In Vermont, Passive-Solar That Works

Architect Ted Montgomery keeps his earth-bermed home in the sun.

| July/August 1999

Call it a harmonic convergence. For architect Ted Montgomery of Indiana Archi­tecture & Design, the design and construction of his home near Burlington, Vermont, brought together values and passions—and possessions—that date back to his architecture-school thesis and earlier. Ideas about earth-friendly building and community living somehow got combined with such disparate pieces of his past as sculptures of a friend’s feet and the hot-water collector that once fueled “Solar Chow,” a solar-powered food stand he took to anti-nuclear rallies in the 1960s. Throw in stories about the handiwork of his seventy-something parents, whom he credits with influencing his core beliefs about architecture and living, and Montgomery’s unique, low-profile home gives new meaning to the term “personal space.”

“I use two slogans everywhere,” he replies when asked to sum up the architectural philosophy of Indiana Architecture & Design, which the Indiana native started in 1985. “I initiate my software with the slogans and sign letters with them. The first is, ‘Keep your home to the sun.’”

In the case of the 3,000-square-foot passive-solar home he shares with his wife Sarah on a half-acre lot in the Ten Stones Intentional Community—a shared-values housing development—Montgomery’s sun-seeking design began with a carefully chosen site. “We spent several years walking the lot and clearing it gently, trying to save the really magnificent trees. We actually staked out five different designs on the lot.” Montgomery laughs. “I’m my own worst client.”

The heart of the design is a greenhouse-like garden room, and the heart of that room is a proud white ash tree.

He finally settled in 1995 with the help of Sarah, a graphic designer, is a greenhouse-like garden room. And the heart of that room is a proud white ash tree. “We really rallied around that tree,” says Montgomery. “In fact, we designed the garden room so we could keep it.”

The garden room is the centerpiece of its energy-saving design. “Passive solar is the intent of the garden room,” he says. “At the moment it’s very low-tech.” In winter, the sun streams through the greenhouse-style roof and, “if it feels warm, I open the French doors, then go upstairs and open the doors there, too. The hot air rises and rushes into the upstairs rooms, and the cold air tumbles down the stairs. The house uses the natural convection of the air.”

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