ROSE Cottage: A Net-Zero Energy Home for All Seasons (And Ages)

Photos: RCM Zero Energy.

When not distracted by headphone-hawking celebrities and a small but eager army of domestic robots, a good number of lanyard-clad tech geeks and gadget hounds at last month’s 2014 International CES in Las Vegas collectively had one thing on the brain: the connected home.

And while disparate bits and pieces of the connected home could be found at dozens of booths scattered across the cavernous halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center and other CES venues across town, a smart and sustainable home in its entirety could indeed be found at the booth of second-time CES exhibitor, Bosch.

For obvious reasons, the home itself wasn’t present at CES but it was very much there in spirit, along with its owner, Harold Turner of Concord, N.H.-based architecture and engineering firm H.L. Turner Group. Dubbed ROSE Cottage (a misnomer as, at a little over 3,300 square-feet, it’s a proper house and not exactly a tiny one at that), Turner’s net-zero energy labor of love served as the functional centerpiece of Bosch’s 2014 CES meta-theme, “Sustainability in a Connected World,” while highlighting the German home appliance and auto part giant’s latest innovations in residential thermotechnology solutions.

Standing for Renewable energy production, Occupant-driven special design, Sustainable building practices, and Energy-efficient construction, ROSE Cottage isn’t the first net-zero energy residence to be showcased by Bosch. You may recall that the company previously introduced net-zero energy living complete with a full-on Bosch Experience Center and show home at Serenbe, a folksy New Urbanist enclave outside of Atlanta.

While there’s a lot of good stuff on the HVAC and energy-production fronts (a 13.8kW solar array atop the detached garage, dual Bosch geothermal heat pumps, an Ecobee smart thermostat, and a Bosch/Buderus solar thermal system are just a few standout features), what I personally admire most about ROSE Cottage aren't necessarily the bells and whistles that allow the airtight, highly insulated structure to produce more energy than it consumes. Nor is it a dedication to using only healthy, durable and locally sourced building materials and recycling/reusing any building waste materials on-site. Rather, it was the decision to design a multi-general dwelling where Turner and his family can comfortably reside for the real long haul that struck me as being the most agreeable aspect of the home.

Defined by the Centers for Disease Control as "the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level,” the concept of aging in place has popped up in numerous green building projects that I’ve profiled in recent months including a few 2013 U.S. Solar Decathlon entries. While at a CES function hosted by Bosch, I had the pleasure of chatting with Turner in person about aging in place. During our chat, it occurred to me that, renewable energy systems aside, aging in place is the true heart and soul of ROSE Cottage’s design with features ranging from the hot tub grab bars to the potential caregivers' quarters on the lower level.

The super-informative RCM Zero Energy website goes into detail about the various “house for life” design features found throughout the project which, by the way, was built for $175 per square foot:

... our commitment to creating a flexible design that can fit the needs of several types of multi-generational occupants is a perfect match to the investment in a zero net energy home that generates as much energy from renewable sources, as it uses. It’s not a political design solution, it’s a conservative solution of minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency. It’s not about the points, it’s about the performance. It’s also about the dignity of human life and the possibilities of growing old and dying in your own home.
Also experienced in nursing, home care, end of life care, and caregiving, we always kept a mind towards short-term needs and long-term options. Not everything needs to be built day one, but the ability to easily add or change a building needs to be well understood in advance. Grab bars, shower seats, and automatic door openers (the list goes on) may never be needed, but they do need to be planned for. Sometimes planning means blocking, sometimes it means pre-wiring, but mostly it requires spatially thinking ahead. Our full size laundry room in the lower level off the 2nd bathroom works wonderfully if you are mobile enough to climb stairs; and when you are not, the stackable washer/dryer hook-up in the entryway closet with its four bi-fold doors will convert marvelously into a condo style laundry room. The ramp inside the garage along with the extra interior space is all ready if you need to manage a wheelchair, but is lovely already just to be able to wheel anything heavy into the house. The storage room inside the garage is great for anyone who doesn’t like stairs, young or old. The ability to sit out in the 3-season room and watch nature all around you each day for 75% of the year is marvelous, and without a worry about energy use. And whether you are young enough to enjoy the luxury, or old enough to need the therapy of an outdoor spa tub, it’s great to know you are powering it off your own energy supply.
The house is capable of withstanding the harshest winters and the hottest summers that northern New England can dish out. It has all the heating, cooling, lighting, and fresh air systems required to maintain a safe, comfortable, healthy, and efficient environment, free from either internal or external hazards. LED lighting products already capture over 90% of the lighting fixtures and low use, low energy, fluorescent fixtures in places like the garages and under cabinets, handle the rest. Even the highly used and highly necessary site/security lights that are used 365 days a year are LED. Unlike the current clamor for full automation, we like to keep the 'controls' as simple, accessible and straightforward as possible. Simple controls can still be used to manage sophisticated equipment and technology. The mind is not always clear at 85, so heating, lighting and security controls need to be kept simple enough for the aged to operate without a caregiver or technician to undertake daily tasks.

True, ROSE Cottage is kind of in the boonies. Situated on a 8.86 acre lot on the shores of a large pond, the home was built upon former farmland in the rural outskirts of Concord where neighborly noise is mostly limited to the yelping of wild turkeys and the screaming of bobcats. However, Turner's home is not entirely, prohibitively remote — the Granite State capital's downtown area is a quick drive away and Turner himself enjoys a 2.5 mile walk or bike ride into his office when the weather allows.

"The fact that the site was only 1.5 miles from the major north-south highway in the state and only four miles from the heart of the city’s vibrant downtown offered the possibility of both a tranquil, farm-like setting, and life within a tightly knit city community with city services," reads the project website. In other words, although the home's Walk Score may be a car-dependent 3, there's still a Hannaford Supermarket and other signs of civilization less than 10 minutes away.

There’s a lot more to learn — and to like — about ROSE Cottage and the net-zero energy ROSE Construction Method (RCM) developed by Turner and his team. Head on over to Bosch for a solid overview of the project including an interview with Turner, as well as a detailed case study of the project. From there, head over to the RCM Zero Energy website — motto: It’s Not Rocket Science ... It’s Building Science” — for plenty more nuts and bolts about the home and the innovative construction method behind it.

It's also worth mentioning that in addition to being featured at CES by Bosch, ROSE Cottage and project architect David Hart of H.L. Turner Group was the first prize winner in the 2013 Architect's Challenge Showdown presented by Marvin Windows and Doors (triple- and double-pane Marvin windows and doors can be found throughout the home).

Any CES attendees have a chance to learn about Harold Turner's home while visiting the Bosch booth? Any thoughts? And any personal observations on about aging in place design features?

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