A young couple with one child and a passion for efficient, minimalist living were the inspiration for the design of this house. They were explicit in requesting a modern, refined aesthetic of concrete and glass construction.

The client’s values and requests, lined up so well with Eugene Stoltzfus Architects’ values and strengths, that the house almost designed itself. In addition to efficient space values, the request for concrete and glass included a desire for sustainable passive and active solar design.

Their city lot lent itself naturally to dividing the house into north and south sections, with private rooms being located on the north side and common space being located on the south, with the long axis of the house running east and west.

A passive solar system is dependent on balanced heat generation and heat storage components. In the common living space of the Ha-Smith House, a long south-facing glass wall invites the low winter sun to penetrate deep into the house, warming the interior. Without the concrete mass, however, the winter sun would drive interior temperatures uncomfortably high. Instead, excess ambient heat is drawn into the concrete floor and into the concrete wall that bisects the length of the house. As a result, the interior is comfortably warmed during the day, and excess heat stored in the warmed concrete radiates back into the house on cold winter nights.  This exchange reduces the need for conventional cooling and heating with a heater or AC system.

The active solar system is comprised of photovoltaic panels mounted on the south-sloping roof. The roof is angled to maximize the efficiency of electricity generation and is large enough for panels that will generate more power than the house will ever need. The roof design coordinated with the energy systems of the house allows it to operate with a very low carbon footprint.

In addition to providing thermal storage, the long concrete wall separates the private side of the house from the open common side, and also structurally supports the roof.  The roof is also supported by a row of concrete columns along the south wall that further absorb excess heat from the sun for release at night.

In summer, the concrete continues to play a critical role in maintaining comfortable temperatures, this time inverting the winter exchange. By opening the house at night, mild Shenandoah Valley breezes cool the house as well as the warmed concrete so it is ready to absorb heat again the next day.

The combination of solar energy, the natural rhythms of day, night heating, and cooling not only eliminate consumption of fossil fuels, but it keeps the clients constantly in touch with the angle of the earth, the movement of the sun, and the succession of the seasons.