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Sustainable, Solar-Powered Family Retreat in California

Designed to harness the sun, architect Birgitte Hovmøller's vacation house features a roof full of solar panels and plenty of space for an extended family to relax.
Ornamenting the eastern facade of the Sunrise House, slotted windows set in one-foot thick walls introduce light into the home without inviting in excessive amounts of heat.

The Sunrise House, an architect's retreat just north of San Diego, in Vista, California, is bright and solar-powered. With its wide glass windows, a solar-powered water heater and a roof featuring solar panels and a solar electric system, the home uses California's most celebrated element to power all of its modern conveniences.

As one of the two principals of the San Francisco-based Giraph Design firm, Hovmøller specializes in residential work, both on the California coastline and in her home country of Denmark. She built this particular project for her family's use, with her own family and members of her extended family using the home as a temporary vacation residence according to their differing schedules. With a sister in-law living close-by, Hovmøller says, "The daytime activities takes place at my sister in-laws place, and the Sunrise House is the retreat." The 1,800 square foot, two bedroom home also features a 500 square foot workshop on the same property, offering more beds and additional space so all the family is welcome.


Hovmøller's sustainable design decisions extend beyond her use of solar power. Nearly maintenance free walls of Perform Wall paneling, a light-weight, fire-proof, highly insulating, termite proof hybrid material made of eighty-five percent recycled cement, polystryrene and water, secure the home from typical sources of wear and tear. The insulated glass and recycled steel framing of the home's windows and glass doors ensure that it is draft free. The home is cooled, not by a sophisticated cooling system but by natural ventilation from its many windows, with solar-powered fans supplementing on particularly hot afternoons. With drought resistant plants and trees as the only landscaping, the Sunrise house exhibits aspects of passively sustainable design. Instead of employing elaborate or high tech mechanisms to counter moments of environmental harshness, Hovmøller used slotted windows, thick walls and an overhang to shelter the home from summer's most cutting blades of sunlight. '

Such passive solutions reflect the principles of the styles that inspired Hovmøller: Scandinavian and Mexican contemporary and traditional design, which all feature clean lines, and rustic and minimalist elements. Visible from the home's west terrace, the lemon and mango trees fringe the property, reclining over the Sunrise house: the fruit of Hovmøller's labors.

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