The SunHawk: Green Building and Sustainable Design

John and Nancy Schaeffer built their solar home The SunHawk using green building and sustainable design. John Schaeffer has experimented with and taught about state-of-the-art green building and renewable energy systems throughout his career.

| December 2003/January 2004

Learn about green building ans sustainable design used in this solar home built by the Schaeffer family. John Schaeffer is the founder of Real Goods, a solar retail business and founded the Solar Living Institute, an environmental education nonprofit in Hopland, California.

The SunHawk: Green Building and Sustainable Design

When my wife, Nancy, and I started planning our dream homestead in 1998, our first thought was that our house needed to be far more than a shelter. We wanted our home to express our values and reflect everything we had learned from our 35 years of renewable-energy experience at Real Goods. We wanted to create a home that would promote sustainability by being energy independent, nontoxic and gentle to the environment, and we wanted it to be stunningly beautiful — a home to soothe the soul and nourish the spirit.

Three miles down a dirt road from Real Goods we found an idyllic piece of land with a breathtaking view of the surrounding valley. It was totally off the grid. off all grids there were no water or septic systems, and the nearest electricity and telephone service were a mile away. A seasonal creek isolated the property; to access it we had to build a bridge.

A Solar Home: Designing the Dream

This was a raw nugget of paradise where our dreams could be molded out of clay, literally. The soil is primarily serpentine clay, which makes gardening a challenge but pond-building a snap. Our first project after we graded the road was to dig a 10-acre-foot pond. We use the pond for recreation in the 110-degree California summers and as a source of passive cooling for our house.

Building lessons learned at the Solar Living Center taught us how critically important it is to plan your landscaping as an integral part of the complete homestead design — both for passive cooling and for personal serenity.

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