Dr. Richard Homan had a vision. At a time when others were building McMansions, he sought to build a house whose environmental impact was small, where efficiency could be matched with beauty, and energy and resources were used wisely.
His wife Katherine shared this vision for building such a dream house. By building and living in an environmentally responsible house, they could lead by example and demonstrate how to live healthier more sustainable lives.
The design of the house was a true partnership. Some of the features were explicitly for Katherine – for example, using entirely recycled building materials – while others were for Richard – a healthy house with high air quality, free of mold, particulates and VOC emissions. Some aspects were for the practical Katherine who sought a house with low electric and water bills; whereas it was visionary Richard who sought to harness nature using geothermal and solar energy systems.
Together with Richard Harwood of Enviro Custom Homes, they used design plans and construction techniques as an opportunity to test the various claims of the greenbuilding movement. By doing so, they thought that at least the knowledge base about greenbuilding would be extended. Ten years later, the home’s proof positive would be in its minimal utility bills and maximum indoor air quality.
The house is just over 4200 square feet and was built in 1999-2000 using state of the art materials and construction methods. It was so far ahead of its time that fifteen years later, it still exceeds standards for green construction, and energy efficiency.
When the house was being built, interest in “green building and sustainable living” was just emerging. There were early commercial green standards available, but there were no residential standards other than ENERGY STAR. In fact, when, in 2010, Katherine Homan sought re-cognition for the home’s place in history as the first green home in Dallas, she was asked if it was certified by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)– but the USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environment Design criteria were not even created until five years after the house was built.
Nonetheless, the house was built so well, and is so environmentally sound that even now it meets all of the USGBC criteria. The house has a HERS Index of 51. To fully appreciate what this means, a new home constructed today has, on average, a HERS index of 100. The Homan house, in other words, built twelve years ago, is 49% more energy efficient than an average new home in 2014.
The house is not just energy efficient; it is also a healthy home. In the course of her research while designing the house, Katherine learned that during the first year living inside a typical new home, homeowners have a higher incidence of headaches, dry skin and upper respiratory infections. This is attributed to the gas emissions from the petrochemicals contained in the building materials and carpeting which shed fine particulates into the air for the residents to breathe. As Katherine put it, “This became Enemy No. 1 on my hit list when enlisting a building contractor willing to build this way!”
- Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) increase energy efficiency and over the full life-cycle costs considerably less than a comparable framed building.
- Low “e” Argon filled windows increase energy efficiency by reducing heat transfer into and out of the house, helping keep it cool in the summer, and warm in the winter.
- Geothermal heat pump uses the earth itself to both heat and cool the house, while reducing fuel costs.
- Solar panels on the roof power the lights, and heat water.
- Rainwater is captured in a 550 gallon cistern and used to irrigate the back garden. The rest of the landscaping uses native plants, which are now so well–established that they need no watering.
- Only non-toxic paints, stains and glues were used during construction, and the carpet is made of recycled plastic bottles. This protected the Homans’ health by eliminating any sources of outgassing from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that would degrade the indoor air quality.
- The house was built on a wooded lot, and in order to preserve the trees, no cranes were used, and the SIP panels were pulled into place by hand.
As would be expected, given the care and attention to its construction, the house is remarkably energy efficient. Electric bills are roughly $120 per month. The air in the house is completely changed every three hours under a continuous ventilation system.
Dr. Homan died in 2003, but now, more than a decade after his death, the house stands as a tribute to his vision. In 2011, the City of Dallas recognized the Homan residence as the first comprehensive ‘green’ home built in Dallas. In support of that declaration, Steve Saunders, CEO of TexEnergy Solutions, summed it up perfectly:
The Homan Residence is a brilliantly executed prophetic vision of what is now commonly understood as a “green” home. Dr. Richard and Katherine Homan, their design consultants and builder crafted a “green” home far beyond the norms of the times.
In the heart of oil and gas-rich Texas, the Homan house is more than a testament to the vision of Richard and Katherine Homan. It is a reminder that we can chose a different path than unending reliance on fossil fuels; that we can use the energy from other sources – the sun, wind, geothermal heat – together with smart design and construction, to build a sustainable future for all.
By Richard Newman