Mother Earth Living

A Bright Idea: BrightBuilt Barn

With its super insulation and solar-power system, the prefabricated BrightBuilt Barn by Kaplan Thompson Architects and Bensonwood Woodworking Company produces far more energy than it consumes.
By Olivia Blanco Mullins
May/June 2009
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Energy Star appliances reduce consumption.
Photography By Naomi C.O. Beal and KTA
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Freezing Maine temperatures did not deter Keith Collins from building a home without a furnace. With its super insulation and solar-power system, the prefabricated BrightBuilt Barn by Kaplan Thompson Architects and Bensonwood Woodworking Company produces far more energy than it consumes. The home is on track to receive the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification—the group’s highest ranking.

Collins built the barn 100 feet from his home for use as a home office and studio. After moving in last November, the physician and entrepreneur says that the barn stayed “warm and cozy,” even in record cold.

Collins loves that he didn’t have to compromise beauty to be eco-friendly. “It doesn’t look like a science project. It is extremely attractive, and at the same time it is highly energy-efficient.”

The concept can be replicated in other climates and built for less than $200,000.

1. Moveable Walls: Partition walls can be moved for easy reconfiguration and renovation.

2. Solar Powered: “Our system on the BrightBuilt Barn has thirty 210-watt panels, for a combined system of 6,300 watts of grid-tied photovoltaics. That system will produce, on average, 660 kilowatts of electricity per month,” says Pat Coon of ReVision Energy, the company that installed the panels.

3. Super Insulation: The house has a tight envelope; its insulation rating is R-40. It employs structural insulated panels (SIPs)—two sheets of plywood with foam in between—for the roof; cellulose (made of recycled newspaper) and rigid insulation for the walls; and cellulose for the floors.

4. Window View: Translucent panels filled with Nanogel, an insulation product that lets in light, are above and below the windows. All windows are triple-glazed.

5. Separate Quarters: All plumbing and electrical wiring systems stand alone, making them easily accessible for repairs.

6. Knowledge: A ring of LED lights surrounding the outside of the house broadcasts its consumption and production: Red lights mean the house is consuming more than it is producing; green lights mean it’s producing more than it’s consuming.

Beyond Net Zero: Because the home has such a tight insulation system, heat produced by inhabitants and appliances is enough to keep it comfortable most of the year. The solar water heater and connected heat pump function as a backup heating system on the coldest days and nights. The solar panels produce more energy than the house consumes, allowing Collins to pipe energy back to the grid and earn utility credits.

Energy Meter: The barn’s energy is constantly monitored by three meters. One measures production and consumption; another calculates the number of average homes the barn could power at any given time; and a third measures the home’s progress toward offsetting the energy expended in its construction.

Big Enough: The barn is designed as a 700-square-foot home, but extra 4-foot pieces can be added in any direction to make it larger.

Pre-Fabulous: To reduce construction site waste, the barn was built at a facility where a computer cut each piece. Material waste at Bensonwood is less than 10 percent. The pieces were packed flat and delivered to the site.


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