Building A Green Home From Scratch

Barney Leonard and his wife are building a green house. Really green. So green, his architect camped out at the raw site to get a better sense of how a house might best fit into the surrounding Chester County countryside west of Philadelphia.

You can follow the progress of 60 Bragg Hill on a detailed, highly professional website Leonard has created. The site provides insight into the process of building a house—involving engineers, contractors, environmental consultants, botanists, foresters and landscape architects—that’s a world apart from the admirable but cookie-cutter energy-efficient homes popped up by big developers. The fact of the website’s existence tells you a lot about how challenging constructing such an environmentally conscious home can be.

image via Barney Leonard, LLC

“It’s partly about helping pay for the project,” Leonard said about the website, which is populated with the logos of companies involved in 60 Bragg Hill. “Sponsorships are a way to bring down the added costs of this sort of construction.” Leonard didn’t want to get too specific but said there was a second reason for the website: to help cut through red tape. “Sometimes simply making something public can motivate people to do the right thing,” he said.

When it’s completed—a day Leonard can scarcely imagine, given the complexity of the project—60 Bragg Hill will feature a 43-panel 9.7 kilowatt photovoltaic solar array, geothermal heating and cooling, and a rainwater collection system used for toilet flushing and plant irrigation, according to a press release Leonard issued. The design also includes plenty of passive systems, including a solar tower, high thermal mass, integrated sun shades and highly efficient Marvin windows.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.