A house for the future
December 22, 2011
The Rugemer’s house in Summit Park doesn’t just look cool, in the summer it is cool. And in the winter, it is warm, all the while remaining one of Utah’s most affordable eco-friendly houses. On the coldest, grayest days, the owner says it is still 90 percent energy efficient.
Jorg Rugemer is a professor of sustainable architecture at the University of Utah and when he decided to build his own house in Summit Park last year, he set out to make it a research project in passive building, constructing a house for his family of four that requires little to no heating or cooling and does not cost more than the average home.
"Building energy-efficient, green buildings is the standard in Germany [where Rugemer is from] and they are maybe five-percent more expensive to build," Rugemer said. "Over there, energy costs are so high it acts as an incentive for people to build smart. It is tough to implement green building here because it takes longer for people to see a return investment."
The Rugemers moved into the house in October, and said so far, their highest heating bill this winter hasn’t been over $30, and that includes the gas his clothes dryer uses. And his house only cost $122 per square foot to build, barely $5 more than the average house that is built to code costs per square foot.
"I wanted to show that you can’t use the excuse of expense to not build green," he said. "Overall, our house only cost $420,000 to build and we used as many local materials and labor as possible."
The house is specifically positioned on the lot on Parkview Place to allow as much sunlight inside as possible. Large south-facing windows warm the concrete floors, which Rugemer said retain the heat past midnight. In the summer, external sun shades shield the windows from high mid-day sunlight. He calculates that even on the longest day of the year, no direct sunlight will shine through the windows.
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"Because the sun is lower in the winter, it still shines in despite the sun shades," Rugemer added.
"The walls are three times more insulated than normal houses and a mechanical air exchange system keeps the warm air in the house," he explained. The air exchange system is one of the only mechanized aspects to make the house eco-friendly. Rugemer said he practices passive design, describing the concept as designing a building to a specific location to increase sustainability and reduce energy consumption.
"Technology not only costs more, but isn’t as energy efficient," he said. "Using the inhabitants to heat a house and the sun can work for anyone. The roof on our house is also flat. During the winter, snow piles on top of it and increases the insulation. If three feet of snow are on top of the roof, we are getting almost four times more insulation for free."
The Rugemers also discovered through energy monitoring of the house, that if they park their car in the garage, underneath the living room, it warms the house by an additional five degrees.
"The house has been a huge teaching tool for my students. My students can see how a holistic approach toward a building can work. Many of my students are interested in this type of design, but a lot of the market still has hesitation about it," Rugemer said, adding that he has spotted his students scoping out his house.
To help his students think about sustainable projects for the future, Rugemer is having them design a structure that could be constructed on top of the self-storage units in Park City.
"In this town, and in the future, utilizing all the space you can will become more of a necessity," he said. "And an energy-efficient green building does not need to be obvious."
Rugemer said the only visible difference between his house and his neighbors is his home’s minimalist fashion, with concrete and wood floors and white walls and furniture.
"I didn’t see the need to over-design it," he said. "We are going to fill it with all the stuff we have anyway and that will be colorful enough."
Instead of large paintings, the Rugemers have large windows. Positioned lower than normal, they allow the family to sit on the sofa and look directly out at the forest surrounding them.
"Half of all energy consumption and CO2 output is because of construction," Rugemer said. "The way we build our houses today will have a big impact on future generations. In Europe, you can see how global warming is beginning to affect the Alps and the snow. We need to change something, and that’s what I wanted my house to be, a model for how we can make easy changes. People need to ask themselves if they need all the extra space in their house and what they can do to live more energy efficient."
Rugemers’ house will be studied at the University of Utah’s architectural research center so students can examine passive building techniques. Rugemer hopes to implement the same techniques with 10 workforce houses he plans to build on Rossi Hill near Deer Valley Drive in the upcoming years.