May 01, 2008
by Steven Castle
A green home? For Electronic House’s Home of the Year? Yes and you bet. For the first time, our grand-prize winner is an energy-efficient, sustainable home that’s made largely from environmentally friendly materials. And yes, it has plenty of electronics. In fact, the home’s control system, lighting and shading systems help to save energy.
Energy efficiency and sustainability are important to many of us today, and this home proves that you can be a good steward of the Earth while enjoying the benefits of the latest electronics. This graceful home combines a beautiful, environmentally responsible design with technology that makes it even more ecologically friendly. That is why it is our clear choice for the Electronic House 2008 Home of the Year.
“We’re trying to use our house holistically, so it doesn’t use as much of our resources,” says Kevin deFreitas, the homeowner, architect and general contractor.
The contemporary 4,200-square-foot Casa Futura, as it is known, is powered in part by 26 solar panels, two of which provide heat for the home’s hot water needs. It has water-saving features such as low-flow, dual-flush toilets and smart irrigation systems that water plants only when they need it. The home is constructed largely of recycled materials, with concrete radiant-heated floors and an efficient metal roof. Walls contain extra blown-in insulation, and the windows reflect heat and harmful ultraviolet light. Motorized blinds automatically shade the large windows to keep the rooms cool, and natural ventilation reduces the need for air-conditioning. All the appliances are Energy Star–rated for better efficiency, from the front-loading clothes washer to the low-water dishwasher. Highly efficient and long-lasting LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are used in several rooms as accent lighting, complementing energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and traditional incandescent bulbs on dimmers for energy savings. And a whole-house control system ties together the lights, shades, thermostats and other electronics into one easy-to-use system. The house is so efficient, it has achieved Gold-level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the de facto green building rating system of the U.S. Green Building Council.
DeFreitas estimates that the home is 60 percent more efficient than is required by California’s already stringent Title 24 standards for energy efficiency in new homes, with the solar panel array alone saving his family of six 50 percent to 70 percent in electricity costs, depending on the season. The system is “tied to the grid,” effectively selling power to the utility on all those sun-filled San Diego days.
While deFreitas doesn’t consider himself a high-tech guy, he did want some entertainment and convenience features for himself and his family. So the surround-sound systems in the family room and kids’ playroom use Energy Star–rated LCD monitors. Other entertainment options include a whole-house audio system with speakers inside and out for the enjoyment of deFreitas’ extensive jazz collection. There are iPod connections, computers and security cameras as well.
“Lighting was the biggest thing for me, because that changes the quality of the space in a big way. And music was really important to me, because I listen to it from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed at night,” the homeowner says. DeFreitas’ architectural studio is in his home.
DeFreitas got in touch with the electronics systems contractors at San Diego–based ONteriors, who showed him how he can store all his music on an 80-GB hard-drive server and distribute it throughout the house via Klipsch in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. The family even enjoys sounds in the courtyard from outdoor speakers. “Kevin wanted technology that’s affordable and that met his objectives in energy management,” says Dan Merrill of ONteriors.
The home entertainment systems and lights are operated by a Control4 home control system, allowing certain preset “scenes” that turn on only the lights needed for certain tasks. In addition, a built-in astronomical clock helps turn on some lights and exterior lights a half-hour after dusk each day.
These automated presets and the dimming of incandescent bulbs save a significant amount of energy, but deFreitas and ONteriors didn’t stop there. Occupancy sensors in the rooms trigger an energy miser scene that shuts off lights and reduces heating and air conditioning when family members leave the room. That scene also shuts off electricity to some televisions, laser printers and personal computers to eliminate parasitic energy loads—also called standby, phantom or vampire power—that many electronics consume even in their “off” states. (Any electronics with a remote control, clock or soft touchpad will consume a small amount of power when turned off but plugged in.)
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