Cool House Tour

Building Inspiration

  Outside deck with furniture

Photo: Emerson Walter

Cool House Tour LogoSince 1997, sustainably minded homeowners have opened their doors during the annual Cool House Tour to reveal more about the planning, products and professionals involved in building green homes.  The Cool House Tour is an annual self-guided tour produced by Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB) and Texas Solar Energy Society (TXSES).

The tour is a fundraiser for non-profit TXSES and a signature event for AEGB.  It’s an invaluable resource for learning how to live comfortably in the hot Central Texas climate.  Many of the homes incorporate solar technologies, allowing tour goers an opportunity to learn about the value of renewable energy and help them make informed decisions about solar for their own projects.  The tour showcases houses that are designed and built to superior standards of energy efficiency, comfort and regional design, and all tour homes are AEGB-rated for sustainability.  The whole team, including the owner, architect/designer, and builder, is present to answer questions on tour day.

The homes selected to be on the tour range in size and style – new construction, remodels, urban, rural, custom, affordable, single family, and multifamily.  All homes showcase sustainable solutions for residents in a variety of life situations.

What many of us wonder is, what motivates tour participants to create sustainable homes?  Every owner is inspired to build green for various reasons that include energy efficiency, comfort, durability, safety, water-saving, material resource efficiency, environmental health and low maintenance.   

Tour guidebooks from over the years show how the tour has moved beyond listing the home’s green features to telling the story of how the homeowners create and live in a sustainable home.  You can see the programs for all of these tours by visiting the Web site:

1997: 15429 Overland Pass
Architect: Ben Obregon
Builder: Robert James Construction
5-Star rating

This exceptionally sustainable 2-story home takes full advantage of natural characteristics of the site to maximize shade, wind, and views while minimizing afternoon sun.  The design of the home creates flow-through ventilation in the kitchen, dining, and master suite areas.  (The family room and master suite have been designed to be interchangeable as occupants’ needs change.)

Green Features

• Recycled post & beam with straw bale infill walls

• Hydronic heating system with metal ducts

• Rainwater catchment as sole source water supply

• Roof radiant barrier with continuous ridge vent

• Passive solar elements & orientation

• Water use conservation: low-flow fixtures & dishwasher; Xeriscaping

• Engineered materials: floor & roof trusses

• Sustainable lumber: finger jointed studs; recycled posts & beams

• Non-toxic materials: low-VOC paints; natural pigments on concrete floor

• Recycled materials: interior doors; bathroom cabinets; attic vents

• Minimization of materials: stained concrete floor

• Minimized site impact: located in natural clearing

• High efficiency: 76% minimum recovery rate water heater as heating element for HVAC 

2004: 1514 Newton Street 
Architect: Michele Van Hyfte
Builders: Blue Horse Building + Design
4-Star rating

The remodeling done on this 1900 home won it one of the highest scoring single-family renovations in the history of Austin Energy’s Green Building program.  Now 117 years old, it has been transformed from a family-built farmhouse to a comfortable, efficient, high-tech example of how to build a modern home.

Its architectural character recalls its history and complements its unique neighborhood.  The project’s highly conscientious sustainability is economical, made with readily available local materials, and can be accomplished by any homeowner or general contractor.

Green Features

• Building envelope: finger-jointed studs, total-fill cellulose insulation, Tyvek house wrap, Hardi-panel and recycled wood/plastic composite trim material

• Passive solar:  porch shades East, covered deck shades West; heavy tree shading; natural, cross-ventilation

• Windows: low-E glass, low SHGC (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient), insulated windows & French doors in addition

• Roof: metal standing seam at low-slope roofs; attic radiant barrier; continuous ridge vent; R-30 blown wool insulation

• Recycled materials: no virgin wood in finish out; salvaged 1 X 12 lumber for wainscoting; reclaimed hardwood; salvaged interior door and windows for addition; salvaged porch rail & posts; 100% recycled wood/plastic composite decking; Moisture shield trim

• Non-toxic materials: Zero VOC paints; low-VOC finish on hardwood floor laid without adhesives; no-formaldehyde Medium Density Fiberboard fireplace surround & mantle; strawboard interior trim and casing; wool insulation

• Local materials: regionally harvested limestone chimney

• Energy efficiency: metal ductwork in thermal envelop; SEER16  HVAC w/variable air volume furnace

2010 : 4229 Camacho Street
Architect: Barley & Pfeiffer
Builder: Durrett Interests, Inc.
5-Star Rating

This five-star home consumes about 1/3 of the energy of a typical American home built in 2010.  It was the first home built in the Mueller neighborhood, and one of the few homes in Texas, to receive the U.S. Green Building Council’s Platinum rating.  Designed for long-term durability, the house is extremely inexpensive to operate compared to other homes of the same size.

Green Features

• Site Development: Dense cluster development reduces commuter miles; small home footprint increases pervious cover, increasing rainwater absorption and decreasing storm water runoff

• Recycled Content: Post-industrial recycled steel roof; exterior trim 90% recycled content

• Natural Ventilation: Screened porch provides shade and captures prevailing breeze; stair tower acts as solar-thermal chimney; windows carefully positioned for cross-ventilation; window size coordinated with overhangs and unique fabric shading devices

• Natural Lighting: North-facing windows provide for continuous natural daylight; main downstairs area’s curved ceiling plane brings light deeper into the living room

• Energy Lighting: High-quality fluorescent lighting supplements the natural day lighting, consuming 1/3 the energy of a typical custom home

• Efficient Design: Passive solar design principals, air-tight attic and exterior rigid insulation create and energy efficient home 

• Low Maintenance: Over next 50 years, little exterior maintenance required for masonry and pre-finished metal

• Solar: 3-KW grid-tied solar cells

• Indoor Air Quality: Low-VOC paints; balanced distributed air pressure; dehumidification; detached garage

• Efficient Water Use: Centrally located water heater carefully designed with manifold distribution system, and short plumbing runs

2016: 1705 Collier Street
Studio Momentum Architects
5-Star Rating

When the house and lot next to their parents’ home came up for sale, these owners set a path toward a modern, light filled, all electric and energy efficient home and studio.

The original older house was recycled and the narrow lot was opened up for design possibilities. Abundant heritage trees dotting the property ultimately became an advantage, bringing a sense of the outdoors inside. Privacy in this urban space is created with shaded second floor balconies, a screened-in porch, and an invitation to stroll to the backyard and relax on the covered deck. The large second-floor windows provide natural daylighting which minimizes electricity use and makes the upstairs bathroom feel like a tree house.

Rough-cut flooring from multiple wood species enhances the natural aesthetic and hides scuff marks from the owners’ enthusiastic pets. Though the home and studio are all-electric, the utility bills are half the cost of the owners’ previous condo. Passive solar design prevents heat gain with an 8-foot overhang on the southern exposure and an operable window in the center light well that creates a thermal chimney effect. Heat pump water heaters, exterior and attic insulation, a high efficiency HVAC system and durable materials expand energy saving opportunities for this 2,600 square foot home and 480 square foot studio.

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