We had a great opportunity due to the Roaring Fork USGBC scheduling of a tour of Amory Lovins Passive Solar, Greenhouse Furnace, Net Zero, photovoltaic and thermal solar home in Snowmass, yesterday! It was a large tour group, about 30 mostly green building experts so their questions and observations were really interesting. There were two or three employees of the Rocky Mountain Institute running the tour and they were very obliging and included lots of interesting details.
Amory Lovins is an energy policy activist who wrote in the mid seventies and forward about changing attitudes and policy for current and future energy needs. He was trained as a physicist but quit his PhD at Oxford to work for Friends of the Earth. He got very involved in writing books and working to change policy on environmental issues and eventually moved back to the USA and with his first wife, L. Hunter Lovins, started the Rocky Mountain Institute which is an energy think tank in Snowmass. The RMI is currently building a net zero super low energy use commercial office building in the nearby town of Basalt, to move their operations into their own building as well as use it for demonstration of energy conscious commercial building techniques.
The home was built circa 82-83 with the help of lots of volunteers in forming the slip form walls–which is an inexpensive masonry building technique also used by Frank Lloyd Wright and his students at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, AZ in the 30’s. Many homesteaders learned the technique from Helen and Scott Nearing, famous homesteaders from the 30’s who were gurus of simple living. Apparently the original technique was invented by Ernest Flagg in 1920. Dave is currently building a slip form garden wall with the old broken up concrete slab that was taken out of the house.
Amory placed a 4″ thick (low CFC Freon) polyurethane foam in the middle of the slipforms and the rock faced each edge while the gap was filled with cement. He used curved forms so the basic house is a rammed earth north wall (the RMI guides mentioned that) and a curving masonry wall that mostly faces south.
This is a 4000 square ft. house so roughly twice the size of our first passive solar after two additions and almost twice the size of our current remodel. It also houses Amory’s library and for years was the headquarters of the Rocky Mountain Institute so much of the east wing is office and library space.
I wish I had taken more photos, last night I was mostly interested in the radiant heat and data collections systems but the house itself was quite nice.
One of the most impressive areas was the octagonal bookshelves in one of the towers located behind the greenhouse. I have always loved library ladders and there were lots of high shelves to use them. There was also a small bathroom in one of these towers complete with a waterless urinal, toilet with tank sink, mexican-tiled half moon shower and a small hand sink.
The home had a cozy living room nook with built in couch–also very Frank Lloyd Wright in concept.
There were lots of LED fixtures in the ceilings–part of a 2009 retrofit and the ceiling lamps were circle fluorescent.
The kitchen was spacious and featured an inductive stovetop, an Asko dishwasher (most efficient) at least a couple of ovens and two of the two compartment Sun Frost refrigerators/freezers with the compressors visible from the back in a pantry. The refrigerator had an extra “fin” outside the entry to include outdoor winter temps in the refrigeration process.
The most impressive feature is the greenhouse “furnace” where banana trees and other tropical plants bear fruit in an area of the country that hardly has a long enough growing season for tomatoes. The greenhouse features meandering stone paths, a bridge, a small patio, lush green plants that hang over the paths, a gurgling waterfall and brook that collects in a small pond. Kind of a paradise inside the house. Spreading its heat and humidity to the whole structure.
The greenhouse is framed by two large concrete arches that have built in pipes that preheat water that goes into the solar heating tank.
But that is getting into the mechanicals which I’ll address in a future post. Touring this home was inspiring and enlightening.