Happy Meadows Courtyard House is a modern, age-in-place, net zero passive house designed by Chapel Hill, NC, architect Arielle Condoret Schechter. Constructed primarily of 5500 psi concrete, the 2300-square-foot one-story house is nestled on a hill in a forest clearing overlooking a natural meadow. Its low, modest profile respects the setting while honoring the homeowners’ modernist sensibilities, while a solar array, daylighting, rainwater catchment, reclaimed materials, pre-fab construction and careful placement on the plot maximize the home's sustainability.
Inside, the living/dining/kitchen space occupies the core of the house with bedrooms and other spaces located down hallways on either side. Large window expanses across the southern elevation open the house to an abundance of daylight and panoramic views of the meadow. Manufactured by Klearwall®, these hardwood-framed windows are triple-glazed, Passive House-certified.
The house is sited to maximize passive solar gain in the winter and to provide unfettered sun for the 5.4KW rooftop photovoltaic array that produces 98 percent of the energy the house uses. (A small upgrade of panels will make it net positive.) Since natural light fills the house, electric lights — all LED — are rarely needed during the day.
The thick concrete exterior walls, extreme insulation, and polished concrete floors help keep the interior cool even in the summer. A four-foot-deep roof overhang on the southern elevation shades the interior. A screened porch fronts an internal courtyard off the main living space. A covered deck beyond the porch provides a tranquil place for sitting and gazing across the meadow.
The architect achieved almost 100 percent rooftop rainwater capture and created a successful wildlife habitat. Along with rainwater collection in an underground cistern, a butterfly roof over the porches channels some of the rooftop water to a scupper detail that directs it into a small, rectangular pond close to the house. From there it overflows down a channel to a wildlife pond at the base of the hill.
The architect minimized construction waste and used recycled materials wherever possible. Since the house was built with precast concrete panels assembled off-site by a local company, the amount of construction waste significantly decreased. Inside, she sourced scrap material for many of the details, including reclaimed sinker cypress for shelving and casework. She also found beautiful yet inexpensive slab remnants of rare stones that she pieced together for countertops.
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