Carbon-positive Homes: Meet the Pioneers of Sustainable Building

The Times, October 22, 2020

On the other side of the Atlantic, one of the newest and most glamorous experiments in domestic power production is entering its final stages on the slopes of Powder Mountain in Eden, Utah.

The Dark Chalet — a holiday home for the solar entrepreneur Tom Buttgenbach, a co-founder and the president of Eight Minute Solar Energy, his partner, the interior designer Sean Leffers, and their two children — will be completed in January after a 21-month build.

The house is described by its architect, Tom Wiscombe, as “a black diamond nestled on the steep snowy mountain”. But this 5,500 sq ft gem isn’t merely decorative.

It is clad in sections of shimmering, commercial-grade black glass solar panels that are significantly more powerful than those available off the peg and will act as the engine room of the project.

Wiscombe calculates that the highly insulated house will produce 364 per cent more energy than it needs — enough to charge the couple’s electric cars and possibly power their neighbours’ homes too.

At this stage the performance of the house is an unknown, so a propane gas system has been installed as a failsafe. “Perhaps at peak times, if it is very cold and there is snow covering the solar panels, you never know [if you need to use it],” Wiscombe says.

But in principle the house will comfortably run itself and, while most of us are focused on how to minimise energy consumption, the question the architect and his clients are considering is what to do with their excess power. “We can certainly sell the energy back to the grid, but shooting energy all over the place means losing a lot,” Wiscombe says. “We are wondering if the house could lend energy to neighbouring houses. It makes sense to keep it local.”

The Times