete and stucco, brick, tile, and steel. These are necessary in a building at times and I get that. But, there are greener alternatives here.

      Michael's Response: Again, having a chance to do it all over again, we would have taken a different path. In fact we are currently working on several Passive House projects where we are focusing exclusively on a new, space-age material that appears very promising: wood.

      Rick's Comment 4.) Loads: This home is in zone 5, +/- 6,000 HDD each year. Yet this home for two people uses 10,000,000 Btus in heat each year. This isn't great. My home for two in an 8,000 HDD uses 6,300,000 BTUs per year. Sure, it is lower than the PHI standard per square foot. But the home is massive so this shouldn't be a surprise. The real question is how many btus per year, PER PERSON? Again, this home does not show up well here. Try the metric with PHIUS (not PHI) and see what happens. Also, it's easy to hit the PHI ACH figure when your home is the size of a Tuscan castle. Again, try it using the CFM metric from PHIUS.

      Michael's Response: See above

      Rick's Comment 5.) A home in a colder climate shouldn't try to rely on thermal mass. The south side of the home is stuck in the 70's and has way too much glazing. See #6.

      Michael's Response: Perhaps, but we are finding that it is actually performing very well and the homeowners are quite pleased… and comfortable.

      Rick's Comment: 6.) Net Zero Energy: just because the home produces more electricity in a year than it uses doesn't mean it doesn't use a lot of energy. Given the size of the home and the massive % of glazing, this home probably becomes an energy hog on cold nights and cloudy days. It isn't off-grid. The grid is using a lot of energy to keep this home warm. This home doesn't need the electricity when the sun is out given all of the windows. 16kwh is a big PV array to have to hit net zero on a new construction project.

      Michael's Response: Agree that 16kwh is a big PV array. Biggest one we have ever put on a home. The intention was to be sure that we achieved Net Positive energy. And we have, including charging an electric vehicle, and enough surplus to charge another two.

      Rick's Comment: Conclusion: It's hard to get behind a program like the Living Building Challenge when they endorse and champion a home like this.

      Michael's Response: No doubt the Living Building Challenge program has its faults and is evolving even through discourse such as this. Hopefully some of your misgivings about this project are addressed with our clarifications and comments. I’d invite you to consider the entirety of the Living Building Challenge. Although certainly important, the LBC is about more, a lot more, than energy/embodied carbon/GWP. Take another look and see what you might discover!

  8. User avater
    Michael Maines | | #10

    A key to this project is in the title of the article--"Proof of Concept." I don't see this as a house that's going to be adopted for the mass market, or that the vast majority of consumers could come close to affording a house like this. Some of the elements used, like the XPS insulation and the SIPs roof, we know are not good for the planet, and may even be net negatives. In contrast to projects that follow The Pretty Good House approach, targeted to those who want an achievable standard, this project is not meant to be adopted by the masses.

    This is that I would call a "leadership project." LBC is very difficult to reach, but I think of projects like this as prototypes to test the science and viability of different approaches. Of course the size is much higher than a couple should need, and I would bet that this is not their only home. I've been in a lot of 10,000 to 20,000 sq. ft. second or third homes that are all code-minimum spray foam and don't even try to be environmentally responsible; I'm sure the owners of this project could afford to do something else, but chose to showcase what could go into a Living Building Challenge house.

    The cooling tower is a cool idea. Many of us dismiss Trombe walls and over-glazing, but maybe they're worth reconsidering in some situations. Building on brownfields, creating more energy than you need (reaching net positive with a 14kW PV is an achievement for a house this size). While we aren't going to save the planet building houses like this one, maybe there are elements we can adopt, or maybe just having conversations like this are a beneficial. It used to seem impossibly hard to reach Passive House levels of energy efficiency and airtightness, but the builders I know now compete to see how far below 0.2 ACH50 they can get. 1.0 ACH50 is a cake walk in comparison. We didn't get there without Passive House leadership projects (and practitioners) paving the way. Projects like this LBC house chart a course that others can follow, hopefully in a more achievable manner.

    1. User avater
      KileyJacques | | #15

      I appreciate that you picked up on that "proof of concept" point, Mike. I think it’s fair to say that most of us are drawn to the green building industry because, at heart, we care about the health of the natural environment. The Living Building Challenge puts this front and center to a degree that other building certificate programs don’t. The entire goal is to not just do less harm but to actually restore natural habitats and lands. That is the most compelling aspect for me, and a primary motivator for featuring this project. The lengths to which the homeowners have gone and continue to go with respect to the rehabilitation of their land are commendable and, for me, noteworthy. I appreciate that they use their house as an educational tool to get this dialogue going.

