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Pushing the Envelope

As scientists and educators, our clients were interested in pushing the boundaries of how buildings could become more efficient. As environmentalists, they wanted to get as close to a carbon-neutral lifestyle as possible. They desired to remain in their neighborhood of closely-spaced smaller homes, so when an older home with structural problems around the corner became available, our clients decided to purchase it and rebuild using the existing foundation.


The owners dreamed of not only a house that would be on the cutting edge of technology, but would also fit in amongst the neighborhood’s other century-old homes. A smaller, traditional style with a modern, sleek interior was desired. The house should be capable of converting into single-floor living if needed in the future. The house should also attain a LEED Platinum certification, with the idea of pushing beyond those standards into deep-energy construction.

The Team

Design & Architecture:  Michael Klement of Architectural Resource

Project Managers: Meadowlark Project Management Team

Custom Stair Railing:  Drew Kyte of Kyte Metalwerks


Schematic Design

Getting to net-zero energy use in Michigan’s cold climate is very difficult. Geothermal heating and cooling is necessary, and a building envelope that is highly energy efficient is also required. We had to find a way to make a wood-frame structure capture and store passive energy, while shaving energy use from every item that we could.

  • The house would heat with radiant floors using a geothermal heat pump for comfort and energy efficiency
  • The house would use a BioPCM material to enable the walls to store three times the energy that typical wood-framed houses store. This thermally massive home would store energy for days at a time.
  • Earth tubes would use deep ground temperatures to condition incoming ventilation air, both summer and winter
  • An ultra-efficient heat pump water heater keeps the water hot for pennies per day
  • LED lighting and ultra-efficient appliances were used throughout the home
  • The house would use Powerhouse®solar shingles to make solar energy
  • The plumbing system was designed to enable gray water collection in the future if desired

Design Development

While the house was designed to maximize energy efficiency, architecture and interior design were never left behind. The house is one of the finer examples of traditional architecture in the neighborhood of older homes, and the clean, sleek interior maximizes usable space and creates visual delights throughout.

  • Exposed rafter tails along with arts and crafts details lend a rich texture to the exterior
  • European cabinetry, appliances and plumbing fixtures give the interior a refined, organized and stylish appeal
  • The staircase would be fabricated from hand-forged iron railings and centuries-old re-sawn barn beam treads, creating a semi-transparent curtain separating the interior spaces, while the barn beam would extend out to create shelves for those unique items.

The Results

The home blends seamlessly into the neighborhood, a new old home. Sensors and a data-logging system show that it uses exceedingly little energy for heating and cooling. The home’s envelope can keep the interior comfortable for days without energy input, even in a severe Michigan winter. We are proud to note that this home has achieved the LEED Platinum Certification level by the U.S. Green Building Council.

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