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Artist’s Light-Filled House Wins LEED

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When artist Vera Scekic and her computer-programmer husband Robert Osborne built their transparent light-filled solar-powered home, they shocked the neighbors by building a house you can see through, right through to Lake Michigan.

But their aesthetic was influenced by her playful paintings that evoke biotic forms. She wanted a white house that is sensitive to the somewhat offbeat palette of her paintings: oranges, yellows, olives…and white. Lots of it.
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“We wanted a house with some levity,” she told the New York Times.

The Architectural firm Johnsen Schmaling Architects was considered by the AIA for the 2010 awards for this house. The jury noted: “The skillful design of this house is well detailed and precise. The street-side elevation and massing are very clear and well done. Its structure is very thoughtfully done where you can see through the building to the water. An infill site, the house is respectful of the scale of the neighborhood. There are some very nice moments in this one. It’s nice to see the color.”

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At a just-right size – under 1,900 square feet, their home is neither as huge as most new houses built in the US, nor impossibly tiny for a family including a couple of ten-year-olds. This area of the lake is an industrial warehouse city, where what homes there are tend to built by Habitat for Humanity.  Other artists live nearby.
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The home goes far beyond LEED with two solar systems, both traditional PV and the newer thin-film, that needs more space to make the same electricity, were used. An on-grid solar home, the excess power their system produces goes to the grid.

Their utility pays them nearly twice as much for the energy they produce as it charges for the energy they use. And then there is solar hot water heating, as well, reducing their use of gas, in addition.

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The pair, who are both architecture school grads, were pioneers, in building this eco home – that is only the second to be LEED certified in Wisconsin. Robert wanted to test a ground heat exchange system, by tracking their savings, and  getting some hard data that others can put to use.

Surprisingly little is known about the efficacy of ground heat exchange systems that are still uncommon in the US. Sometimes they’re called geothermal power but should not be confused with the far deeper wells drilled for real geothermal power for utility-scale energy. IKEA and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are working on developing this data too.

Antifreeze is pumped through the walls from deep underground to heat or cool the house. Their 200 foot deep piping seems extreme , and at $100,000, (offset by a 30% tax credit, currently) this was a huge investment, but in a house built for longevity, should have real payback in reduced energy use.

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Inside, maintaining comfortable temperatures year round requires virtually no energy. As part of meeting LEED, it was evaluated for air tightness. A local building inspector was astonished at the air-tightness of the home, after doing the air-blower test.

Robert recounted that his response was “If it were any tighter, when you open the doors, the toilets would flush.”

Photos: Kevin Miyazaki for The New York Times
Source: New York Times

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