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Life Arts

Greener on the Other Side: Who Put the Fun in Sustainable Architecture?

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The annual Monolithic Dome Tour is held in the fall of each year. It's always exciting to see the inside of a dome home - I've visited quite a few, including Xanadu in Sedona, AZ.

Xanadu of Sedona Monolithic Dome Home by Xanadu of Sedona

This year, participating Commercial Domes will be open from 10 am - 4 pm on Friday Oct. 19 (listings at, and residential domes will be open from 10 am - 4 pm on Sat. Oct.20th (listings at

A Place in the Sun

Another tour of green architecture, the ASES (American Solar Energy Society) National Solar Tour, is the world's largest grassroots solar event and takes place annually on the first Saturday in October.  It is coordinated by the nonprofit ASES, ( ) in collaboration with dozens of partner organizations. Over 170,000 participants are expected to visit some 5,500 buildings in 3,200 communities across the U.S. during this year's tours on Sat. Oct. 6 and Sun. Oct. 7.

The Solar Home Tour in Hampton Roads, VA,  is part of the national tour. Ken Wright, a retired engineer, is facilitator of the Hampton Roads Solar Homes Group  which is cosponsoring the event. (Tour info at ) Wright notes that this local event is a free, self-guided tour of over two dozen Hampton Roads homes and businesses that use solar energy, energy efficiency, and other sustainable technologies to reduce their monthly utility bills. 

The Delhaise/Amundsen home, is on the tour, and features a 21-panel solar electric system that provides nearly all the electricity needed for the 3450-square-foot home.

Delhaise/Amundsen home by Hampton Roads Solar Homes Group

Another house on the Hampton Roads tour was designed by Richard Fitts of The Design Collaborative, Norfolk, VA. ( Fitts is a progressive architect whose passive solar design for his own home was selected for a Solar Design Award in 1978. He notes, "I designed the house, itself, to be the solar collector."
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Architect Richard Fitts' home by Richard Fitts

The competition was sponsored by the U.S. Dept of Housing and Urban Development in cooperation with the U.S. Dept. of Energy.  Fitts won $5000, a large enough chunk of change in those days to make a significant start on construction.  His strategically placed windows take advantage of the sun's natural cycles and provide a stunning view, but Fitts says that what he likes best is the personal feeling it gives him of "being in touch with the rhythm of nature."  He says, smiling, "for me, the energy crisis has turned out to be an opportunity, instead of an obstacle."

The passive solar home designed and built by Jim and Genny Jacobs in 1982 is also on the tour. Jim notes that "the rainwater system collects water from all the building gutters and directs it through a series of channels to a 2000 gallon cistern which is used for watering plants during dry spells."

Jacobs' office/garage building with 14 solar panels, adjacent to the house. by Jim Jacobs

It's A Small World, After All

Jay Shafer, founder of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company is considered the father of the tiny house movement.  In 1997 he built and moved into his first tiny house, all 89 square feet of it! He's been living in tiny houses ever since, and loving it. And while these house are environmentally sound, Shafer has another reason for going green: personal freedom.
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Jay Shafer and his 89 sq. ft home, the "Epu." by Jay Shafer,

In  "The Small House Book" Shafer says, "The key to designing my happy home really was designing a happy life, and the key to that lay not so much in deciding what I needed as in recognizing all the things I can do without " Like anything else that is not essential to our happiness, extra space just gets in the way. It requires maintenance and heating, and ultimately demands that we exchange a portion of life for the money needed to pay for these extras."

After perfecting his design for his tiny house, Jay discovered that it was too small to be built legally in most places in the US. Undaunted, he simply added wheels: as a portable home, the size was perfectly legal.

Tumbleweed's "Fencl" - 130 square feet. by Photo by Jack Journey.

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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)

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