Natural, sustainable and energy-efficient designs & materials:

Passive Solar Design: Passive solar design can be integrated into traditional southwestern styles, or used in more contemporary designs that maximize solar efficiency to provide up to 90% of home heating demands. The basic design concepts used to reap the benefits of solar energy for use in heating or cooling a building include:

  • Proper solar orientation generally requires southern exposure for the broad axis of the home.
  • Proper ratio and placement of glazing determines the amount of solar gain, or the amount of sunlight falling on the home that can be captured and stored as useable BTU’s of heat energy.
  • Proper ratio of glazing to thermal storage involves the storage of solar energy in floors, walls, or other sources of thermal mass, which may be adobe, concrete, stone or water features incorporated into the homes interior design.
  • Proper shading involves the use of correctly placed and sized roof overhangs (eaves), awnings, and moveable blinds to prevent overheating from solar exposure during the changing seasons.
  • Solar cooling involves the proper placement of operable windows or vents to create a thermal convection flow, exhausting hot air and pulling cooler air into the building.
  • Earth sheltering involves the use of earth as a means of reducing heat loss from the buildings exterior, and for sound insulation, by using earthen berms or excavation to nestle the home into a south-facing hillside.
  • Super-insulation involves going beyond the code-mandated standards for insulating material in walls, floors, or roofs to maximize heating and cooling performance in the solar home. Available alternative materials include; formaldehyde-free fiberglass, recycled cotton fiber, cellulose, or “Perform” wall systems, made from recycled foam waste products.

Off-the-Grid Systems describes the independent electrical power systems used in homes that are too far from existing utility power lines, or as backup for on-the-grid homes during utility power outages. Independent power systems may use a combination of solar photovoltaic panels, wind or small hydroelectric generators, which are combined with storage batteries, controllers, and inverters which convert the direct current of these devices to normal voltage (110v/220v) for conventional lights, appliances or tools.

Living off-the-grid enables homeowners to live well, with all the modern conveniences, in remote or rural areas where land is often less expensive, without the expense of running power lines or paying high utility rates. The state of the art components of these systems available today offer trouble-free service, with minimal maintenance by the homeowner, while providing the satisfaction of obtaining your power supply from the free, natural elements of sun, wind or water.

The expense of independent power systems may add 10-15% to the overall cost of a new off-the-grid home, which is recouped over 10-15 years in utility savings.

Reclaimed timbers for Post & Beam: These are old-growth timbers from early 20th- century industrial buildings in older urban areas. As these 100 year-old factories are dismantled to make way for modern construction, the large beams, up to 24”x 24”, are available for re-milling or used as-is. Reclaimed oak flooring and other woods are also available.

Post and beam construction spans from traditional timber frame and log cabin, to Japanese and Craftsman styles. It features the simplicity of natural woods used for the structural element of the home, with custom joinery shown for emphasis on the quality craftsmanship.

Straw bale: Straw bale merits consideration as one of the choices for the in-fill wall material used with a post and beam structure. Its’ ultra-high insulation value and relative low cost make it useful, especially for a north wall with few windows or doors, or where a thicker wall is desired. The recent popularity of bale walls continues to grow because of the unique features it offers for the alternative home.

Perform Wall Systems: This is a newer material, previously available as “Rastra” block, which is made from recycled polystyrene and cement, and cast into blocks of various sizes. The blocks contain a hollow grid that is filled with rebar and concrete to form the structural walls of the building. The ease of wall assembly with this system, along with its high insulation value and design flexibility make Perform wall systems an attractive choice for the alternative builder.

Pumice: This wall system uses a low-density concrete mix of volcanic pumice, Portland cement, and water, which is poured into forms and cured to make the structural walls of the building. It is a tough and durable material that offers flexibility in shaping curved or arched wall sections, and features excellent insulating value and other economical and ecological advantages. This material can work well in a hybrid design using other wall materials such as adobe or straw bale.

Adobe: This is the age-old sun-baked mud and straw brick, used world-wide for thousands of years, and refined by the Spanish culture of northern New Mexico into a durable building system. The marriage of this ancient material with passive solar techniques and timeless southwestern designs has produced an energy-efficient and beautiful style for the modern alternative builder. Adobe walls with natural mud plasters offer the appeal of simple earthen beauty. Adobe is used for its excellent property of thermal mass, as a heat storage medium for direct solar gain, and for its sculptural qualities in arches, nichos and bancos. In combination with the natural wood of viga and latilla ceilings, floors of flagstone, brick or saltillo tile, and other southwestern architectural features, adobe continues to be a popular choice for beautiful alternative homes.

Cob: This is another age-old earthen material that offers sculptural flexibility and ease of use. Originally used over a latticework of reeds and grasses to form walls in early dwellings, this material may be used in a variety of ways. Mud is mixed with straw and shaped into “loaves” that can be layered onto walls much like bricks, or applied into forms as infill between post and beam structures. Cob can be used to form imaginative bas-relief designs on walls or fireplaces.

Stone: Many local and regional quarries offer a choice of flagstone, sandstone, quartz, travertine and others to provide decorative finishes of the highest quality. Floors, fireplaces, countertops, windowsills, benches and landscaping features make strong functional statements in stone. We like to enhance every project with some custom stonework whenever possible.

Metals: The use of structural steel in buildings can help lessen the demand for wood that is depleting our forests. With a huge amount of recycled metals available in different forms- metal studs, columns, beams, flooring and roofing panels- these can all be used in conjunction with natural materials to make a sustainable housing solution that minimizes demand for new resource depletion. Our crew includes licensed welders for expert on-site fabrication.

Non-toxic insulation and finishes: This includes non-formaldehyde fiberglass, cotton-fiber and recycled paper insulations, and water-base and low-VOC paints and stains, and natural wall, floor and ceiling treatments.