This story was originally published in Builder.

James Haefner

A recently completed home in Ann Arbor, Mich., is the second home in the country to be named to the rigorous Living Building Challenge. Certified late last year by the International Living Future Institute, the 2,200-square-foot home borrows from the characteristics of 200-year-old Tuscan farmhouses, with a 2,400-square-foot barn and workshop. The buildings sit at the center of 15 acres of depleted farm land.

A 20-person design/build team led by homeowners Tom and Marti Burbeck spent five years executing the project with primary contributors Michael Klement, AIA, principal at Architectural Resource; Bob Burnside, CEO of Fireside Home Construction; and Amanda Webb Nichols, senior project manager at Catalyst Partners, who managed the LBC certification process. The house also received LEED-Platinum certification.

The LBC certification comprises seven performance categories—site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty. These are subdivided into a total of 20 imperatives, each of which focuses on a specific sphere of influence, such as urban agriculture, net-positive water, net-positive energy, and responsible industry.

For example, to receive full “Living” certification from the Living Building Challenge, a building cannot use any materials on the LBC Red List, such as formaldehyde, halogenated flame-retardants, lead, mercury, phthalates, or PVC/vinyl.

“The materials imperative was the most challenging project component I’ve come across in my 21 years in the green building industry,” says Burnside. “Multi-component mechanical, electrical and appliance products were the toughest. Working with Catalyst Partners, we vetted more than 900 products, around 500 of which we used in construction.”

Another challenging LBC imperative concerned the wood used for the project. Almost all the wood was certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council, which verifies that it was grown and harvested in local forests in a sustainable manner. The rest of the wood used for the project was either reclaimed or salvaged. The team also advocated the creation and adoption of third-party certified standards and fair labor practices for sustainable extraction of stone and rock, metal and other minerals.

Other high-performance features include:
1. A rainwater and snow harvesting system that captures runoff from the roofs to supply 7,500 gallons of in-ground cisterns, currently for non-potable water. A new well provides potable water to comply with Michigan building codes, with a future-ready potable rainwater filtration system.

2. Passive solar design with a very tight thermal envelope and a tall cooling tower that minimize loads for heating and cooling.

3. A 16.8-kilowatt photovoltaic system that provides electricity to the house and the grid using 60 solar panels covering the south plane of the barn roof.

4. A closed-loop geothermal system that provides radiant floor heating during winter, forced air heating during shoulder seasons, and potable water pre-heating.

LBC certification is based on actual measured performance, rather than modeled performance. To earn “Living” certification, projects must demonstrate compliance with stringent performance standards dictated by the 20 LBC Imperatives for 12 consecutive months of operation.

This story was originally published in Builder.