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ew house, by Nauhaus, in West Asheville

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6/2/2011 - New house, by Nauhaus, in West Asheville
by Paul Clark

Off a busy street in West Asheville full of traditional homes is what Jeff Buscher believes is a glimpse of the future.

It's his family's home, an energy-smart, three-level house whose walls are made of hemp. The way the house is built, it uses very little energy - 85 percent less than a conventional house built to code.

On the coldest night of the year, it loses only as much heat as that given off by 10 people sitting around chatting. "On a 20-degree night in January, we had a party of about 20 people and had to open windows," Jeff said.

The house was a project of The Nauhaus Institute, an Asheville-based group of volunteer building-science professionals working to make affordable carbon-neutral building a reality. The institute, of which Jeff is a member, spent a year designing the house, which is fashioned in the form of a European farmhouse.

The continental influence isn't accidental. The energy standards the house was designed to and built by are the German Passivhaus standards, which Jeff believes are far ahead of the green gold standard in the United States, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

"The average house in Germany is 870 square feet. The average house in the United States is 2,200 square feet," Jeff said. "They are ahead of us. But that's - the smaller size, more efficient - the way we're heading."

Big little house

The squat house, partly sided in cedar shakes, has three levels and gives the impression of being large. But it isn't. It achieves its snugness via small rooms, narrow passageways and a small kitchen that is as much a part of the living room as the loft that looks down over it. The house is cozy, and is pleasant - something it gets through the use of interior windows and its high ceiling.

Hemp, hemp hurray

The walls are built with Hempcrete, a mixture of lime and ground-up hemp plant stalks. Mildew- and fire-resistant, Hempcrete is a natural deterrent to insects. Hemp walls last hundreds of years. And because they're thick in the Buscher house (16 inches), they're quiet. The quadruple-pane windows are far more efficient at keeping out heat and cold than more conventional double-paned windows.

Paying for itself

Jeff said building a super-tight and -efficient house like this costs about half again as much as building a more conventional structure. But the energy savings and tax credits are significant. "It's incredibly comfortable, and a really good size," he said. "To walk around in February in a T-shirt and be totally comfortable is kind of crazy. To me, it's almost magical the way this house works."

From the ground up

The bricks in the main level floor were created from earth taken from the site. Cemented by mortar made from soil on the property, the bricks also compose some of the walls on the lower level. The house also has a lot of outdoor space, from the patio off the walkout basement to the open-air dining room (soon to be enclosed by windows) and the sleeping porch off the master bedroom.

 

Nuts and bolts

The home: A 1,750-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home built in the style of a European farmhouse, with Craftsman elements. It has a 450-square-foot "mother-in-law" apartment downstairs.
The homeowners: Jeff Buscher, a registered engineer at Essential Systems Engineering who specializes in energy analysis and mechanical systems design, and Jeannine Buscher, who co-owns Buchi, which brews Buchi Kombucba, a fermented tea. Also at home is their 8-year-old son, Jackson.
Defining aspect: In 50 years (once the planned photovoltaic panels are up), this house should absorb enough carbon and pollutants to pay the earth back for the carbon needed in its construction.
Design team: The Nauhaus Institute, Asheville.
Builder: Matt Yeakley at Red Shed Woodworks, Marshall.
Project manager: Clarke Snell, executive director of the Nauhaus Institute.

 

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