Spreading Sunshine: A Solar-Powered Home in New Mexico

This gorgeous New Mexico home adds more than just elegance to its neighborhood--it also supplies renewable solar power to the neighbors.

| July/August 2008

  • Xeriscaping--native, low-water landscaping--replaces a water-guzzling grass yard outside the master bedroom. The water-conserving native plants are low-maintenance and beautiful.
    Daniel Nadelbach
  • Richard and Betsy found an antique cabinet door and mirror at a local shop and used them to add rustic character to the guest bathroom. The vanity countertop is stone; the sink, hammered copper.
    Daniel Nadelbach
  • A portal on the back side of the house is a naturally cool place to relax during the warm months. As in the rest of the house, the wood is from sustainable sources.
    Daniel Nadelbach
  • Vigas and el latillas, or peeled sticks, fram a skylight in the hallway of the house.
    Daniel Nadelbach
  • A locally crafted faux-antique door opens to reveal a window looking inside.
    Daniel Nadelbach
  • An adobe staircase winds to the rooftop where Richard, Betsy and their daughter often take in the sunset and 360-degree views of the mountains.
    Daniel Nadelbach
  • Fireslate counters made from concrete with recycled content; cabinets built from local, sustainably harvested pine; and sustainable cherry wood floors lend a warm, rustic feel to the kitchen.
    Daniel Nadelbach
  • Log rafters, or vigas, extending from the inside are capped in copper to prevent rotting.
    Daniel Nadelbach
  • Native wildflowers adorn a simple fence that keeps the dogs inside the yard and the rabbits and deer outside the family's garden.
    Daniel Nadelbach
  • This home's grid-tied solar energy system allows the homeowner's neighbors to use their electric surplus.
    Daniel Nadelbach
  • Vigas throughout the house were crafted from logs obtained from local wood from a fire-damaged area in the nearby Jamez Mountains.
    Daniel Nadelbach
  • The 2,500-gallon exercise pool requires a change of water only once every two years. "It's low-maintenance and low in water consumption," Richard says.
    Daniel Nadelbach
  • The living room fireplace and banco, both made from adobe and natural gypsum plaster, get plenty of use during the holidays when family and friends gather.
    Daniel Nadelbach

After six months of shopping for land on which to build their home, Betsy Armstrong and Richard Barr were thrilled when they found a fairly priced 1-acre lot in the midst of a neighborhood in the Santa Fe foothills. Their designer-builder was equally excited and eager to meet the infill site’s inherent challenges. “It was perched on a narrow ridge, and everything else had been built around it,” says Mitchell Smith, owner of the Santa Fe green building firm Solarsmith. “People thought it would be hard to build on.”

The neighborhood—full of large, elegant homes—also presented a challenge. Richard and Betsy wanted to create a home with the smallest footprint and the greenest design possible, but they knew it needed to fit in with the neighborhood. It wasn’t easy, but they managed to weave a lot of green into a 3,000-square-foot home that they—and their neighbors—feel good about.

Finding green

Among the hidden gems in Richard and Betsy’s home are twenty 140-watt rooftop solar panels, which generate the home’s electricity—plus extra for others in the neighborhood—using a system that “seeks out” the nearest energy need.

“They’re tied to the local grid,” Smith says. “There are no batteries in these systems. If someone is generating more than he is using—which is true on most days—and his neighbor has his AC on, the power will go to that neighbor.”

Smith also positioned the home to take advantage of passive solar heat. The house faces south to capture winter sun, and its sheltered west side helps protect it from New Mexico’s intense summer sun. Betsy and Richard enjoy views of the Jemez Mountains from the front door and can see the southern Sandia Peak and Ortiz Mountains from several windows. Clerestory windows 16 feet above the kitchen floor bring daylight into the home’s core and double as passive cooling vents.

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