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Case Study > Kin Residence - Green Architecture


Kin Residence - Green Architecture

Kin Residence (Click here for video)



Passive Solar and Thermal Design

Green Roofing

The Cost?

The Kin's Home


As I drove to the Kin residence, I did not know quite what to expect what kind of person David would be or what the interior of the home would be like. Sure, I had driven by the house before, and I only lived five minutes away from it, but I had never seen it up close, much less been in it.

David Kin is a native of York county, currently working in Information Technology in the family business, and has a bachelor's degree in Animal Science. However, his main passion in life is the spiritual. He is an interfaith minister who has studied disciplines such as Shamanism and meditation. He has a great interest in the philosophies of numerous cultures, which becomes obvious from the home decor; which has pieces of art and other items from many different places around the world. It is also apparent that he has great respect for all cultures and religions.

For David, this was more than just a home, although it certainly fulfilled the need as a home for his family; but also an extension of his beliefs and an expression of self. The home is almost sculptural in its nature-- it is not a modular home or another generic building. This is something that is unlike any other building in the area, something that I've taken note of . The idea behind the home is to envelop someone in a space, to create a "feel", a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere to dwell in.

The first thing that strikes you about this home is how organic the form of it is, and it has a very southwestern feeling to it. As David took me on a tour of the house, explaining the features and construction, I noticed how open and organic the rooms were. The main living area was wide open, home to an entertainment system, several couches and chairs, with a tall ceiling and a set of stairs leading up to a den-like loft. The house was in rich earth tones, and the walls felt solid, and at the same time, homey.

Passive Solar and Thermal Design

One of the first things David showed to me was the fireplace, or more appropriately, the walls around the fireplace. He told me to put my hand above the fireplace. It was warm, and not just somewhat warm-- it was near hot. I then learned that the last fire in there was roughly fourteen hours ago. It had kept in that heat for fourteen hours. My own bedroom couldn't hold on to heat for two hours, much less seven times as long.

David explained to me how the whole house's thermal design works on the concept of mass, and how it absorbs and retains heat. In winter, he told me, the house will soak in the heat and slowly release it over time. In summer, the same heat-soaking properties will draw heat away from the inside of the house. Unlike other homes, whose temperatures fluctuate widely between day and night; this home stayed more constant temperature-wise. The heat absorbed in the day would be released at night.

This heat comes from the sun, naturally. In the winter, the sun is lower in the sky. The southern windows of the house are large and wide, letting in plenty of sunlight. This is then absorbed by the dark-colored, dense walls and floors, generating and storing heat to be released when it is cooler. In the summer, the long eaves over the windows would keep out the sun, as it is higher in the sky and cannot go in at an angle like in the winter. This is a very basic form of solar collection and it does not require any mechanical or moving systems, hence the term "Passive Solar" design.

Another interesting usage of solar energy was the solar-heated water system. Water was piped through several solar panels that would heat up the water, which would then go into a 600-gallon underground tank. It would then be used in the house. The pump itself was powered by an electric solar panel.

The rooms of the house were open and there were very few discrete doors in the overall layout, except naturally for bedrooms and bathrooms. The construction of most of the walls involved lathe with cobb plastered over it. Cobb is a clay and straw mixture, considered to be the oldest building material. The cobb is then glazed and/or painted over, and it lends the walls a very natural, solid feel.

I learned from David that the house itself is a hybrid of various sustainable materials and techniques. Some of the walls were straw bale walls, while others were more traditionally made. The cobb material is what provides the bulk of the mass used in the thermal energy retention vital for a passive solar building. The straw bales were used as infill in certain areas to have a sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to the mass-produced and manufactured insulation types that are generally used. The straw bales were plastered with a calcium-rich lime, which allows it to breath.

The house's frame was, for the most part, still the traditional wooden frame, except with different materials built around it. The rafters of the home were exposed, and were round timbers. These timbers were hard to install, but chosen for both their strength and appearance, as the round timbers are inherently more strong than the cut-and-hewn rafters found elsewhere.

Green Roofing

Continuing on the tour, we surveyed the outside. The home itself was painted white and very nontraditional in its overall shape. The most striking thing was the living, or green, roof. The company that installed the roof was Roofscapes, which went later on to do the Chicago City Hall. In our interview later, I jokingly asked if he had to mow his roof. That obviously was not the case. The plants were mostly desert plants, such as sedums, and the soil was four-inches thick and nutrient-rich. As a result, the plants were more controllable and did not grow as high as traditional grass. Initially it was a shock for him to see this roof, but it was rewarding to see it change with the seasons. Green roofs also help with water runoff which is a problem in the York area, especially in the spring and summer with the high creeks in shallow areas.

The green roof is also a lot lighter in color than the traditional dark-colored shingle roof. A darker-colored roof will absorb a large amount of sunlight and therefore generate more heat. The green roof would reflect a larger amount of light, and through the process of transpiring (and photosynthesis). In the winter, snow will 'stick' more to the roof, but this will provide an extra layer of insulation during the colder times of the year. In his own words, the house is "pretty much super insulated."

Within the home, I saw the conversation area, as he termed it. The conversation area is a circular alcove just off of the dining area, with a floor that could be mechanically raised and then double as a table. There was also a small deck facing the Susquehanna River and the town of Wrightsville, which was quite a fine view on that surprisingly-warm November day. There was also a small meditation chamber, a peaceful, small room with a single circular window and white, rounded walls.

Many of the materials in the house were recycled or factory seconds. The steps up to the den, as were the ones that go into the master bath, were recycled flagstone, although one should be careful when going up or down them! The floors and walls in these areas have a very rough-hewn, natural and raw feel to them, continuing to go with the very earthy and southwestern feel.

The Cost?

The cost to build his home was roughly on the same rate per square foot as a high-end home, although one could build a smaller home like this and save a significant amount of money but still have a beautiful end result. His home was larger than most others of this type, however. The labor was also intensive, and took seven years to finally complete the home. However, it was rewarding to be able to "push and pull" on the materials and make conscious design decisions.

The downside of making such a unique home is that only a few people nationwide know how to do some of the certain construction techniques required to make such a structure. This is its own benefit, in a way, because it allowed David to meet many different people and to learn about them. One contractor gave him an authentic Japanese Zen Print! David theorized, however, that if these building methods were mechanized and standardized more, that the price to build these kinds of homes would drop dramatically. Also, not everyone can make a home like this. The Kin's were fortunate enough to own two acres of land on which such a project is feasible. But in more cramped conditions, such as in a city, it is not as easy.

This home is something more than a home, as said before. It is an expression of someone's personal beliefs about living in harmony with the planet. It is not just any other pre built structure, but is clearly something unique. It is very clear that David Kin has put himself into this project, and that in the end, the home is very reflective of him. He views it in these terms, and I am inclined to agree. I have yet to see another house in either York or Lancaster county that looks even similar. Being inside is a totally different experience than with almost every other building I've been inside.

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