      More practically, the Declare. label and its cousins, Just. and Reveal., provide a level of transparency that should be our benchmark, in my opinion. I think the Red List and the Declare database are useful sources of information, and that LBC in general is a resource for anyone seeking alternative materials and systems—even if just to read about them. Anything that offers more information is worth exploring.

      It’s my hope that highlighting this kind of project will spark controversy enough to engage people to explore its offerings. Like Mike, I don’t see this as having mass appeal. I like his description of it as a “leadership project.” No, it doesn’t stand as a solution to the affordable housing crisis. But it is valuable. It does demonstrate “proof of concept.” And it does give us more information with which to work.

    2. Doug McEvers | | #17

      Michael wrote what I was thinking when I first read this article. Without Passive House there may not be a Pretty Good House. Passive House so raised the bar that we as a building community could dig into the ROI and decide for ourselves what is appropriate. Cost effectiveness, environmental impact of building materials, land use considerations all became topics of discussion. I had the good fortune of attending the 2nd Annual Passive House Conference in 2007. What a collection of building science knowledge. I along with some others met with Harold Orr after the daily conference to see with him slides of some of the groundbreaking projects he has been involved with. The enthusiasm he showed us in giving his presentation sticks with me to this day. What a thrill !

      For those interested in highly efficient buildings, stay the course. It will put you in a discussion on a level you will not otherwise have from a quality building standpoint. There are so many professionals out there willing to share their experience and expertise, take advantage of it.

    3. Michael Klement | | #27

      This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project.

      Michael, you have landed squarely and precisely the fundamental ambition of this project. To take up the challenge and move the needle further down the path. There is no doubt that what each of these LBC leadership projects (really like that analogy) uncover, reveal and inspire during their creation is as valuable as what they achieve. Understand that Living Building Challenge is first a philosophy, then an advocacy, and then (lastly) a certification program. LBC is about fundamentally shifting our very relationship with nature. And it just might happen to generate a few cool buildings along the way :-)

  9. User avater
    Armando Cobo | | #12

    What does the following everyday things have in common?...
    Artificial Limbs, scratch-resistant lenses, insulin pump, firefighting equipment and jaws of life, battery-powered tools, Lasik, building shock absorbent, solar cells, water filtration, better tires, wireless headsets, invisible braces, freeze-dried food, camera phones, CAT scans, workout machines, home insulation, infrared ear thermometers, ice-resistant airplanes, portable computer, 3D food printing, computer mouse, athletic shoes, LEDs, land mine removal, foil blankets, memory foam, adjustable smoke detector, baby formula, cochlear implants, anti-corrosion coatings, remote control ovens, lubricants, structural analysis software, and many, many others, they are all NASA inventions. How much did they cost to invent or build the first time?

    1. User avater
      KileyJacques | | #16

      An excellent and creatively made point, Armando. Your willingness to learn about the LBC, even though it is not something you see yourself taking on, is exactly what I had in mind when I decided to feature this project. It's a source of information. And hopefully, for some, inspiration.

    2. Michael Klement | | #28

      This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project.

      Point taken, Armando. Consider that is quite possibly what the founding fathers had in mind when they cooked up the LBC!

  10. User avater
    Armando Cobo | | #13

    I’ll add a couple of thoughts. One, I don’t see myself designing a PHIUS or an LBC house in the near future, but I appreciate learning about their progress and adventures. Second, I design ZERHs all day and every day, but for some folks, even in the civilized world, that’s like going to Jupiter and back.

    1. Michael Klement | | #30

      This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project.

      Armando, Well said! Everything is relative. Realize that at one point in time some Greenie-Weenie, tree-hugging, yahoo rode into town with the crazy idea of putting insulation in them' there wall cavities :-)

  11. Rick Evans | | #31

    Michael,

    My apologies for the somewhat shrill tone of my initial comments. Your replies were very professional and very, very helpful. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story with us.

    I didn't realize that the project had started so long ago. It makes sense that the emphasis at the time was more on operational energy rather than embodied energy of materials. I know companies like Building Green were only beginning to calculate these figures-especially for XPS at that time.

    A re-read of Kiley's article and the comments from design/build professionals like yourself have certainly made me appreciate this home more and more. I always thought it was beautiful- who wouldn't want a piece of Tuscany amidst a dull winter??? But I realize now how 'ahead of its time' this home may prove to be and the thought and work that went into turning this elusive concept into a reality.

