Castaway House is a Deep Green Renovation

This is the Castaway House, a renovation in Phoenix, Arizona that’s also the first project to be certified under the Phoenix Green Construction Code. The team* behind this Gold-certified project transformed an existing 1,000 square-foot, abandoned house originally built in 1951 into a cutting-edge, energy-efficient abode with 1,970 square feet, four bedrooms, and two bathrooms. Here’s a little more background.

The name Castaway is a reference to the famous movie with Tom Hanks and the quote: “Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?” The movie and quote reference the abandoned five-year history of this property, the relentless sun that bakes Arizona, and a goal of the project team to bring sustainable housing to the urban core of Greater Phoenix.

Thus, other than reusing an existing site, the twin aims of this renovation were to conserve water and save energy by employing a multitude of strategies on a budget of $95 per square foot.

To conserve water, Castaway House has two 550-gallon tanks for rainwater collection, a low-volume irrigation system with evapotranspiration control, an Energy Star water heater, and WaterSense finishes including a 1.5 gpm Kohler faucets, 1.5 gpm Delta tub and shower faucets, 1.28 gpf AquaSource toilets, and a Delta kitchen faucet.

To save energy, the team focused on the design, envelope, and lighting. Castaway House has Solatubes in the bathrooms and master closet, Energy Star ceiling fans in the living room and bedrooms, a 15-SEER high-efficiency Carrier unit, and exposed spiral ducts inside the main living space (with insulated ducts in the addition).

The renovation received a significant upgrade in the form of vented wall and roof designs and extended overhangs. East and west windows were filled with Owens Corning Insulpink, while the addition was built with 2×6 wall framing (24” on center) and prefabricated trusses. The wall assembly includes R21 batt insulation, 1/2” OSB, 1.5” R-Tech Insulfoam, furring, and pre-painted white aluminum corrugated siding.

The windows are argon-filled, aluminum frame, dual-pane ones from Milgard, and the roof has an R9 low-E radiant barrier, furring, and an Owens Corning underlayment, moisture barrier, and Energy Star cool roof shingle. Overall, the result is house that’s supposed to perform about 59% better than energy code.

In addition, Castaway House has concrete floors stained with water-based Enviro-Stains, low-VOC Sherwin Williams Duration Home interior latex paints, Stone Edge recycled-content countertops, GREENGUARD Executive Cabinetry, and recycled-content Modern Dimensions tile by Daltile in the kitchen and bathroom.

*The project team includes the architect/designer The Ranch Mine, owner Cycle Development, builder RC Green Builders, architect of record Blooming Rock Development, and landscape designer Synergy Design Lab.

[+] See more photos of the Castaway House at The Ranch Mine.

Credits: The Ranch Mine.


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  • MrSteve007

    A nice place + cost effective. Cool stuff. However a “15-SEER high-efficiency Carrier unit” isn’t all that efficient. Carrier has has 19-SEER Infinity units for about 5 years now (I know because we have unit numbers 1, 2 & 3 installed on our office). Certain Mitsubishi multi-split units are rated for 25-SEER, which is nearly 2x’s as efficient as the one on this house.

    For the most part, code minimum these days is 13 SEER, which means in all practicality, this 15-SEER is nearly merely standard to low-standard - not highly efficient.

    • The Ranch Mine

      Thanks Steve. You are very correct that the 15-SEER unit isn’t that high efficiency, its just the name of the product was “15-SEER high efficiency Carrier”. We looked at much higher efficient units and did the cost analysis that putting more money into the skin of the building would provide us a more energy efficient house over the long run for our buck. But by know means is 15-SEER very highly efficient. Better than the typical, but not terrific.  

  • Chet

    Who in the world uses an aluminum window when building or renovating a home for efficient use of energy? Of course you would use a window with a thermopane glass unit comprised of double or triple coat LowE and argon, but aluminum?
    I think you will find that aluminum windows are not sold in many markets, and they often are not even considered because they can’t compete efficiency wise. Vinyl has been used for a long time in the southwest and is cost competitive with aluminum, while providing dramatically better solar heat gain and u values.

    • The Ranch Mine

      Thank you for the comment, Chet. Historically aluminum windows were terrible in terms of conducting heat into a house, but with the new thermally broken windows, that has largely been resolved. They also are more energy efficient when dealing with radiation, and their much thinner frames provide more convection possibilities for the cross ventilation that was designed in the the building. Not to mention that these frames will far outlast vinyl frames and have the potential for being fully recycled. Also, the suncoat max windows provide fantastic SHGC and U values. The building was modeled with both options, and we chose the thermally broken aluminum frames, as they performed better wholistically.

    • The Ranch Mine

      Thank you for the comment, Chet. Historically aluminum windows were terrible in terms of conducting heat into a house, but with the new thermally broken windows, that has largely been resolved. They also are more energy efficient when dealing with radiation, and their much thinner frames provide more convection possibilities for the cross ventilation that was designed in the the building. Not to mention that these frames will far outlast vinyl frames and have the potential for being fully recycled. Also, the suncoat max windows provide fantastic SHGC and U values. The building was modeled with both options, and we chose the thermally broken aluminum frames, as they performed better wholistically.

  • http://www.garagestoragesacramento.com/ Tim Donaghey

    Conserving water and saving energy are important. What sort of storage solutions did you use? Everything is very efficient and clutter free so were there any specialty/custom solutions?

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