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Green Craftsmanship: Milburn House

Currently under construction, this 5,500-square-foot house is at the high end of green building, in terms of both size and cost. The finishes are remarkable, with extensive tile work (Figure A), carved wood doors, heavy timber, and hard-trowelled plaster throughout.


Figure A. Beauty and durability are combined in this tile ceiling.

But beneath the appearance, the house is pure performance. It's built with Rastra (, an ICF made from recycled, postconsumer plastics (such as expanded polystyrene) mixed with Portland cement. The combination of insulation and high thermal mass is ideally suited for passive solar applications in the Southwest; plus, you get the usual strength, durability, sound attenuation, and fire resistance (Figure B). Because of the surface texture of the material, you can also apply stucco and plaster directly without the use of lath. This results in lower material costs, faster production times, and easier management with fewer inspections and fewer steps on the project schedule.


Figure B. Beauty and durability are combined in this tile ceiling.

Built to last. Durability is an important feature - rather than only looking at the up-front or initial costs, we also evaluate our buildings on the life-cycle cost. The reality is that someone will be paying for these homes, and there also will be a significant additional cost at whatever point the house needs to be renovated or demolished. Every time a house is taken to the landfill, the environmental impact is staggering. One of the very best things you can do is design a house for adaptive reuse and build it well enough that it lasts a long time. This house is designed and built to last, right down to the concrete countertops (Figure C).


Figure C. Comfort and aesthetics are integrated with thrift and practicality in green building. Note the concrete countertop, good natural light, and the point-of-use hot water heater soon to be installed.

Energy efficiency figures into this design as well, with high-efficiency boilers, radiant heat, passive solar gain, natural daylighting, natural ventilation (no air conditioning required), and a point-of-use hot water heater in the kitchen. The house was designed to fit the site, and accommodates the rugged terrain with minimal excavation and disturbance to the site. Erosion control has been accomplished with a series of rock gabions, which will support increased vegetation and wildlife habitat. Water catchment is accomplished with metal roofing, gutters, and underground plumbing for future use with a cistern. The landscaping incorporates reused flagstone and locally available river rock. The heavy timber in the great room was reclaimed from an old railroad bridge (Figure D), and the exquisitely decorated beams in the kitchen and dining room were recycled from another building that had been demolished. The wooden doors and carved room dividers are also reused from previous buildings.


Figure D. Heavy timber reclaimed from an old railroad bridge was used throughout the house, including the great room (top). Salvaged, decorated beams were used in the kitchen and dining room (bottom).

Indoor air quality has been addressed through the use of low-VOC paints and adhesives, the absence of carpeting anywhere in the building, formaldehyde-free cabinets, and adequate ventilation. --P.H. and S.H