Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ski House for the Future (of the Earth)

On Earth Day 2014, consider, for a moment, how interdependent are our energy consumption, our future quality of life, our climate, and even our snowfall.  Well, here's a ski house for the future that is a brilliant example of what can be done to minimize energy consumption, improve quality of life, and work with (not against) our earth's climate.  And this house embraces, in fact depends on, the legendary Utah "pow" to enhance its functionality!  Quite impressive -- especially on Earth Day!

The Ski House of the Day is the 125 Haus, a living laboratory, home and brainchild of Joerg Ruegemer, a University of Utah Architecture Professor.  Constructed a few years ago, this house, a modern 3-bedroom, 2400 sq. ft. residence, was conceived as an interdisciplinary research and design project for high energy-efficiency, and sustainability.

The house is located in prime ski country in Park City, Utah.  (And to make it even better, according to a ratings study by the Ski Area Citizens Coalition, the nearby Park City Mountain has one of the top ratings of sustainability among ski areas).

It's a very nice looking house...but the more I learned about how it works...the nicer looking it became! Incredibly, this house uses only about 10% of the the energy of a comparable house in this area!  (How about spending only $25 a month to heat/cool such a spacious and beautiful ski house in Utah?).  This house is 80-90% more energy efficient than a standard house --  even at its location which is at an elevation of 7,000 ft. Amazing!

How is this magic possible, you might be wondering.  The secret is passive design, and embracing simple low-tech and site-specific elements. First, the placement of the house is very precise in order to face South to soak up the sun. There is no furnace in this house, rather it uses a heat-recovery ventilation system that seems to recycle heat. With 15 inches of insulation, the walls are 2-3 times thicker than ordinary walls, and the house is air-tight, with high-performance, specifically shaped windows to balance views and sunlight in the precise proportion for efficiency.  Incredibly, this house was built for a cost that is comparable to a conventional house.

                                    Photo credit:  Scot Zimmerman, of Heber City, UT

You can hear about the impressive details from the architect himself, or check out ksl.com for more.

This house is indeed one for the future, in more ways than one.  It's a house that will improve the future of the earth as it consumes less energy, contributes less to global climate change, and thus enhances the quality of life for all.  It seems to me to be a model of using low-tech simplicity to create high-efficiency highly impressive results.   And I, for one, hope this effort is duplicated in ski houses (and regular houses) all over the country.  I think it's truly a house for the future of the Earth.

And here's one more detail that (especially as a skier) I found refreshingly logical.  With annual snowfall in this part of the Wasatch Mountains at about 400 inches, there's truly a lot of snow for a home to handle.  Well, unlike most, this house (and its designer-homeowner) isn't wasting energy trying to melt it, move it, or get rid of it.  This house is designed to embrace it!  In fact, the flat roof is designed to capture and support the snow, and use it as a thermal blanket.  So, the home's thermal efficiency, like Utah's skiing, just keeps getting better as the snow piles up!  I absolutely love this.

Happy Earth Day!

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