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June 17, 2009
Originally published in Act Locally

The rusted red corrugated-steel canopy that covers Jim Austin’s home at Rimrock Ranch is visually striking in its desert surroundings

austin residence illustration canopy

The structure, produced by Braemar Building Systems of Colorado, is made from a preengineered build-it-yourself kit using steel from Recla Metals, which sells for $20,000. Austin and Russell could have spent that $20,000 on solar panels to power an air conditioner that ran all the time, but instead they opted for the low-tech approach. (County codes require an air conditioner in the house, but it’s never been needed.)

Less noticeable but equally important to the regulation of the house’s temperature is the massive concrete foundation. Taking 20 truckloads and nine pours, the foundation has a high thermal mass. “It has so much mass it doesn’t change temperature much. Kind of like the ocean,” explains architect Lloyd Russell. The uncovered surface of the foundation also forms the concrete floors for the house,
which help keep the rooms cool. Aside from these benefits, the massive foundation was a structural requirement, serving as a counterweight to the steel shading. At its peak, the steel shade has six feet of clearance above the house. This allows the breeze to pass through for additional cooling, but essentially turns the canopy into a kite in the high desert winds. The heavy foundation makes sure the steel roof doesn’t fly off on windy days. Whether the climate of the desert is embraced or conquered, it can’t be ignored.

 

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