In Big Sky Country sits a near net zero pre-fab home that includes a nearly seamless transition from indoor to outdoor living thanks to hydraulic screens made with Caterpillar excavator cylinders and tractor parts.
The home, designed and built by Edwin Engler, owner of Medicine Hat, is situated within southwestern Montana's Ruby Valley in Ruby Springs. The modern design has a transparent feel and connection to the Ruby Mountains to the west. Exterior sliding barn doors offer the ability for passive heating and cooling, blocking the sun or letting it in, as needed, allowing sweeping views of the landscape.
The 1,888-square-foot home has a 2,400-square-foot deck. "We really blurred that distinction from outside to inside. There are points where the house goes away and it's not there," Engler said.
The exterior screens, interior trim, doors, and trim were all made with reclaimed Douglas fir. Also, the home has ground-source geothermal, solar PV, low-E windows and doors, cork flooring, and low-VOC paints and fabrics.
A standard 16-foot by 20-foot stick frame building is the basis of the structure. It includes some steel tube hybrid, and the hydraulic components which are scratch designed and scratch built. "We call it rancher farmer engineering," Engler said, adding that he comes from an agricultural background in the Midwest, where such engineering isn't unusual.
"The key issue on the house is it sits in a field next to Cottonwood trees. We created two primary environments, one close to the Cottonwoods and irrigation ditches, and the other is the view of the Ruby Mountain range. The liability of the mountain range is that you're looking west at the setting sun and you just get hammered in the evenings. That's the purpose of the barn door screens and hydraulic screens on the deck. We can adjust the house. You get that beautiful dappled light when you drop them down," he said.
The home cost more than $200 a square foot. "This is not an inexpensive house. This is a fully custom house," Engler said.
The pre-fab was created on a build site next to the Medicine Hat office in Gallatin Gateway, Mont. The location was convenient because the architects and interior designers were on site daily, so there was never a delay in getting questions answered, Engler said. "If we needed to evolve cabinet details, for instance, we just did it there. No RFIs. One of the key things during the build process is we kept designing and building the project throughout the build process."
The home was finished in the summer of 2010. The carport with photovoltaic solar panels was completed this spring, and additional projects are currently underway.
The home is near net zero with an oversized photovoltaic solar panel array that takes care of all of the home's electric needs, but on cloudy days the home does pull from the electric grid, using power from the local energy company. On sunny days, the meter spins backward as the solar panels produce more energy than the home's occupants can use.
"With all this glass, people say it's an energy pig, but we solved that problem on the energy side. Our PV [photovoltaic] is beyond what we need and use," Engler said.
A slideshow of images of the Ruby Springs home shows the hydraulic features.
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All photos courtesy of Will Brewer.