Andrew Michler harnessed the warmth of the sun to build a stunning mountain home that rarely utilizes traditional heating and cooling systems.
"The Hogback Mountains have a very strong architectural shape," Michler says. "They were a big influence on creating that form of the house, where it kind of dives into the ground." Photograph courtesy of Andrew Michler
Passive House is a design theory that originated in Germany and requires the builder to get creative in ways he or she can prevent heat from escaping. Photograph courtesy of Andrew Michler
Michler crafted his home out of materials that are either recycled, biodegradable, and/or can be sourced with very little impact on the environment. This meant a lot of cellulose and plywood. Photograph courtesy of Andrew Michler
The open floor plan is inspired by Japanese architects. "I tried to keep the spaces as open acoustically and visually as I possibly could," Michler says. "It’s a real long space that’s connected, and there aren’t many doors, so its use can change over time." Photograph courtesy of Andrew Michler
Even the occupants of the house—usually him, his wife, and two cats, but occasionally other relatives as well—act as a heat source. Through a neat ventilation unit, the "heat waste" living things release through breathing actually acts to heat the incoming fresh air. Photograph courtesy of Andrew Michler
Michler used triple-pane windows in order to prevent heat loss common in most American homes. Most of the color in Michler's home comes from the wood on the walls and floors. "That way we're not competing with the environment around us," Michler says. Photograph courtesy of Andrew Michler
It’s difficult to catch Andrew Michler off-guard when it comes to topics of environmental efficiency. So it was surprising when Michler, who recently built what he claims is Colorado’s most energy-efficient house, was unable to answer a question about the effect of more efficient amenities on a resident’s wallet.
“If you’re asking about a gas bill, I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t pay for gas.”
Michler’s home is designed to heat itself naturally, using the sun and even “waste” heat from the occupants to provide warmth. Because of this, he rarely uses traditional heat and air conditioning at his 1,250-square-foot mountain abode. Earlier this winter, when outside temperatures reached minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit, Michler didn’t bother turning on the heat until the interior of his home fell to 62 degrees.
Michler built his home using a German design style called Passive House, which has caught on in Europe, but is much less common in the U.S. than LEED-certified or Energy Star buildings. Michler, who is the founder of Passive House Rocky Mountains and a certified Passive House consultant, says the difference between these certifications and Passive House is fundamental. With LEED and Energy Star, builders rely on technology, such as energy-efficient equipment or solar electric panels, in order to make a basic building perform better. Passive House takes it a step further, greatly reducing the need for common equipment such as heating or air conditioning.
Michler moved to Colorado from California 22 years ago with a desire to live independently in the mountains, and he realized that the Centennial State was a great place to test the Passive House concept. The frigid winters in the Rockies make a reliable heating system necessary, so Michler decided to use something Colorado has plenty of: sunshine. The house is designed to keep the heat it receives from the sun from escaping, and as such, the home stays between 67 and 77 degrees for most of the year and only needs a heating source in the winter.
“That’s what Passive House is about,” Michler says. “Rather than relying on technologies to create a comfortable living environment, you rely more on things such as solar gain, lots of insulation, and even the occupants. Even the devices the occupants use inside become a heating source for the building.”
Michler’s abode is 90 percent more efficient than a standard house. But to focus only on the science is to miss a key aspect of the home: comfort.
The exterior design is inspired by the Hogback Mountains that dominate the Front Range. The way these mountains slope up on one side and dive steeply on the other side are reflected by the home’s sharp angles. Inside, though, Michler looked to Japanese architecture for inspiration on how to make a small space feel open.
The combination of Japanese and German designs seamlessly mingle to create a cozy home that leaves a minimized impact on the planet. And it does so almost entirely on its own.