February 14, 2011
| by Steven Castle
Here’s a cool Home by many standards. It has the rustic thing going on with exposed wood and lights made from buoys. It has the feel of a casual luxury treehouse with multiple levels where rooms open to the great outdoors. It has some high-tech features such as a Colorado vNet whole-house audio, lighting and control system. And it’s all very green, energy-efficient and LEED for Homes Platinum-certified with a solar photovoltaic (PV) system that generates about 60 percent of the home’s electricity and a solar thermal system that provides hot water for the in-floor-radiant heat system.
All exterior lights in the Hillside House use energy-saving LEDs (light-emitting diodes), as do lights in the garage, closets, under counters and on ceiling beams, some of which turn off automatically when sensors notice that a predefined area is unoccupied. Samsung LED TVs provide energy-efficient entertainment. But one of the biggest ways this California home saves energy is by requiring no air conditioning. None. Instead, a high-tech yet simple ventilation system reduces the temperature in the house by as much as 10 degrees. Green builder McDonald Construction and Development in Oakland, Calif., has used similar systems in other green homes and calls it passive cooling.
Here’s what happens: Panasonic air intakes on the two bottom floors of this four-story house bring in cool, fresh air, while exhaust fans also from Panasonic rid the home of warm air at the ceilings on each level. (The home is built on a steep lot and has a footprint of only about 500 square feet per floor.) The airflow is regulated automatically by the vNet control system. Depending on the temperature in the house, between 8 and 10 every morning the intake fans turn on and bring in fresh cool air, and every hour for about 15 minutes, the exhaust fans turn on and expel warm air from the house. Motorized shades from Lutron can also help warm or cool the house by allowing sun in or blocking it out. Even the Hillside House’s A/V components contribute to its efficiency. For example, each touchscreen used to operate the Colorado vNet Vibe whole-house audio and video system has a built-in Class D amplifier, which is noted as a highly efficient amp. This design also allows the speakers to be connected directly to the closest touchscreen rather than to a central rack,which minimizes the amount of wiring required.
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates