A Rustic Zero Energy Home

This house in north Texas creates all the energy it needs.
By Beth Beavers
June 22, 2010
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The house uses low-and no-VOC paints, stains and adhesives.

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On the edge of Eagle Mountain Lake, just northwest of Fort Worth, Texas, sits green builder Don Ferrier’s latest masterpiece — a zero energy home. Sandwiched between trees and shrubs, the house is a rustic, two bedroom home with a deep front porch. The exterior siding and interior beams are made of reclaimed barn wood, giving the home a classic, aged look. This house, which Ferrier calls the “zero energy casita,” looks like it has been here for years. In fact, it’s a brand new, eco-friendly home thanks to the insulation, wind turbine and many other influential features that leaves him with no energy bills. 

Ferrier is no stranger to green home building. His first green building was an earth-sheltered home that he built in 1982. By 1985, he was designing green homes and using structural insulated panels (SIPs), which are energy-efficient building panels that are made by sandwiching pieces of polystyrene between two pieces of oriented strand board (OSB).  He still uses these today to make all of his buildings energy efficient.

“I stumbled into it and I can’t take credit for being a visionary,” he says.

“Once into building green we were totally on board and passionate. I love it that we have made such a positive difference in so many folks’ lives.”

In 2004, he founded Ferrier Custom Homes with his daughters and long-time construction supervisor, Tom Grywatch. Ferrier went on to build the first LEED platinum home in Texas, won the 2007 Green Building Advocate of the Year award from the National Association of Home Builders and was named one of the “Godfathers of Green” by the Dallas Builder Association. Ferrier Custom Homes only builds custom homes and the company is involved in the entire process. “Proper planning and design are essential to high performance building,” Ferrier says.

When designing the zero energy casita, Ferrier’s No. 1 challenge was the hot Texas climate. Ferrier designed the casita to be air tight and well-insulated by using SIPS and low emissivity (low-e) windows. Ferrier also chose a galvanized metal roof (because its silver color will reflect up to 73 percent of heat from the sun), and installed a radiant barrier, Tyvek Home Wrap, to keep heat and water out.

Because the house is tightly sealed and well-insulated, it holds in heat extremely well. That’s an advantage in the winter, but during the summer it’s a potential problem. However, the large front porch is designed to delay the sun from hitting the windows until late in the day. A 50-foot oak tree and 40-foot shrubs around the house also help block the sun in summer and keep the house cool. Because of the hot climate, Ferrier also decided to install a high performance air conditioner. He chose an air conditioner with a 16 seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), which measures the equipment energy efficiency during the cooling season. This is higher than both the national requirement of 13, and Energy Star standard 14.

According to Energy Star, the average, non-Energy Star home in North Texas experiences 13 air changes an hour, and the average Energy Star home has six air changes an hour. Every time the air conditioner turns on in an hour indicates an air change. In contrast, the tightly insulated zero energy casita, experiences only one air change an hour. That improves the efficiency of heating and cooling, but to be sure the home gets enough fresh air, it also has a fresh air intake.

Ferrier knows the importance of good air quality, so a HEPA air filtration system and central dehumidification system were also installed. He was careful to use products without volatile organic compounds (VOC) and formaldehyde, so the interior was painted with low- or no-VOC paint.

But to be a zero energy home, it must contain a source of power. Wind energy was a natural choice for Texas, which has the most wind power potential of any state, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. To utilize this energy, a Skysteam wind generator was installed in the backyard of the casita.

In addition to using recycled construction materials, 80 percent of the construction waste from the casita was recycled. Tree trimmings were reused as mulch for flower beds and newly planted trees.

You can visit the Zero Energy Casita website to learn more about this green home. For more about green building concepts, including structural insulated panels ( SIPs ), efficient ventilation and home wind turbines , check out our Archive.

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Post a comment below.


9/16/2013 9:52:37 AM
CeliaJ is correct, not much information more just another advertisement by Mother Earth for some contracting company! The materials listed in this construction are expensive and while they possibly have a good life span, there are still questions about truly long term viability versus effectiveness. :( Too many questions, too little real information, too many articles like this in Mother Earth any more. :(

9/13/2013 10:07:02 PM
This article would be much more useful to me if it contained actual information about the home. How big is it? What did it cost a square foot to build? With so little air exchange, how is the air quality issue addressed? How many kilowatts of power is being generated? How many kilowatts per square feet in the home? What is the average energy useage per square foot in that climate? What is the average energy useage for the featured home? Facts -- NOT advertising -- would help the reader to understand the value and effectiveness. :)

9/13/2013 10:06:46 PM
This article would be much more useful to me if it contained actual information about the home. How big is it? What did it cost a square foot to build? With so little air exchange, how is the air quality issue addressed? How many kilowatts of power is being generated? How many kilowatts per square feet in the home? What is the average energy useage per square foot in that climate? What is the average energy useage for the featured home? Facts -- NOT advertising -- would help the reader to understand the value and effectiveness. :)

9/13/2013 1:03:22 PM
I would be interested to know the total cost for this home. How much energy did it cost to manufacture and ship the energy efficient component? How much did they cost to purchase and install? This home is not as energy efficient as you claim I'm sure. Maybe in twenty years when you recoup your costs. By that time it will be time to start repairing and replacing components. Sorry, this article gets an F.

S Knapp
6/26/2010 12:37:03 PM
I am curious about the VOCs released by the SIPs. Surrounded by OSB which is glued together it seems like it must release VOCs. In the reading I have done, it is usually suggested that this type of wood should be avoided to preserve indoor air quality. I imagine they could have used OSB with a more natural glue but I don't know how any normal family could afford such a specialized product.

Nathan Hetrick_2
6/25/2010 12:14:08 PM
I'm curious how much this small house cost to build. One of the major roadblocks to building homes like this is that usually the cost per square foot is higher than average since energy efficiency costs more at the start-up even as it saves you money in the long run. It's one of the reasons why I haven't built an energy efficient house - don't have the capital or buying power for a mortgage that high.

6/25/2010 12:04:28 PM
I'm very much in favor of this kind of "smart" construction and yes, careful planning does cost a little more but the payoff is huge over time. Not just for utilities but maintenance -- for example, here in the northeast home heating furnaces only have a useful life of 20 years at most. Then the homeowner bears the cost of replacement. I would like to see a critical look at the structural panels, and the total environmental effects of the materials used. Also, I'd like to know how super-tight homes provide fresh air without losing head (or cooling). Thanks for the article.

6/25/2010 10:11:26 AM
I live in Mississippi and we too have a metal roof. to be honest it doesn't seem that loud to me. Yes you an hear the rain but for me I think it helps keep me connected with nature in a weird way... LOL If I couldn't hear the rain I think that would feel strange.... I guess it's what you are used to :)

6/23/2010 9:58:44 AM
Don't know if they get hard rain or hail in Texas.. if so it would sound like an invasion on that galvanized roof! Cool story though, I dream of building a zero-energy home.

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