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Houston's Greenest House

No city water needed at Houston's greenest house; it's an energy-saving wonder

Heights Green Houston house
With 51 solar panels, this Heights house will produce more energy than it uses. Photo by Ralph Bivins
Heights Green Houston house
An 8,000-gallon cistern stores rainwater at the new Heights home. Photo by Ralph Bivins
Heights Green Houston house
This green home in the Heights will be off-the-grid, not using any city water. Photo by Ralph Bivins
Heights Green Houston house
This new Heights home will be certified LEED Platinum for sustainability. Photo by Ralph Bivins
Heights Green Houston house
Heights Green Houston house
Heights Green Houston house
Heights Green Houston house
USE THIS ONE News_NEW HEAD SHOT_Ralph Bivins_column mug

One of the greenest new homes in Houston will rely on rainwater from its roof for all of its water needs, an extremely unusual sustainability strategy designed to avoid toxins, pollution and municipal-water treatment chemicals.

The Heights area house, which is also a world-class standout in energy efficiency, has two 8,000-gallon water tanks in the yard. Rain comes off the metal roof, into gutters and downspouts, into the tanks and – after extensive purification treatment – into the house for drinking, bathing and cooking.

It’s believed to be the first new house in Houston to have an independent rainwater-based water supply in many years, says the home’s architect LaVerne Williams of Environment Associates of Houston.

Why take such extreme steps?

 “The water in Houston has become so bad because we are basically drinking treated sewage from upstream,” Williams says.  

“The water in Houston has become so bad because we are basically drinking treated sewage from upstream,” Williams says. 

Although it’s treated, municipal water includes run-off drainage that  “comes off of fields, but also off highways and off of chemical plants and whatever is upstream. Whatever is running off upstream is coming down in our water. Plus, there’s sewage from the sewage treatment plants upstream,” Williams says.

Williams, an environmentalist and an intense advocate of healthy homes, is concerned about the treatment of municipal water supplies with chloramines, which are derivatives of ammonia.

“We do know that chloramines create health problems and skin problems for people that have sensitivities to it,” Williams says. “We getting reports now that it’s even eating up copper piping. And creating problems with brass valves that have never had a problem before.”

The 3,500-square-foot home, located in the Inner Loop on East 27th Street, just south of Loop 610, also has a swimming pool that will be fed with rainwater. 

Solar panels

The house, scheduled for completion this fall, has 51 solar panels on the roof, breezeways and precise orientation to avoid a broiling western sun.

With the solar panels and its energy-efficient design, Williams says the house is “net-zero” – meaning it will create more energy than it uses.

 With the solar panels and its energy-efficient design, Williams says the house is “net-zero” – meaning it will create more energy than it uses. 

The home, which will be occupied by a Houston attorney and his wife, has been named the “Heights Integral Urban Homestead” by Williams.

The projected energy efficiency rating on the home clocks in at  minus 6 on the HERS index (Home Energy Rating System). That’s an incredibly low HERS score. (Low is good.) Older homes typically have a HERS of 130 and new homes with more advanced energy-saving technology often score 100, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. 

The house, included on the recent National Association of Real Estate Editors tour when the group had its convention in Houston, also has a very high LEED Platinum rating for sustainability and is expected to be certified for outstanding indoor air quality by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A huge sycamore tree on the large lot was preserved, but the pecan and elm trees that had to be cut down on the site were repurposed as cabinet fronts, wood trim and handsomely-stained exposed interior beams in the family room.

The home, constructed by Lacon Homes, does have a connection to city water, in case it’s ever needed, but Williams says rainwater will always be adequate, even during a drought.

Rainwater from the onsite storage tanks will be run through a dual filtration system before being used by the homeowners.

“We use a pump that’s solar-powered and it will take the water, put it through a filtration system, then a UV filter system to purify it and kill any organic matter that’s in it before they drink it,” Williams says.

Water: A Big Topic

The water conservation and the re-use of water is a key to meeting the vast demand for water in Houston in the decades to come, says Peter Houghton, president of the board at the North Fort Bend Water Authority.

Houghton was among the speakers at the “Future of Water in Houston” luncheon Wednesday – an event sponsored by the Urban Land Institute. The ULI luncheon was attended by hundreds of developers, engineers and commercial real estate brokers.

Using non-potable water for golf courses and community lakes is the “low-hanging fruit” Houghton says, but there needs to be a lot of advancement in extensive recycling of water from sewage treatment plants.

Will Holder, president of Trendmaker Homes, says his firm is strongly advocating rooftop rainwater harvesting and cistern filtration systems and in the rural homes it is building in the Hill Country.

Many homebuyers of the rural homes believe that drilling a well as a water source is ideal, but Holder tells them rainwater from the roof is vastly superior and more reliable.

“I think the cistern is excellent,” Holder says. “It’s a great way to go.”

Ralph Bivins, editor of RealtyNewsReport, is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

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