The Future Farmstead project in Tifton, Georgia is designed to be sustainable and off the grid.
Before Agriculture Professor Craig Kvien and
his research team designed The Future Farmstead project, a 3,400 experimental
home in Tifton, Ga., they did what many market researchers do – brought in a
group of farmers, ranchers, and builders to provide guidance. Permanence topped
the list of requests, though the participants didn’t exactly put it that way. “They said they wanted to be
born and die in the house,” says Kvien, who teaches at the University
of Georgia in Tifton. “They wanted materials that would last a long time, and
systems that wouldn’t cost a ton to operate. They were also interested in
accessibility – making sure that they could always live in the house.”
The team’s first response was
to design a home that would look at home in the rural landscape -- now and in
the future. Wide porches, generous overhangs, a
turret reminiscent of a grain silo, and a metal roof capped with a cupola combine to create a timeless farmhouse look. Argon-filled
casement windows open either way to capture prized breezes.
After the team decided they
wanted students to live in the house and monitor its systems, the University
required that it be built to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidelines.
Aside from a kitchen sink and an
oven obviously designed for wheelchair access,
the requirements seem barely noticeable (see the raised microwave oven
with pull-out shelf). Doorways and hallways appear
pleasingly wide, electrical outlets conveniently higher, and lights switches
within easy reach. Providing handicap access to
the second story proved more difficult. They installed a lift rather than a
more expensive elevator, and had the perfect place to put it – in the turret. The
money spent on the lift pales in comparison to the annual cost of a nursing
home, Kvien says. “I’ve had builders tell me that it would be easy for them to
add a turret to their plans for a similar purpose.”
The focus group participants
challenged the team to make the home as inexpensive to operate as possible. They
responded with a home that generates its own electricity, and hot water, and is
very water efficient. Solar film applied between the standing seems of the
metal roof provides most of the electricity needed to
operate the house. A
solar thermal system under the roof provides hot water (shown above). The ground source heat
pump – has loops in the pond and under the waterway in the back yard (for
comparison) – heats and cools the home. The students monitoring the systems have
already determined that – in this case -pipes buried in the ground are more
efficient, probably because the temperature under ground is more consistent.
The team really sweated the
construction details to prevent energy loss. They used tilt-up concrete walls for the first
floor and stick-framed the second floor. The home was first insulated with
closed-cell foam then the
walls and ceiling were packed with recycled blue jean
insulation (shown above). A reflective radiant barrier
under the solar thermal system helps to cool the home, which achieved R-30 in
the walls and R-40 against the roof deck.
stationed throughout the house track electrical use by circuit. The sensors
feed back into an energy monitoring and control system that shows how much
electricity the home produces, how much it uses, and the size of monthly
electric bills. “Looks like our electric bill will be $23 this month,” says
Kvien, who would rather it be zero. He plans to install additional photovoltaic
film on stanchions in the yard.
Farmstead was conceived to provide freedom from the grocery store as well as
the utility grid. Instead of decorating
the yard with boxwoods, the students have planted blueberry bushes, frost-tolerant,
seedless lemon and tangerine trees, and
disease-resistant plants and vegetables, interspersed by a series of
The gardens should generate enough food to feed a small family, and the pond is
a source of fish and water birds.
from sinks and showers inside flows through a grey water system that feeds the
surrounding edible landscape. Plants are fed with a drip irrigation system to
minimize water use. Kvien investigated the practicality of doing net-zero water
but found the requirements for seed
to be too demanding. As a result, water from the low-flush toilets (1.2
gallons) goes into the city sewage system.
High on the wish list for the focus group participants
was the ability to better manage the farming operations from home. Initially Kvien
and crew wanted to design a farm management dashboard to monitor and control some
farming operations, but their plan was overtaken by events – the introduction
of inexpensive cell phone apps that provide similar functionality.
Now, from his smart phone, Kvien can view feeds of
cameras around the farm to monitor the progress of work. The applications rely
on a wireless cloud over the campus and at cooperating farm sites. Radio feeds
have been installed at variety of sites including the home, dairy, cotton gin,
cropland, pasture, and forested areas.
Through GPS chips, they can track the whereabouts of
trucks making deliveries. An app on the phone can open and close shop doors. Other
sensors and apps can help farmers tell
whether cows are suffering from heat stress and monitor critical soil moisture
in the fields. “Farmers are struggling with how to do more with less –
technology can really help.”
Here are some other cool features of
cooktop in the kitchen heats food fast and more efficiently by heating the pan
rather than the cooktop.
--The kitchen oven
opens sideways, making it wheelchair accessible.
induction-charging spots provide wireless recharging.
“When we have meetings
here the students fight over who gets to recharge their phone,” says Kvien.
washer and dryer cleans a load of clothes in two hours. The 110-volt appliance doesn’t
require a dryer vent.
sensors turn lights on and off when students enter and leave their bedrooms.
include hands-free faucets, zero-threshold shower floors,
and washlet toilets with
concrete floors include 50 percent fly ash.
material was used to make furniture, mirrors, tables, chairs, interior doors,
and wood flooring in the bedrooms.
Boyce Thompson is writer, speaker, consultant and author of The New New Home.
For more information about the Future Farmstead project click here.
For a collection of Farmhouse style plans click here.