A Stellar Sustainable Home Is Built on a Surprisingly Low Budget

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By Lucy Wang
Stylish, spacious, and self-sustaining, the Hill Country House ticks all the right boxes for progressive modern living.

Rated four stars in the Austin Energy Green Building program, there is no doubt this eco-friendly home in rural Texas offers a modern take on the farmhouse vernacular. Yet perhaps the most impressive aspect is the construction budget—it was completed for less than $150 per square foot.

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"Working within the restrictive budget, design was not sacrificed; rather, it inspired the team to find a vocabulary that was simple yet refined," adds the firm. "The exterior of the home is defined by clean lines, a sculptural gable roof, and a contrasting material palette of corrugated-aluminum and warm, locally sourced cypress. "

"Working within the restrictive budget, design was not sacrificed; rather, it inspired the team to find a vocabulary that was simple yet refined," adds the firm. "The exterior of the home is defined by clean lines, a sculptural gable roof, and a contrasting material palette of corrugated-aluminum and warm, locally sourced cypress. "

Austin–based practice Miró Rivera Architects has created the sculptural abode for an active retired couple, both of whom are ordained ministers with a vision to transform a 46-acre hill country plot near Wimberley, Texas, into a community of sustainable homes where people can gather and find "spiritual renewal."

White corrugated-aluminum siding and a standing-seam metal roof have been chosen for the exterior, as these materials are known for having a long lifespan and require low maintenance.

White corrugated-aluminum siding and a standing-seam metal roof have been chosen for the exterior, as these materials are known for having a long lifespan and require low maintenance.

Conceived as the prototype for a future off-grid development, the Hill Country House—nicknamed The Sanctuary—aims for a relatively light footprint on the landscape, despite its 5,100-square-foot size.

A waste-management plan has been developed to minimize, mitigate, and/or completely eliminate construction waste, while also properly disposing unused materials.

A waste-management plan has been developed to minimize, mitigate, and/or completely eliminate construction waste, while also properly disposing unused materials.

Pier-and-beam construction reduces site impact and lifts the home above the floodplain for protection against flooding, while renewable energy systems—including solar and geothermal—sustainably power the abode.

An 8-kW solar array powers the majority of the home's annual energy use, while a five-ton geothermal system provides mechanical heating and cooling. A 30,000-gallon rainwater collection system feeds the home with 200 gallons of purified water daily.

An 8-kW solar array powers the majority of the home's annual energy use, while a five-ton geothermal system provides mechanical heating and cooling. A 30,000-gallon rainwater collection system feeds the home with 200 gallons of purified water daily.

"The clients wanted a home that was connected to nature, practically off the grid, required very low maintenance, and was constructed on a very low budget," explain the architects. 

"The porch’s distinctive 30-foot peak is discernible from a great distance, and its rhythmic, horizontal cypress slats are a contemporary interpretation of traditional vented gables," add the architects.

"The porch’s distinctive 30-foot peak is discernible from a great distance, and its rhythmic, horizontal cypress slats are a contemporary interpretation of traditional vented gables," add the architects.

"As ordained ministers, they envisioned a place to hold retreats and other gatherings—a public-private building with a flexible plan and plenty of space to convene both indoors and outdoors."

The screen porch extends out from the living room into the heart of the home.

The screen porch extends out from the living room into the heart of the home.

Drawing inspiration from the landscape, the Hill Country House features a jagged roofline that recalls the topography. 

Juxtaposed against the exterior’s white corrugated-aluminum siding—chosen for durability and low-maintenance—is a palette of natural, locally sourced materials, including limestone, cypress, and pecan.

The enclosed screen porch is enveloped in locally sourced cypress.

The enclosed screen porch is enveloped in locally sourced cypress.

To achieve an indoor-outdoor living experience in every room, the architects have implemented a shotgun-style, linear layout along an east-west axis, with the public and private spaces placed on opposite ends.

The view from the entrance looking toward the corridor that leads to the living room beyond.

The view from the entrance looking toward the corridor that leads to the living room beyond.

The main corridor, punctuated with full-height glazing, doubles as an art gallery.

The main corridor, punctuated with full-height glazing, doubles as an art gallery.

"The owners have worked closely with community officials to garner support for creating a series of developments—with this home as the prototype—in which residents would share public spaces, site paths, and other resources," continues the firm.

Sliding barn doors connect the garage to a shaded outdoor sculptural studio that doubles as a stage for summer concerts.

Sliding barn doors connect the garage to a shaded outdoor sculptural studio that doubles as a stage for summer concerts.

"The owners have taken it upon themselves to promote their residence as a model for future off-the-grid development, building relationships with the community by hosting folk and Americana concerts on their covered outdoor stage."

The tapered limestone chimney draws inspiration from an existing shed built of dry-stacked local stone.

The tapered limestone chimney draws inspiration from an existing shed built of dry-stacked local stone.

The kitchen is fitted with soapstone countertops and backsplashes from Architectural Tile & Stone, and white-painted custom cabinets from B Squared Woodworks.

The kitchen is fitted with soapstone countertops and backsplashes from Architectural Tile & Stone, and white-painted custom cabinets from B Squared Woodworks.

White walls are paired with locally sourced pecan flooring.

White walls are paired with locally sourced pecan flooring.

The meditation room overlooks a nearby hilltop in one of the clients' favorite views, framed by floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

The meditation room overlooks a nearby hilltop in one of the clients' favorite views, framed by floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

Here is the Hill Country House floor plan.

Here is the Hill Country House floor plan.

A look at a section of the Hill Country House.

A look at a section of the Hill Country House.

Here is the site plan where the locations of the solar array and the rainwater cistern can be seen.

Here is the site plan where the locations of the solar array and the rainwater cistern can be seen.

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Miró Rivera Architects

Builder/ General Contractor: PB Fine Construction

Structural Engineer: Structures P.E., LLP

Landscape Design: Environmental Survey Consulting