Ecohome Design Awards Test Meaning of Term "Sustainable"

For years I have been asking my students at Ryerson School of Interior Design to define the term Sustainable Design , in the hope that someday, one of them will come up with one that makes sense. I am still waiting. EcoHome, the AIA's green housing magazine, recently released their 2011 EcoHome Design Awards that "span the spectrum of sustainable design and high-performance features."They certainly do.

The GO home in Maine is certainly a prize. The 1300 square foot Passivhaus was built for $150 per square foot, an unheard of number.

Architect Matthew O'Malia and builder Alan Gibson created the project as a prototype to demonstrate that near-zero-energy homes are possible at costs comparable to standard construction. To achieve this, the project team followed an iterative development process from concept to manufacturing focused on continual improvement at each stage. Each design was based on lessons learned from previous iterations for enhanced efficiency and performance and reduced design and construction costs, according to O'Malia.


Despite its complex high-tech origin, the house itself exudes a down-to-earth simplicity. Exposed pine beams, locally quarried granite countertops, and stained concrete floors add warmth to the uncomplicated, contemporary interiors.

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Other Grand Award winners are a bit grander. The Caterpillar House by Feldman Architecture is, at 2,800 square feet, considered small for Carmel.

Accommodating that much glass while still achieving performance levels 49% above Title 24-code guidelines required creativity and careful planning. The elongated, slightly curved east-west layout maximizes passive solar gain, while concrete floors and carefully placed rammed-earth walls act as a thermal mass; trellises and overhangs shade the south- and west-facing low-E windows. These features, combined with ceiling fans and optimal cross ventilation, eliminated the need for air conditioning and allowed for only zoned radiant floor heating. The south-facing roof over the living room accommodates an 8-kW solar array while opening up the space to northern views.

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The Celo House in North Carolina by Samsel Architects surprised me by its inclusion; it does not appear to be spectacularly sustainable. But the judges liked it;

It was the successful balance between the sustainable design and high-performance features that tied everything together for the jury. As one judge said, "This project shows how achievable sustainable design can be in creating a bright and livable home connected to the outdoors, while integrating performance features that improve water efficiency, indoor air quality, and energy demand."

More on the Celo House

The Kumuhau Subdivision in Hawaii is subsidized housing that uses a lot of traditional ideas, and goes out on a limb:


The company took a risk, which caught the attention of our own judges. In a climate with summertime humidity topping 80%, these homes have no air conditioning; instead, a whole-house fan exhausts hot air into the vented attic. Installed and operated at a fraction of air conditioning's cost, it became one of the homes' most popular features, along with a carport that doubles as a dining lanai. "For a target clientele that likes to live outdoors, the carports make the houses more livable, and you can't be running the air conditioning when you're moving between indoors and out," Sandomire says.

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The Union Street Residence in Nantucket, by Rosenberg Kolb Architects, is a wonderful demonstration of how one can upgrade an historic building. And it proves that you don't have to change windows to get great performance!

In addition to preserving and modernizing the LEED-Gold house, architect Michele Kolb added 260 square feet for a new kitchen, bathroom, and entry in keeping with the period. Among the many challenges posed by this whole-house renovation were meeting LEED insulation and air sealing requirements, installing new mechanical and ventilation systems, and restoring the original single-pane window sash to conserve energy while meeting historic architectural standards.

More on the Union Square House.

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Tags: Architects | Awards | Green Building

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