Weaning Off Groundwater: A house prepares for water savings.

Posted on September 21, 2010

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Best Green Houses

DesignBuild Collaborative
By David Sokol,Via:greensource.construction.com

Just outside Phoenix, a suburb called Fountain Hills boasts a centerpiece lake in which a giant nub shoots water as much as 562 feet into the air, on every daylight hour for 15 minutes. This columnar height makes the 40-year-old fountain the second tallest of its kind in the world, and it exemplifies old-school Arizona’s attitude toward water consumption: wasteful, arrogant, naiv

More recently Arizonans are waking up to the scarcity of water. State code now allows graywater recycling for irrigation. Moreover, architects like DesignBuild Collaborative founder Paul Weiner, AIA, are readying their projects for rainwater reliance.

In a good year only 12 inches of precipitation land on greater Tucson, where the DesignBuild-designed Rincon Mountain Residence is located. “Here, the attitude about water is conserve,” Weiner says, adding, “We get about 50 percent of our moisture during the summer monsoon, so what you really need to do to conserve water is to store it for use in the dry season.”

Currently the property includes a 20,000-gallon cistern—“essentially a masonry basement waterproofed with ThoroSeal,” explains project architect Ian Regan, LEED AP—located underneath the workshop/utility building. The volume is filled with groundwater provided by the local utility, but this won’t always be the case…

Photo © Liam Frederick
DesignBuild Collaborative

…A forthcoming 30,000-gallon cistern will receive rainwater to be subjected to a year of sampling. Regan says DesignBuild will then create a filtration system tailored to the contaminants found during testing, shut off the groundwater supply, and link the two cisterns to form a 50,000-gallon reservoir…

Photo © Liam Frederick

…Each roof system of Rincon Mountain Residence already includes gutter collection, downspout, and subsurface piping that will transport rainwater to the existing and future cisterns…

Photo © Liam Frederick

…In the meantime, gabion walls and berms control monsoon rains, directing it into swales and generally releasing that water more slowly so that it will percolate into the ground. Separate graywater systems at the main house and guest residence provide extra irrigation to the native landscaping…

Photo © Liam Frederick

…The design has an eye to adopting other sustainability strategies. To compensate for the project’s indulgent 5,200 square feet, as well as its floor-to-ceiling east-facing windows…

Photo © Liam Frederick

…the compound’s rammed earth and scoria walls provide thermal mass that prevents interior temperatures from swinging as wildly as they do in the Sonoran Desert…

Photo © Liam Frederick

…Harnessing the abundant sunshine further, 32-degree roofs facing slightly southeast boast photovoltaic arrays and evacuated-tube solar water heaters; the the homeowner is almost halfway done installing 18 grid-tied kilowatts of photovoltaic panels…

Photo © Liam Frederick

…DesignBuild and the client, a scientist and artist, are considering future plans that meld these active sustainable technologies, too. Someday, rainwater from the roofs will be pumped to solar or steam distillers, and then electrolyzed by the PV-produced electricity so that the hydrogen will be stored for use in fuel cells…

Photo © Liam Frederick

…Of course, that day will come when the price of fuel cells drops to a level with which the homeowner is comfortable—the reason why Rincon Mountain Residence is a green house in the making in several respects.

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Posted in: Green House