Guest Post – from Janis Bookout
Janis Bookout is a local environmental leader and the Executive Director of Earth Day Austin.
It’s important to let yourself be inspired once in a while. On Sunday, Brandi Burton (founder of the Austin EcoNetwork) and I put on our summer sandals and toured seven of the eight houses on the 23rd Annual Cool House Tour. Aside from having a lovely time with my girl, I was truly inspired by the designs of the homes and the simple beauty of the tour experience. So I thought I’d share it with you.
First, Kudos to Texas Solar Energy Society and Austin Energy Green Building for creating a gorgeous, elegant experience while remaining unpretentious and true to the basics of sustainability. At each of the homes, there were volunteers to greet us and a place to take off our shoes (or cover them) so as to respect the home. Our very thorough booklet provided excellent details about the features of the home, but they were also reflected in signage. The home owners, architects and builders were on site to answer questions. And of course, there was ice water available at every turn to keep everyone hydrated. In the booklet were details about the architects and builders associated with each project.
Many of the Austin EcoNetwork readers are well versed in sustainability, and can imagine the kinds of features on display. However, there is something special about being welcomed into someone’s home and getting to see, smell, and feel sustainability integrated into a home. My own home is very small – often messy, and outdated. We do the cheap, chaotic version of sustainability at my house. Whatever–it’s all good. I love my messy life and stand by it. But to walk through those homes – there’s no word but inspiring. I was not able to view the house on Lime Creek Road, which is on the Travis Audubon Baker Sanctuary grounds (by Solluna Builders and Select Home Design). I can’t wait to go there soon and check it out, but we did check out the rest of them. Below are my favorite take-aways from each home.
The house on River Road integrated sustainable building materials and energy efficiency through natural lighting and design. The placement of large windows near trees and plants meant the rooms were filled with dappled light. Beautiful.
The house on E. 55th was impressive in its spaciousness given its size. The simplicity of the architecture and the decor made the one thousand square foot home feel like a much larger space. The small physical footprint translates to a smaller ecological footprint as well. With sunscreens, good ventilation and a lot of natural lighting, there was little need for any high-end sustainable technology. This also translated to lower demand on the solar installation and the ability to cover AC needs with a mini split. It all worked together for a very efficient, but elegant space.
The house on Richcreek was a great example of a solid remodel with energy efficient upgrades. The design choices were absolutely beautiful. By respecting the original landscape and the bones of the house, the remodel had a low impact and great improvements in efficiency, with the simple addition of insulation and thermally broken windows. It’s a great example of how mainstream remodels can incorporate sustainability.
The “treehouse” on Justin Lane was a great example of the marriage of repurposing, creative use of materials and efficiency. Mounted on a shipping container-turned-storage unit (and consequently framing a carport), the small two room unit utilized a mini split, natural light, natural ventilation. The solar-ready roof also captures rainwater, and the carport features EV charging. In particular, I loved the floor, which was made out of the least expensive composite wood and finished to show the grain. It looked great just as it is, and added a texture to the decor.
The Lockhart house was a bastion of energy efficiency and a beautiful design. Many of the same features mentioned earlier — strategic orientation, creative use of shade and natural light, energy efficient fixtures and ventilation, and lots of indoor/outdoor space. But what I was most inspired by was the architect and her business model. In addition to custom homes, the architect designs prefab sustainable homes with all the information and recommendations baked into the specs. While the builder and owner still need to make those choices, every aspect of making the sustainable choice is printed right there on the plans. Their goal? To make sustainable building easier, more accessible and more affordable for everyone. I walked away so inspired by the scalability of their model and their commitment to real people.
Here I will just pause and say these homes alone would have been great to learn from and experience. But two homes just blew me away…
The House on McCarty Lane
Walking past the turk’s cap and under the live oaks, my feet crunching on pea gravel, I could feel my blood pressure lowering. The whole property, with tin roof, screen porch and wild yard is integrated indoor and outdoor spaces. Inside, there was no AC on. Instead, they had the most excellent fans. Two from with long narrow blades, and the other oscillating. Who knew fan design could have an impact on sustainability – but of course it does. So do the ventable windows in the stairs leading up to the second floor. It was clear that they work, venting hot air out of the house while creating a lovely draft.
I also enjoyed standing at a particular corner of the stairs and looking out into every room in the house and beyond to the outdoors. The communication between builder, architect and owner was obviously strong. And I could tell when I spoke to them too.
The House on Louise Lane
This Net-Zero house was nothing less than stunning. Before you even talk about sustainability, you have to admit that every detail is perfect, and the overall experience of being in the home is that you are, in fact, home. It was so relaxing and comfortable to be there that I felt like taking a nap. It’s shocking that a house so big can have such a small footprint. The home uses geothermal air conditioning, combined with excellent fans. Under the very generous deck are huge rainwater catchment tanks that pull water from the tin roof (solar panels). These tanks are filtered and used to fill the large pool. 6,7000 gallons of it to be exact (shout out to Innovative Water Solutions). This water also fills the toilets and waters the plants. Their greywater system utilized one of the first such city permits. The office of sustainability designated the owner a Net Zero Hero.
I walked away from the day feeling restored and inspired. Thank you, Texas Solar Energy Society for a great experience. It was just what I needed.
P.S. Want to learn more about the companies who helped to build and design these homes? Check out the Cool House Tour website here.
Please note – editorials and sponsored posts are written by guest writers to inform and educate the community on a variety of different viewpoints, as well as to share information about local eco-friendly businesses and organizations. However, they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Austin EcoNetwork