    Congratulations to you and your team on this project, Michael. And thanks again for adding a little color to Kiley's detailed article.

  12. User avater
    Armando Cobo | | #32

    Lord have mercy! This blog reminded me of the time over two decades a go, when I bought on to the idea for designing high-performing homes (thanks to Joe, Betsy and Co.). It was like swimming against the current. I designed a house with a mini LN2G power plant, a couple with Trombe walls and even a "hippie" bead wall... Back in the day, we were "tree-huggers", "spotted owl lovers", plus a few other choice names I can't say here.
    Later, a few of us in New Mexico started developing "green codes", a green program and we finished up in style with an state tax credit for energy efficient buildings, commercial and residential.. Those were firestorms on their own. I was accused of being "the reason construction costs were going up in NM" at the time, and the funny thing was that all the biggest complainers, were the first people lining up to collect the tax credits.
    Go figure humanity!

  13. Michael Klement | | #36

    This is Michael Klement, AIA, the principal of Architectural Resource. We were the architects on this project. Our project sponsors, Tom and Marti Burbeck, asked me if I could pass along some reflections on the project and your comments…

    My wife Marti and I read through all your comments, and would like to answer some of your questions and concerns. We applaud your enthusiasm and commitment to chew on some important issues around our little project.

    My first love expressed in this project concerns the architectural design. We invested 3-1/2 years working closely with the architectural firm of Michael Klement. Michael and I were absolutely driven to design an awesome space for Marti and me to inhabit at the center of a 30 acre permaculture farm – and make it a place which will be used by many other farming families in the centuries to come. This project coincides with my retirement from 40 years in IT, though I continue as the minority shareholder of a local and quite successful software company. But focus now is on farming.

    Marti’s first love is permaculture design, with the goal of providing healthy food for those in our community who can’t afford fresh produce. My love for design easily translates into tractor and shovel work crafting hillsides of beautiful berms, swales, ponds and orchards.

    When we studied up on the Living Building Challenge of the International Living Future Institute, it was very easy to jump on board. The principles of the Institute go way beyond “green building.” We were quickly sold on the mission, ready to put our all into the cause, starting with the farmhouse building project. To date, we’ve had nearly 4,000 interested people tour the house, with tours led by Michael, Bob Burnside and others on the LBC project team.

    House SIZE does matter a lot to us—SMALL size. Marti and I are saddened to see the bigger-is-better orientation that dominates today, especially when it comes to home design. Smaller is better for us. However, we were inspired by the chance to contribute a farmhouse to the world that will accommodate families of various shapes and sizes for the next 200+ years. The main floor—our daily living space-- is 2,000 SF, which includes a 220 SF commercial farm office, a small bedroom Marti uses for her graphic design business, one bathroom, and a tiny powder room. Our bedroom is 13’x13’, with 7’6” ceiling. For the benefit of future young families living here, we added two children’s bedrooms and a bathroom on the lower level (walk-out basement). Someone commented on our “big garage”? It comprises two modest-sized car stalls and a third stall for the tractor, plus a large meeting room designed for use by local good causes, plus an animal shelter, below the meeting room, with sand floor (no farm animals yet). I call this the barn because it’s all about servicing our work on the farm and associated missions.

    Someone politely speculated that we’re rich folks with multiple homes, one of which is uber green. ACTUALLY, this is our ONLY home. Nevertheless, as several also speculated, it was a very expensive project for us, costing about 3X more than we originally planned—before understanding the game-changing sustainability nature of the project. Once we got on board with the “moon shot” that Michael described in a comment, we decided that it’d be important to set up time & materials agreements with all our major building professionals because we weren’t comfortable asking them bear the financial risk of such an unpredictable project. We look forward to the day when truly sustainable building becomes the standard, making it possible for building professionals to accurately forecast their costs.

    We love living here: summers with windows wide open, yet always cool inside thanks to the cooling tower pulling air through wide-open French windows along the southern wall; cozy and quiet winters with warmth radiating from floors and walls and fresh air from some windows opened a crack in the afternoon after a day of sunshine in 0 degree weather. It’s hard to describe, but we find great joy in living in such a beautiful and sustainable home in the middle of a beautiful and sustainable farm. It’s NOT a joy in ownership, but rather a type of happiness of inhabiting a home that will offer the same dwelling enjoyment to many, long after we’re gone. It’s just our contribution to the common cause we all share in shaping a better future.

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