Building a sustainable house has as much to do with simple awareness and logic than it has to do with high-tech gadgetry. For this lake house in Omena, Michigan, DF&A used both. We started with understanding the path of sun and the wind, and overlaid that map with a map of life lived in a home—from waking up in bedrooms facing east, to enjoying cocktails in a living room facing west. Simple awareness, yes, but rendered precise with Ecotect software. To block the heat of the southern sun, we used a rain screen, an extra façade of IPE wood that provided a breathable shield, keeping the house from heating up and lessening the need for air conditioning. Window locations, calibrated with Ecotect software, obviated this need completely: the house can be cooled passively by lake breezes simply by opening carefully placed windows.
Designing the heating system inspired DF&A to challenge conventional wisdom. Many modern houses use radiant heat in the floors, based on the theory that heat rises. But convective heat rises; electromagnetic heat—like the sun’s—radiates directionally, like laser beams. We realized that if we used hydronic tubes hanging from the ceiling, we could warm people rather than the undersides of sofas and rugs. In the summer, on those few occasions when passive cooling isn’t enough, the client can run cold water through those same tubes to help keep the house cool. This innovative system produces a thermally active surface, one of many elements that contribute to the sense of the house as a tool, a tool that its occupants can work and use to make their lives as comfortable as possible. Another is the NanaWall, a wall of lightweight glass panels that divides the deck from the living room—or doesn’t, if the client chooses, with the push of a hand, to fold it up accordion-style to create one large indoor/outdoor living space.
A house that works with its occupants and its site is fundamentally a sustainable, sensible house. That no-nonsense approach served DF&A in the overall design of the house, as well. Conceived as a series of interlocking rectangular volumes, with a flat roof and standard dimensions, it was fast and simple to build. It’s small—just 1,400 square feet. And it’s relatively plain, saving money by forgoing additional trim and flourishes. For aesthetic appeal, we relied on the simple beauty of our materials (IPE wood, vertical cedar siding), and on a little extra effort from our environmental strategies. The airy rain screen that blocks the sun during the heat of the day becomes, from the outside at night, a Japanese lantern aglow with interior light.
DF&A's Omena House became the first private residence in Northern Michigan to achieve LEED-Gold certification and was featured in Architecture Daily. But we're proudest of the fact that it continues to be a beautiful, efficient living space that uses the earth's resources sparingly while bringing its owners abundant joy.
1. Ipe Wood Rainscreen
2. Cedar Wood Façade
3. Nana Wall – Operable Wall
4. Bamboo Wood Flooring
5. Paperstone Counters (Kitchens And Bathrooms)