Who We Are
This site is maintained for archival purposes by Alembic Studio, LLC, an architectural design firm based in Asheville, NC. Most of our team worked on the Nauhaus Prototype Project. We continue to design hemp houses to this day, based upon the valuable knowledge and experience gained from the Nauhaus.
What Is “Carbon Neutrality” And Why Should You Care?
The overwhelming majority of international climate scientists now believe that the earth’s climate is changing rapidly due primarily to our pernicious habit of burning fossil fuels (oil and coal) that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It’s unclear exactly what the consequences of this trend will mean, but a good summary of a survey of existing predictive climatic computer modeling is, “It ain’t gonna be good.” In any case, waiting around to find out is like hanging out in the tiger’s cage to see if it’s hungry. The good news is that though the problem is complex, the solution is simple: stop burning fossil fuels. The energy required to run buildings is responsible for about 50% of our carbon footprint while transportation makes up another 15 to 30% of that impact. Therefore, creating a “carbon neutral” built environment would solve human induced climate change.
NHI was born from one simple thought: What would happen if we considered our present climate change crisis as an opportunity to make life better? Reducing carbon emissions can lower the life-cycle costs of buildings while making them healthier and more durable. Carbon neutral buildings encourage self-sufficiency for individuals and groups, a renewed daily connection to the outdoors, a less-hectic pedestrian-centric urban environment, have built-in support for local economies, and allow for cost savings in municipal infrastructures. Put simply, the specter of climate change can empower us to move our collective happiness up the to-do list of social priorities.
We’re not rocket scientists, which is fine because this isn’t rocket science. Carbon neutral design is basically an Easter egg hunt. Find the carbon and then reduce or eliminate it. In that vein, NHI started by defining the aspects of buildings that have associated carbon emissions: health and comfort, energy efficiency, materials selection, durability, size, infrastructure, affordability (seen from another angle this is social justice), and beauty (yes, beauty!). We then set out to reduce the carbon footprint associated with each of these elements in a given building project. In general, our response has been to develop a “whole systems” building design and construction approach that combines the best of modern building science with the advantages of traditional building materials and techniques.
The result creates interesting juxtapositions like intricate German energy modeling married to site-made earthen materials; and cutting-edge technologies such as photovoltaics and energy recovery ventilation combined with luxurious outdoor spaces and edible landscapes. In summary, we are working to help revamp our modern built environment and create beautiful, healthy, livable spaces that grapple with climate change while improving the quality of your daily life.
We start with established high performance building science practices including passive solar design, a super-insulated and airtight building envelope, interior thermal mass, high performance windows and doors, and careful construction detailing. This integrated design approach can create buildings that are up to 90% more energy efficient than present code mandates, creating a healthy, comfortable indoor environment that requires little heating or cooling energy.
This substantial decrease in energy use allows renewable energy systems to be downsized. The consequent reduction in price brings self-sufficient power production and even carbon neutrality within reach. This “state of the art” building science is combined with site-harvested materials, rainwater harvesting, greywater irrigation, extensive outdoor living spaces, a lush edible landscape, small scale animal husbandry, and wildlife habitat to make sustainable homesteads a possibility even in densely populated urban neighborhoods.
Don’t panic! Our approach doesn’t require that everyone become a small scale farmer. The concept is to merge the improvement of building performance mandated by our present climate crisis with a return to productive use of our urban landscapes.
The average suburban lawn could produce an abundance of food. Why not plant a beautiful edible landscape. Then, rather than paying someone to mow your lawn, let them harvest your edibles. They’ll keep the surplus to eat and sell. The result: you feed yourself and create jobs by replacing a boring lawn with a varied landscape full of the sights, smells, sounds, feelings, and tastes of the changing seasons.
Successes, Failures, and the Future
The Nauhaus is certainly one of the most energy efficient buildings utilizing “natural building” materials and methods in the world. You can learn a lot more about the project here and here, as well as by perusing the rest of this website. To get a feel for what it’s like to live there, check out “Living in the Nauhaus” posts on our blog.
Our goal, however, was to create a repeatable, affordable model that could be disseminated both conventionally through a business model and virally through open source platforms. Okay, that hasn’t panned out. We had some unfortunate real world problems with money, trust, love, and war. We also perhaps have to face that our product isn’t yet cost competitive. Regardless of how necessary and wonderful we know our baby to be, it costs more upfront and in our world that’s where the rubber meets the road. This is nothing that a $2,000,000 grant couldn’t fix, but we also haven’t been able to successfully make that argument to the suits.
So, where does that leave us? We are regrouping and continuing to constantly research and collate. If anyone wants to fund us, then great. If not, we’re in this for the long haul and anticipate our next incarnation to be a design/build company that will crack the affordable carbon neutral nut for small scale projects.