In 1998, Dr. Richard and Katherine Homan decided to build a house that would be a model for the industry, a home combining state-of-the-art environmental technology with elegance and comfort. Neither had much relevant background, though Dr. Homan , an academic neurologist, enjoyed working with his hands. They spent a year educating themselves about the art and science of building an environmentally-advanced house, purchased $1,200 of cookie-cutter architectural plans and then heavily modified them, made thousands of decisions about design and materials, hired a builder (Enviro Custom Homes) and then managed almost two years of construction.
A year ago the Dallas City Council issued a Special Proclamation lauding the Homan creation, which by then had proved its worth for more than a decade, as the “first comprehensive green home” built in Dallas. The 4,000 square-foot house cost about $100 a square foot to build, and its energy costs are about 75% less than energy costs in a similar-size conventional home. At first glance, it’s just another elegant conventional Dallas home, and then you see the differences.
Ms. Homan took several of us through the house yesterday, and remarked that many of the house’s features that were considered “revolutionary” in 1999 are more ordinary now. Those features include:
* the concrete slab which serves as the house foundation has been left exposed in the house, but “scored” meaning finished, texturized and sealed so that it looks like floor tiles and in one place like elephant skin;
* countertops and fireplace (totally electric, only the illusion of flames) are made of scraps of marble and granite pressed together;
* the house is made of “structurally insulated panels” which consists of six inches of what looks like styrofoam glued between sheets made of wood chips of recycled natural wood pressed together;
* the mahogany doors in the house were salvaged from a hotel that was being torn down, with the door jams in the new house designed to fit those old doors;
* there are no nails in the house – everything is glued together;
* the roof has solar panels for house electricity and a solar hot water heater;
* there are ten pipes in the back yard carrying water down 300 feet to soil which remains 60 degrees F all year and then up 300 feet to heat or cool the home;
* house gutters feed into a rainwater collector system used to irrigate the garden;
* no concrete sidewalks – instead small square blocks with cracks in between to let rainwater go into the soil;
* the basic gray carpets in the bedrooms are made from recycled plastic soda bottles, and are “grandchildren proof;”
* trim is all natural wood to avoid off gassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) ;
* all paints were selected to avoid heavy VOCs, and there are high performance air filters to keep pollutants down for a “healthy house;” and
* the large yard is total xeriscape, meaning no supplemental awgter is needed for irrigation.
There are more innovative features, such as the large desk Dr. Homan crafted from discarded railroad ties, and Ms. Homan summarizes that “Everything in this house has been recycled in one way or another.” The Homans were amateurs as house builders, but determined amateurs, and discovered ingredients for their model house in many places, then mixed the diced ingredients together “like in Chinese cooking.” The house has gotten media attention, has not required significant repairs in its eleven years, and continues to be a guide for homeowners who want a big house with elegance and startling environmental efficiency. And now there are more professional builders available to do the discovering, selecting, and putting together house components that the Homans did for themselves.