Graphic designer Chandra Hayes knew that once she built her dream home, she would be "done with visual clutter."
Hayes also would be done with electricity bills of as much as $1,000 per month.
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Her former 4,400-square-foot residence constructed in 1953 "sucked energy," while wide eaves kept it cold and perpetually shrouded in darkness. About a half-mile away on the same West Griffin Creek Road property, Hayes oriented her new home toward abundant sunshine that heats the structure via passive-solar design. With an expansive view of hillsides and a verdant valley planted in fruit trees, Hayes considered any architectural flourishes "extraneous."
"We wanted to blend in," she says.
The 2,550-square-foot, one-story edifice near her partner's 15-acre peach orchard purposely evokes agricultural utility, says Hayes. The design is so unassuming, jokes architect Carlos Delgado, that neighbors may think it's a chicken coop.
A straightforward roofline, corrugated-steel siding and brick-red paint accentuate the industrial esthetic. Since the home's completion in May 2010 after eight months of building, its steel components — awnings, screens and rain chains — all have started rusting, much to Hayes' approval.
"I kind of like the evolution factor here."
The eclectic yet minimalist decor evolved as Hayes, 58, pared down belongings from her former home, introducing pieces one at a time to the new site. Leather chairs and sofas, hand-woven rugs and wooden carvings soften the cement floors warmed with radiant heat. Natural-finish fir casements showcase sunlight, while drop-down, fir-plank ceilings accommodate sound-system wiring and can lights.
Lighting is dimmable fluorescent, halogen or light-emitting diodes. Now costing just $50 per month, electricity is practically negligible to the home's energy needs, says Hayes. A propane boiler heats the floors underfoot. Solar energy heats water stored on the roof, then mixed to precise temperatures in a propane-fueled, on-demand system. On a cloudy spring day, the water is 102 degrees solely from solar.
Lacking forced air, the structure is cooled with evening breezes pulled by a whole-house fan through strategically placed windows. During a few 100-degree days last summer, the interior did reach 80, admits Hayes, adding that she has a high tolerance for heat and was willing to forgo conventional cooling to conserve energy and save money.
It's unusual for homeowners to opt out of air conditioning without trees to provide some shade, says Delgado. But he asks clients to gamble on temperatures occasionally exceeding 77 degrees. The Ashland-based architect specializes in eco-friendly construction.
"If you're willing to make a slight adjustment, then you can eliminate a whole system," says Delgado.
Structural insulated panels that compose exterior walls also seal the home and prevent temperature fluctuations. Hayes chose the prefabricated product for its high R-value long before breaking ground. She also selected paints, plasters and finishes with low or no volatile organic compounds because her home is so air-tight.
With one of the lowest leakage scores ever recorded, Hayes' house earned the highest rating — platinum — from Earth Advantage, a nonprofit education and certification agency for the Northwest's construction industry. One of just 10 or 12 residences locally with that distinction, Hayes' was the "gem" of Earth Advantage's annual Green and Solar Home Tour, says local representative Fred Gant.
"It's really striking," says Gant. "It's really unique materials."
Researching and sourcing materials and fixtures consumed Hayes for more than two years. She also was determined to do as much work as she physically could, including cleaning the construction site daily. Hayes' personal touch can be seen in the concrete floor's mottling, the result of spattering with stove blacking before polishing. More visitors, however, comment on her creative alternative to Glasscrete achieved for a fraction of the cost.
To recycled fragments of glass purchased online, Hayes added bottle shards and an array of dollar-store marbles. She scattered the pieces evenly in a wooden form and poured concrete on top. A shiny surface emerged with applications of concrete sealer. Hayes made numerous slabs to precise dimensions for a kitchen bar, bathroom counters and shower interiors.
"Their recycled countertops are fantastic," says Gant.
Above its stainless-steel counters, the kitchen is unburdened of upper cabinets, so the eye is free to focus on vistas framed in south-facing windows, says Hayes. Surrounded by so much wood, custom-made lower cabinets are laminate and visually cleaner, she says. Their construction, however, is sound enough to support hundreds of pounds of dishes, she adds. A walk-in pantry with Formica countertop conceals the "grubby" stuff: coffeemaker, microwave and auxiliary freezer.
"This is not fancy, this house," says Hayes. "I wanted it to be simpler."
Much as she wanted to clutter-proof her main living spaces, Hayes rated "giant" closets a close second on her must-have list. Hayes' walk-in one doubles as dressing room — or "diva's lair" — where her mementos and family photos are close at hand but still out of sight. Only the essentials remained, says Hayes, since she auctioned off about 80 percent of her belongings before moving in.
"I was asking myself to be a totally different person."