Project DescriptionBuffalo no longer roam the high plains of north central Montana as they did when American settlers first pushed west across the continent, but the state’s “Golden Triangle” farming region is still the perfect setting for a stylish, environmentally savvy home on the range.
Near the small town of Gildford, Montana, (population 185) architect Becki D. Miller, AIA, and her husband run a family farm that grows low protein wheat and durum used to make locally produced pastas. When Miller designed a new family home for the farm, she “wanted to break away from the usual and show the rural community what’s possible using everyday materials in a different way”—demonstrating that farm living and great architecture can go hand-in-hand.
The Miller home combines engaging aesthetics with functionality, all tailored to the Montana environment. The home’s design includes visual elements that reflect the barns and grain elevators of the farming region, while incorporating green features such as energy-efficient building products and reclaimed materials.
The first, and most important, environmental feature of the home is how it is positioned. “The home is designed to be very site conscious,” said Miller. Given Montana’s often harsh weather, Miller oriented the house taking into account the prevailing winds, and gave it a U-shape to further protect the outdoor living spaces against winds.
To keep out wind and cold, Miller chose Premier structural insulated panels (SIPs) by Insulfoam for the exterior walls. The 6-inch-thick panels are made of structural wood sheathing laminated to a rigid foam core for strength and superior insulation. Compared to traditional 2 x 4 stud walls, the SIPs have thicker and more continuous insulation for superior thermal performance, and have far fewer gaps where heated indoor air can leak out. SIPs can help reduce a home’s heating and cooling energy consumption up to 60%.
In addition to being energy efficient, Miller notes that SIPs help simplify and speed construction. “In one step, you can have the walls up and they’re insulated and sheathed. With SIPs, we had the walls up in only two days. Given their energy efficiency and ease of use, I think SIPs will be the new way to build. I’ve used Premier SIPs on several projects, and the company has always been very knowledgeable and helpful, even offering to send someone to the site, if needed.”
The home’s other green features include geothermal heating, insulated windows, right sizing and use of reclaimed materials.
Miller specifically designed the home to be large enough for the family’s needs, without overbuilding, even though the farm had plenty of room and the local residents often build large homes to fit the state’s “Big Sky Country” motto.
Reclaimed materials include wood beams that came from her husband’s grandfather’s chicken coop (before that the timbers had been part of a railroad trellis, so they’re now on their third life). Chalkboards from a closed school helped form the pantry and provide a handy place to write lists and notes. Miller mounted doors from old farmsteads on barn door tracks for the closets. “Reclaimed materials reduce the need for new products, and the environmental impacts they create, plus provide interesting conversation pieces and a connection to our family and community history.”
As the only architect for many miles, Miller is in a unique position to bring innovative design to the local community. “It’s every architect’s dream to design their own home, and just as importantly, I wanted to show that energy-efficient, environmentally conscious homes can be attractive and complement the rural landscape.”