When John Schaeffer and Nancy Hensley set out to build their home in the rolling hills of Hopland, CA, they wanted a structure that was not only ecologically sound and energy-efficient, but that would also be in harmony with the landscape. So they brought in architect Craig Henritzy, who is known for building homes that are inspired by Native American structures. The round, 2,900-square-foot house, which is known by its owners as "SunHawk," is completely off the grid, running entirely on renewable energy.
In 1978, Schaeffer founded Real Goods Solar in Hopland, California, one of the nation’s first solar energy companies, and his solar panels power the home. A large array of solar photovoltaic panels line the curved roof of the home, and just above them sit a cluster of solar thermal (hot water) panels. An old barn, which Schaeffer and Hensley lived in while the home was being constructed, holds large batteries for energy storage. And there is another photovoltaic array located adjacent to the barn.
The Shaeffers also installed a 1.5-kilowatt hydroelectric system on a seasonal creek that provides additional power during the region’s rainy winters. Because the self-sufficient home functions like a living organism it was recently featured in a photo essay produced by the Global Oneness Project about living buildings. The house, which is modeled loosely after the roundhouses built by the Pomo Indians, is shaped like a hawk, and it is oriented to the cardinal directions.
In addition to being energy-independent, the home is made from recycled materials. The structure is made from Rastra block, a material that’s made of 85 percent recycled Styrofoam and 15 percent cement. The roof shingles are made from recycled tires; much of the wood used throughout the home was reclaimed; and an ingenious sun screen over the patio is made from recycled irrigation pipes. The awning isn’t the only place where recycled metal irrigation pipes were put to good use, though; a stand-alone art studio and exercise room near the main house is made from the pipes. The home was completed in 2002, and despite its size, it was relatively affordable to build because it uses so many reclaimed materials.
Photos © Mark Andrew Boyer