Mother Earth Living

Raising the Barn: Modern Home, Old-Fashioned Design

A contemporary Lake Michigan home relies on good, old-fashioned design—with a twist
By Lori Tobias
January/February 2008
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Inspired by a country barn, this vacation home on Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay stays warm during frigid Wisconsin winters, thanks to energy-efficient features such as radiant in-floor heating and an air-to-air heat exchanger.
Photo By Barry Rustin
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With its many panes of glass and varied roof lines, Carol and Dave Klobucar’s house on Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay is very 21st century. At the heart of this Energy Star-qualified Wisconsin vacation house, however, are design concepts as old as the horse-drawn plow—and it’s those ancient ideas that make this red house green.

“If you go back in time, nearly all architectural elements were a direct response to climate influences,” says architect Nathan Kipnis, the Chicago-area architect who designed the 2,600-square-foot home. “These elements included roof shape, building orientation and window types. The local materials also influenced what was possible or practical. We took the best of those concepts and put them into this house.”

For the Klobucars, finding a green architect like Kipnis was the key to building in a way they’d long pondered, but didn’t necessarily understand. “I’ve always been interested in conservation,” says Carol, vice president and news director at Chicago’s WBBM-TV. “It just seems like the right thing to do.”

Starting at square one was daunting to the couple at first. “You can educate yourself on green issues, especially through the Internet,” Carol says. “But learning on your own can be tough, so we were happy to find an architect who was a strong advocate and taught us the best environmental practices out there.” 

Keeping cool with natural ventilation 

Kipnis still recalls with excitement the first time he saw Carol and Dave’s lakefront property—nearly an acre of land with lake views and private woodlands. “I was floored,” he says. “It is really amazing.”

The gorgeous views guided the design, but Kipnis also focused on two other considerations in shaping the house. “One of them is sort of a regional vernacular of a barn—an exploded barn,” he says. That form fit ideally with a second, more practical consideration: natural ventilation. “Old barn ceilings were sloped and the vents were up top to help the hay dry,” Kipnis says. On Lake Michigan, that same concept helps keep the weekend home cool even on hot days.

The Klobucar home is comprised of four distinct areas: A ground-level wing houses the master bedroom. The kitchen, family and dining rooms occupy an open space with vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows. The mechanical workings and guest rooms are located upstairs in a third area with a balcony and screened-in patio, and rising above it all is the ventilation tower, Kipnis’ favorite feature. “The ceilings are curved to direct the naturally hot air up into the ventilation tower,” he explains. “You can open remote-controlled windows at the top of the tower to allow the air to exit. Cooler air enters through the ground-level awning windows in the family room and is pulled inside naturally, creating a self-generating, gentle air flow.”

Interior pivoting windows in the upstairs guest bedrooms draw warm air up and out, and exterior overhangs block the worst of the summer sun.

Creating warmth in winter 

Because the family also visits in winter when the lakefront grows bitterly cold, Kipnis addressed the opposite temperature extreme by framing walls 50 percent deeper than in conventional houses to allow for extra insulation. For the walls he chose cellulose, made from recycled newspapers; in the ceiling he used Insoylation, a foam insulation partially made from soy oil.

Casement windows ensure a tight seal, and an air-to-air heat exchanger brings in fresh air while transferring its “conditioning” to incoming air. “When cold outside air enters the house, the warmer stale air that’s being exhausted transfers some of its heat to the incoming air, which improves energy efficiency,” Kipnis says.

In-floor radiant heat warms the house by piping hot water through tubing beneath the floors’ surface. “Once radiant-floor heating achieves the desired temperature it stays consistent, and the Klobucars can keep the house comfortable at 67 degrees,” Kipnis says. “The heat rises, and as long as your feet are warm, you’re happy. We’ve zoned the areas so they’re controlled by different thermostats. If no one is using the guest rooms, Carol and Dave turn down the heat in that zone.”

In the living room, Kipnis installed a high-efficiency woodstove. “Most fireplaces are wildly inefficient and ironically can act like air conditioners,” he says. “The hot air escapes up the flue, and the fireplace pulls in cold air through every crack in the house.” Instead, the combustion air for this wood-burning stove enters the house in a controlled way to maximize its efficiency. “An efficient woodstove is great for warming a home, especially if it can be centrally located as we did here.”

Kipnis’ keen eye for conserving energy has created a comfortable house. “We’re not spending an exorbitant amount to keep the place cool in the summer and warm in the winter,” Carol says. “It makes it less of an extravagance.”

Earth-friendly décor 

For interior finishes, the Klobucars followed their eco-consciousness. “We could have chosen less expensive materials, but we made a commitment to our health and the environment,” Carol says. She and Dave, a retired photojournalist, worked with designer Ann Hooe of Avenue Interiors in Northfield, Illinois. The kitchen has energy-saving appliances, recycled-glass terrazzo concrete countertops, and Neil Kelly cabinets. Throughout the house, the floors are built from bamboo and slate; in the bathrooms, the couple used recycled-glass Terra Green tile. “I’d buy this tile again,” Carol says. “It’s so beautiful in its simplicity.”

The house cost $205 per square foot, and the Klobucars believe it’s worth every penny. “I love this place,” Dave says. “Every time we come here, I keep thinking I really don’t want to go back. I love the design, the way the wind comes up through those low windows and goes out up the top.”

Carol agrees. “We’re so thrilled with this house in absolutely every respect,” she says. “This presented an opportunity that, frankly, I didn’t think we’d ever have—and that was to build a house that embraced our ideals.”  

A Conversation with the Homeowner

Would you do anything differently?Carol Klobucar: We put an energy-efficient fireplace in the bedroom, which gives the room romantic ambience. Because Nathan, Dave and I are from Illinois, it never occurred to us that the fireplace wouldn’t qualify for Wisconsin’s Energy Star certification. It turns out that Wisconsin’s Energy Star regulations are more strict than both the Illinois and the national programs. It was disappointing, but we ultimately applied for, and achieved, national Energy Star certification for the entire home.

Do you have any advice for someone building a green home like yours?Carol: It’s kind of a trifecta: You have to get an architect, builder and designer who understand your purpose, ideas and goals. The earlier you involve these people in the process, the better. Building is a journey, and theremare points of no return.

Also, you need a budget. You should decide how much you can afford and where to draw the line. You can spend a lot more money than you expected just because you are seeking out niche, natural products. I feel it’s worth it, but you need to know your limits.

The Good Stuff

■ Dense-pack cellulose insulation in walls

■ Hybrid cellulose/Insoylation foam at curved roof

■ Teragren low-formaldehyde, solid-strip bamboo flooring in bedrooms

■ Lopi Liberty wood-burning stove with sealedcombustion air

■ Energy-efficient Pella double-glazed, low-E windows with argon fill

■ 3form Reclaim acrylic panels for pivoting panel windows in bedrooms

■ Terra Green recycled-glass tile in bathroom

■ Benjamin Moore Eco Spec low-VOC, low-odor paints

■ Lochinvar Knight 93 percent efficient boiler system

■ Solatube tubular skylight

■ Neil Kelly bamboo cabinets

■ Concrete and recycledglass kitchen countertops

■ Energy Star–qualified appliances


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