Magazine article Sunset

The Plan Is Open, the Energy Efficiency Is High

Magazine article Sunset

The Plan Is Open, the Energy Efficiency Is High

Article excerpt

The plan is open, the energy efficiency is high

Cut into a hillside, this 1,230-square-foot solar house settles into its wooded site without losing sight of the sun. The sloping lot allows guests to enter on the northfacing upper floor; the level below is partially protected and insulated by the hill. For maximum solar gain and a view over the countryside, most of the windows are on the south-facing wall.

Architect Michael Rubenstein of Healdsburg, California, gave the energy-efficient house an informal, open plan. The entry balcony, master bedroom, and a bath perch above a combined kitchen-living-dining area and a second bath. The downstairs opens to a courtyard defined by a curving wing wall that extends from the bermed west side of the house.

The house combines active and passive solar elements. In winter, the sun stays low in the sky, so its rays penetrate indoors where tile floors soak up heat. As hot air builds toward the second-story ceiling, it's drawn off by a fan mounted in the hollow pipe of the spiral stair. This heat flows to a vertical rock bin behind the fireplace wall. At night, the rock and floors release heat to living spaces. A solar hot-water system works year-round.

In summer, extended eaves block the higher sun, while excess house heat is dumped into the rock bed. …

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