Imagine a home designed to be aesthetically pleasing yet able to produce the kind of sustainable energy savings that qualifies it as a zero-energy home.  Such a home exists – and it doesn’t require homeowners to purchase expensive gadgets as a trade-off for energy savings. All it requires is a responsible, climatically appropriate design.  “A house should be designed to be miserly enough without needing a bunch of expensive equipment,” said Peter Pfeiffer, a prominent architect and principal with Barley|Pfeiffer Architecture.
The concept of green building is hardly a new one and has been in existence in some form or another for over 50 years, Pfeiffer said.  As energy prices continue to climb, so does the desire for energy efficiency among homeowners.  But the way in which many builders and homeowners choose to go about it is not ideal for the Austin climate.
“You have to design homes to respond well to the sun,” said Pfeiffer. “That’s a big liability of probably 99 percent of the homes in this area.” It is a concept Pfeiffer successfully brought to the high-end home market in Austin a decade ago, and the homes have only gained in popularity since they first were introduced. The homes originally were created for a Los Angeles-based developer who wanted to bring the same climatically appropriate, mid-century modern residential architecture found in California to the Austin area.
The result is the Austin Modern. The homes were designed with an emphasis on an open floor plan that still offered significant privacy for its occupants. The home’s linear layout encourages cross-ventilation and maximizes the benefit of Austin’s southerly location. From a design perspective, the home is built through a holistic green-by-design approach. It achieves maximum energy efficiency by incorporating a lower-pitched roof with broader overhangs that not only offer good solar shading, but also maximize access to naturallighting to reduce the use of artificial light, which will in turn produce energy savings.
Other design features that add to the energy efficiency of this home include a tight envelope that uses spray polyurethane foam and a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system designed to make use of positive house pressurization.
In addition to its energy efficiency, these homes also meet the indoor air quality mandates that qualify it for the Healthy Child Healthy World program.  Homes that are built with attached garages can inadvertently allow unhealthy air to circulate through the home through its ventilation system, Pfeiffer said, which is why his homes include a separate storage area for lawnmowers and chemicals.
“All that yucky stuff that people store in their garages can be sucked back into their homes,”he added. “Indoor air quality is important for the health of not only children, but everyone living in the home.” Other features that help to keep the home healthy are the use of hardwood or ceramic flooring instead of wall-to-wall carpeting, and swimming pools that are built with deionizing systems instead of chemicals that can be inadvertently sucked back into the home.
Pfeiffer said his firm uses a computer-based energy analyzing program to track the performance of their homes. “With at least half of our homes, we go back and ask the owners how they are performing and if they have been pleased with the results,” he said. “The data we’ve been able to collect indicates our homes use one-fifth to one-eighth of the electricity of what a typical home of that size would use.”