Green Scene Blog

Sustainable Homes Of The Future…Built Today

September 2, 2009
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Homes are being built around the country combining sustainability with modern design and comfort.

I received an e-mail over the weekend from the designers of Casa Bella Verde, a sustainable home being built in El Dorado Hills, Calif. This is just one of three homes being built around the country combining sustainability with modern design and comfort.

Exploring the Web sites of these homes was interesting. These homes can be built today, with sustainable materials and using green construction practices, and you won’t have to sell your soul - or your firstborn kid. Or amputate your right arm.

Let me know what you think about them.

Casa Bella Verde

After three years in development, contractors broke ground at Casa Bella Verde last October. Saturday’s e-mail was an update on construction - the concrete pour of the huge vanishing-edge swimming pool. Waterproofing and backfilling the exterior shell of the pool will allow construction of the basement to begin.

Insulating concrete forms are used instead of wood framing - the forms create a mold in which rebar is placed for reinforcement and then filled with concrete. The forms, along with an 8-inch core, will give Casa Bella Verde a R-value of R-50 (wood-frame construction homes typically have R-values of R-12 to R-20). Paperless drywall will be used to provide superior mold resistance.

The home also has a geothermal system for heating and cooling, which it couples with radiant floor heating installed under the concrete floors. It has two separate wastewater systems - a greywater system that filters water from sinks, showers, the dishwasher and the washing machine to be used in the irrigation system; and a system to treat water from the toilets (black water).

A cistern will collect and store rainwater to be used for the rooftop garden. Solar panels and a wind generator will keep the home off the grid most of the time. Energy Star-rated appliances, windows and skylights will be used exclusively in the home for energy efficiency. And recycling containers for glass, paper, plastic, metal and compost will help homeowners separate and recycle waste.

For techno-geeks, the home will have a built-in, whole-house entertainment system, programmable controls for interior and exterior lighting, and whole-house control of all the electronic systems in the home.

Completion of the home is schedule for next fall.

The Wisconsin Trend Home

The Wisconsin Builders Association Foundation finished building the Wisconsin Trend Home last summer. The goal was to build an environmentally friendly home with the technologies and features that should be prevalent in homes in the year 2020, thus illustrating to both the construction industry and the public that these technologies can be incorporated into new and existing homes today.

Water-efficient technologies include: a rainwater catchment system for landscape irrigation; a WaterSense-approved irrigation system; water-conserving plumbing fixtures (including WaterSense-labeled toilets and faucets); a greywater system to recycle water from the master shower to the master bath toilet; and point-of-use tankless water heaters.

As part of the Wisconsin Energy Star Homes Program, the Trend Home will be monitoring energy efficiency. Technologies include: Energy Star-rated appliances; a solar water heater; structured insulated panels (typically made by sandwiching a core of rigid expanded polystyrene foam insulation between two skins of oriented strand board); thermal massing; low-e windows to retain heat during the winter and keep the home cool in the summer; and passive solar design.

Universal design principles used in the home are higher electrical outlets, lower light switches, wider hallways and door entrances, a walk-in shower and wireless control systems.

Many of the homes products contain recycled content, including masonry on the driveway and sidewalk; drywall; carpeting; bamboo flooring; countertops; roof tiles; and steel I beams.

Recycling also meant construction waste management, and the goal was to recycle 75 percent of the waste on the construction site.

And there are many SmartHome electronics and controls to make the techno-geeks happy.

The home is now for sale, on condition that the homeowner allow the WBA Foundation to continue to monitor the home’s performance and use such data in future educational efforts. The proceeds from the sale will be used to provide a $200,000 grant to La Casa De Esperenza, which will help to train low-income workers in the construction industry; the remainder of the money will go to the WBA foundation, in a scholarship fund to attract high-quality students to a career in the trades.


These homes are created by architects (Ray Kappe and Kieran Timberlake) and feature modern design and functional amenities. LivingHomes include natural, nontoxic and sustainable materials. They are fabricated in specially equipped factories that ensure unsurpassed quality, lower construction cost and waste, and shortened schedules.

LivingHomes was the builder of the first LEED Platinum home, and now has 11 additional homes in production or development for LEED Platinum designation.

Homes designed by Kappe feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors. Timberlake-designed homes are designed to fit on small urban lots. Each architect has several models to choose from. Clients with land and/or special needs can also customize a LivingHome, but it must be at least LEED Silver certified.
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