Project: R-House

Passive solar design, which promotes passive means of generating and retaining warmth over active—and expensive—systems, is central to R-House’s success. Solar gain—chiefly from rear-facing windows that cascade from roofline to threshold on the building’s south side—and heat generated by people and electrical equipment warm the house. A thick, superinsulated, and tightly sealed exterior minimizes heat loss, and an energy-recovery ventilation system transfers warmth from the inside air that is being exhausted to the fresh air being drawn from the outside.

R-House, Syracuse, New York
To manage costs, Yarinsky and Bernheimer kept things simple. Fiber cement panels and corrugated aluminum, coated with a clear textured finish to prevent corrosion, were used for the exterior. Image courtesy of © Richard Barnes.

“The net result,” says ARO’s principal, Adam Yarinsky, “is you’re using the energy equivalent of a hair dryer to heat the house.”

The house was designed to be flexible. The second level can be extended across the double-height living space to add a third bedroom, for example. As expenses mounted, Yarinsky and Andrew Bernheimer, a partner at Della Valle Bernheimer, dropped plans for a pair of skylights, and settled for drywall instead of the more whimsical translucent polycarbonate panels they’d envisioned to enclose the two bedrooms.

maximizing living room space
To reinforce the thermal efficiency of the envelope, 16-inch-wide I-joists made from black spruce lumber were employed as wall studs, allowing for what Bernheimer describes as a “tremendous amount of insulation.” Image courtesy of © Richard Barnes.
“It doesn’t take that much technology to achieve a certain level of sustainability and a low carbon footprint,” Yarinsky says. “It just takes smart use of materials and a strong understanding of how a building’s form relates to its energy consumption.

laminated tongue-and-groove decking
Laminated tongue-and-groove decking by Lock-Deck was used for the second-level floor. The durable material is sturdy enough to span long distances without joists, maximizing headroom in the first-floor living room. Image courtesy of © Richard Barnes.
Project: R-House
Design team: Architecture Research Office, New York, and Della Valle Bernheimer, Brooklyn
Size: 1,100 square feet

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