For architect Pieter Weijnen of Amsterdam firm Faro, building his own low-energy home (featured in our July/August 2008 issue) was just the start. A year later, he broke ground on a new home for himself, partner Renske Felkema, and their children, Puck and Finn.
House 2.0, located on the manmade archipelago of IJburg, fine-tunes the design of the first house, but it goes further in energy efficiency and sustainability: “It’s a passive house,” says Weijnen. “We’ve got the biggest triple-glazed window in the Netherlands and a geothermal heating exchange system. There is a wood-burning stove; a rainwater tank; and—a bit unusual for the city—a wind turbine on the roof.” Add to this a whole tree used instead of a girder, adobe walls instead of plaster, and a charred-wood facade, and it’s clear that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill eco-house. “You have to take risks once in a while,” says Weijnen.
House 2.0’s distinctive wood siding uses the traditional Japanese technique of burned wood, a natural way to preserve timber and (paradoxically) make it fire resistant. Chemical preservatives, paints, and retardants are thus unnecessary. A further plus is the silvery beauty of the charred finish.
Weijnen discovered the use of charred wood through the work of Terunobu Fujimori and traveled to the Japanese island of Naoshima to observe the traditional technique. Back in Amsterdam, he adapted the process for his own home. Here’s how he did it.
Step 1: Though traditionally three Japanese cedar boards are bound to form
a long triangle and a fire is started within the resulting tunnel, Weijnen built a brick oven to accommodate two six-foot-long larch wood boards at a time.
Step 2: Weijnen charred the top one-eighth inch of each board in the gas burner–equipped oven, a process that took approximately ten minutes.
Step 3: After removing the planks from the brick oven, Weijnen doused
them with water if the fires didn’t go out on their own. Though Weijnen left his boards au naturel, you can also finish planks by brushing and oiling them.
Step 4: The inevitable learning curve will begin with less successful pieces; Weijnen used his early attempts in the kitchen ceiling.
House 2.0 relies on recycled wood for support–—notably, two enormous former mooring posts of basralocus wood and an entire elm tree. The hundred-year-old mooring posts, each standing 26 feet high, were placed at either end of the building as its main structural supports. Weijnen used a 75-year-old elm tree instead of a steel girder to support the suspended living room. The tree was felled during the renovation of one of the city’s canal quays. “It corresponds to the Japanese practice of incorporating a natural element into architecture,” says Weijnen.
Salvaged-wood dealers like these provide reclaimed timber that you can use for structural support or more common household projects like flooring, ceiling, planter boxes, and furniture.
Cornerstone Floor Group
Mountain Lumber Company
Pacific Northwest Timbers
In all but two rooms (the kids’ bedrooms because of their propensity for DIY decoration), Weijnen avoided using carbon-intensive plaster. Instead, he finished the home with earth or adobe plaster. “Adobe is an ideal material in passive houses, as it absorbs and releases moisture well, controlling the climate,” says Weijnen. In the upper part of the house, where temperatures tend to be high during the summer months, the adobe is mixed with PCMs, small paraffin capsules that melt when it’s hot to absorb heat and solidify again and release heat when it cools.
Do it yourself with earth and adobe plasters from companies like these.
Clay Mine Adobe
Though the Netherlands seems like the place that would most warmly welcome wind mills (as they’re called there), planning authorities were initially skeptical of the idea of a rooftop turbine in a dense, residential area. In the end, the town relented; and given local weather conditions, the turbine now provides one-third of the house’s annual electricity
Weijnen chose a donQi wind turbine, which is compact and quiet enough for an urban location. Consider these tips when selecting
a wind turbine.
Before installing, decide where you’ll mount the turbine by determining the direction from which the strongest winds come. For Weijnen, it was southwest.
Be a good neighbor. Consult with residents living close-by as turbines often produce unfamiliar noises.
If possible, mount the turbine on an anchor other than the house. Weijnen originally mounted his directly on the home but vibrations proved noisy, causing him to relocate it farther from the wall.