A new farmhouse in southeast Michigan has recently been certified as one of the world’s most green, sustainable structures.
Named Burh Becc at Beacon Springs, the roughly 5,000-square-foot home and garage, set on 15 acres of depleted farmland outside of Ann Arbor, showcases one of the most efficient, sustainable examples of residential construction in the world.
“I liken this to a moonshot for residential design,” says architect Michael Klement, a partner in the local firm Architectural Resource. “This is possible, this is doable, and it’s extremely healthy.”
The name comes from the Old English origin of owners Tom and Marti Burbeck’s family name, which means “dwelling by a creek.” They hope their passion project can exemplify how altering building strategies can change how people relate to their environment. Built with conservation in mind, their home and farm not only showcase cutting-edge energy sufficiency, but also promote a more natural method of farming, with the goal of providing healthy produce for local markets.
The Burh Becc home is just the second such residential building in the world to meet the Living Building Challenge, a strict benchmark for sustainability that not only requires energy savings, but energy generation. To get the seal of approval, overseen by the Living Future Institute, a building must generate as much or more energy than it uses, adhere to a number of strict sustainability requirements around materials and sourcing, known as petals, and undergo a year of strict testing to verify energy usage and efficiency.
Burh Becc, where energy and water use are net zero, and waste, both in construction and everyday living, is handled almost entirely on site, was certified last December.
Creating such a sustainable residence wasn’t a simple or short-term task. Constructing the home required five years of planning and construction and a team of 20 designers, architects, and engineers.
The Burbecks decided the home should emulate a Tuscan farmhouse, since the style’s rectangular layout, low-pitched roofs and timber rafters felt warm and connected to the landscape. In keeping with the idea of sustainability, and the couple’s goal of creating a “200-year-home” that would work for future generations, the floorplan kept expansion and eventual adjustment in mind. With five bedrooms spread over two floors, the home had more than enough space for the Burbecks and their son, but offered space for other owners to readjust and redesign.
Site-specific design, and numerous energy-saving features, helped Burh Becc achieve substantial energy savings. Ceilings were built with wood recycled from a local school, and a rainwater and snow harvesting system stores runoff from the roofs in 7,500 gallons of in-ground cisterns. Wind and solar patterns were analyzed to perfectly orient different elements of the home, such as lining up the solar panels set upon the garage.
From the excessive windows on the south face to the tower at the middle of the structure that functions as a cooling thermal chimney in warm weather, the layout of the home helped capture and moderate the temperature indoors. Despite the cold Michigan winter, the home was still able to meet the strict energy requirements of the Living Building Challenge due to its tight, well-insulated envelope, which traps heat generated due to the building’s optimal solar orientation.
Ultra-efficient windows cover two-thirds of the southern wall, and ceramic tile concrete floor helps soak up the heat from the sun (a closed-loop geothermal system kicks in during colder months). The home’s thick walls, more efficient than the notoriously difficult passive house standard, create a tight envelope, trapping heat and making the already pastoral setting that much quieter.
“It’s womb-like in the house,” says Klement
Due to the farmhouse’s extremely efficient insulation, a 60-panel solar system on the roof was able to generate more 26 percent power than the home could use, according to an audit of its first year. The building generated 4,000 extra kilowatts of power, which was used to charge the couple’s electric vehicle, a 2017 Chevy Volt.
Klement wouldn’t share the cost of the home, only noting that moonshots take a lot of resources and effort to realize. But those involved in the construction and conception feel it’s a worthy investment that can help inspire others to choose efficiency and sustainability.
The Burbecks envision the home as a model and resource, and host seminars to educate others about the possibilities of green constriction. Klement believes the project’s stellar performance proves any homeowner can aim for a greener home.
“This home is over-performing what we dreamed we’d be able to do,” says Klement. “We were so excited because so many people said, ‘This is the Midwest, it can’t be done.’”