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Environmental Friendly Homes
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Enviro Custom Homes says it all?a house that?s uniquely adapted to its surroundings, that?s part and partial to the homeowners? souls, and that conserves earth?s natural resources.

?Considering that this is the only planet that we have, our objective is to produce a system that will allow us to maximize the use of free resources?the sun, trees, orientation of a home in a manner that will allow it to heat and cool itself with a minimum demand for electricity,? said Richard Harwood, a builder for over 40 years, currently with Enviro Custom Homes, a division of BBH Enterprises, ?You can significantly reduce the payment you make to the utility company on a monthly basis by employing our system.?

?The first thing we do is to recognize that the there is free heat provided by our sun. And we know that the sun travels in the southern sky?east west?at two different angles. It?s highest June 21 and lowest December 21. With that in mind, we try to orient the house on the building site so we get maximum window on the south. That enables us to take advantage of the sun?s free heat that penetrates the windows and goes into the house. ?

The second element is to place hard surface materials under those south facing windows so that when the sun streams into the house, the sun?s heat will warm those materials. We call that thermal mass storage. We use materials such as stone, concrete, ceramic tile.? These materials have thermal mass so they heat up slowly and store heat from the sun and then slowly discharge that heat into the home. Now the house has two sources of free heat in the winter.

?In the summertime, what do we do when we don?t want solar penetration?? asks Harwood. ?We create an overhang?a roof overhang. And we calculate the length of that overhang with the position of the sun in the summer months. We calculate the dimensions from the bottom of that roof overhang to the bottom of the windowsill. And knowing where the sun is going to be, what position in the sky it?s going to be, we build that overhang far enough out from the house so it provides the shade for those windows.?

?But sometimes, there are aesthetic considerations, where people don?t want a four-foot overhang. So, we use deciduous trees to shade those window in the summer months, but a tree whose leaves fall in the winter.?

?To build as we do doesn?t mean that it?s got to be some square green building,? Harwood said. ?It can be the most elaborate home on earth. The important thing is that we can create our system within any design. Our function as your builder is to serve as your advisor to tell you what the ideal is.?

Harwood developed his philosophy more than 20 years ago as a result of a charitable project that he and his wife Barbara took on in Chicago.

?This particular family (the husband was legally blind) was spending 98% of their income (which was Social Security) to heat their apartment,? Harwood said. With the help of subcontractors to donate materials and labor, Harwood manage to seal the apartment and add insulation and carpeting. The project inspired Barbara to research whatever assistance programs were available, which were virtually none. And so, she began a campaign to create an awareness that the poor simply could not afford, even if they owned their home, they couldn?t afford to retrofit. Coincidentally at the time, Barbara interviewed another family, also on Social Security, but this time the family lived in an earth sheltered home with concrete walls that isolated temperature transfer.

?Their heating bill was one cord of wood per year of $75,? Harwood said. ?What we had here was a contrast?two families, identical income; one a charity case and the other happy, go lucky able to save.?

Since that time, Barbara has campaigned to get the government involved in energy efficiency and enable the poor to get long-term very low interest or no interest loans to retrofit. In Dallas, she has worked on planning commissions with the City of Dallas, and she has written The Healing House.

In his capacity as builder, Richard began building energy efficiency into his homes constructed in Chicago and in Dallas, where he was invited to do a pilot program to build a three bedroom, 1? bath, energy efficient home under $70,000 with guaranteed heating-cooling bills not to exceed a dollar a day. The results of that project are twelve homes in downtown Dallas at Esparanza de Sol (Hope of the Sun) on Prairie and Ross. And these homes incur about 85 cents energy costs per day.

Enviro Custom Homes developed out of the precepts developed for the low-income home only the strategy is adapted for all homes?including the luxurious.

?We will work with a client from the very beginning in order to take the homeowner?s ideas and work with the architect to make sure that the technical issues are incorporated into the house, Harwood said. ?The first thing we do is to recommend that the owner not purchase the lot until we?ve had a chance to see it. Why?because then we can look at the lot and say this is going to work ideally as passive solar or it is no. Then, we?ll say based on the lot?s orientation, the south side is over here and this is where you need to put your maximum windows. You may say, that?s looking into the wall of a factory. I don?t want to look at an old factory wall; I want to look where there?s a beautiful lake?the west side or the north side. It?s OK. There are things that we can do. We will recommend a porch that will in effect create a reasonable amount of west sun screening because of the fact that that porch roof is probably going to come out 10-12 feet with a little sitting area. The whole point is we know what needs to be done to achieve the numbers.?

Other Enviro Custom Home features include structural insulated panels for wall and roof support, roof-line insulation rather than floor-board insulation, a Geothermal System for heating/cooling using the earth?s ambient 63 degrees for temperature exchange instead of a conventional air heat exchanger, and a heat recovery ventilator.

?This is really critical, the heat recovery ventilator; it brings in fresh air and discharges stale air because the house is so tight, we need to create an air circulation system,? Harwood said. ?We build for families with allergies.? So, the task is to select building materials that will no out gas formaldehyde or other allergic or toxic products.

Now we get to this issue of the home as a cathedral?the home needs to reflect your soul so that the feelings you get living in this cathedral are very spiritual positive feelings.

?We all meet at the building site and begin to visualize something based on your own feelings,? Harwood said. Thus begins a most incredible living experience?a home that reflects your soul, your personality, your needs, and makes you feel good.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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