Modern, Small & Solar

Intermediate

Inside this Article

The main home
The Asher house: small and simple.
The patio
The patio provides living space: but outdoors.
Outdoor shower
A shower on the house’s exterior offers a place to rinse off after outdoor chores.
Patio and main house
A greenhouse and sauna flank the north side of the courtyard, which includes a fire pit for chilly nights.
Courtyard
The west wall of the courtyard is bermed into the steep hillside, giving the enclave a cozy feel, even with the expansive east view.
Kitchen with owners
The custom kitchen island converts to a dining table, with knee room all around, by rolling away the kitchen-side lower cabinets.
More kitchen
The streamlined kitchen offers modern conveniences in a small footprint.
Bed area and main living space
Creative design and careful use of space make the small footprint highly functional, while feeling comfortable and inviting.
Sleeping nook
The sleeping nook was originally designed to have drapery separating it from the main living area, but the Ashers find they seldom need the privacy and appreciate the natural light and openness.
Main entry
The eastern-facing main entrance, which is mostly glass, allows ample morning light and some passive heat to enter. During warmer weather, the doors can be swung wide open to naturally ventilate the house.
Mechanical chase
A perfect puzzle: Steve designed the mechanical systems to fit into otherwise wasted spaces. The HRV sits in a bathroom cabinet, and the water heater hides behind another roll-away unit.
Earth bermed
The sloped site and surrounding woods preclude much southern solar access. Instead, the main view, solar exposure, and building orientation is easterly. For this reason, the roof wasn’t ideal for a solar array either, but allowed the creative butterfly design.
Side view
The sloped site and surrounding woods preclude much southern solar access. Instead, the main view, solar exposure, and building orientation is easterly. For this reason, the roof wasn’t ideal for a solar array either, but allowed the creative butterfly design.
spraying foam insulation
Inside, open- and closed-cell spray foams were used in wall and ceiling cavities, providing a vapor barrier and superior insulation.
Roof construction
Above the main roof sheathing, another set of rafters provided space for rigid foam board, bringing the roof insulation to R-60.
Wood heater
The small Avalon Camano wood heater provides enough heat from one firing to keep the superinsulated home warm for up to five­ days.
PV on the garden shed
Ten 235-watt Sharp PV modules on the roof of the garden shed provide 65% of the Ashers’ energy needs.
PV inverter
A PV Powered 2,500-watt inverter, production meter, and disconnect (not shown) round out the balance-of-system components for this grid-tied installation.
Roof ready for more PV modules
Future plans are to install more PV modules on the garage roof to achieve net-zero energy use on an annual basis.
The main home
The patio
Outdoor shower
Patio and main house
Courtyard
Kitchen with owners
More kitchen
Bed area and main living space
Sleeping nook
Main entry
Mechanical chase
Earth bermed
Side view
spraying foam insulation
Roof construction
Wood heater
PV on the garden shed
PV inverter
Roof ready for more PV modules

As retirement drew near, it seemed only fitting that the capstone for homebuilder Steve Asher’s 25-plus-year career would showcase his construction and design skills. What was unexpected was that he’d fit it in less than 840 square feet.

Steve Asher and his wife Buffie were living in a 3,000-square-foot home near Ashland, Oregon, when he completed the initial design for their “Trophy House”—and then started to reconsider.

Even though he planned to cover the rooftop with PV modules, “It was [still] a 3,000-square-foot, million-dollar home,” says Steve.

And Buffie chafed against the idea of another large house. “I was just tired of always cleaning,” she says. “I thought, I’d rather live anywhere I don’t have to do this every day. I could never really relax.”

He did not really want a future of taking on jobs just to offset the costs of owning and maintaining a large home. Another factor influenced their decision to downsize. When the sale of their house fell through, they decided to rent it out instead, and moved into the “rec room”—an 864-square-foot space where Steve’s kids used to hang out. It was a makeshift situation: no kitchen, no large house to clean. And Buffie loved it.

“It was like pseudo-camping,” she says. “The chores were different, and everything was temporary.” This experience convinced them that downsizing could free up a precious resource: their time. So Steve went back to the drawing board on a second, more modest design.

Searching for Solar

Steve has designed and built net-zero energy homes for several clients; he’s a building science expert and runs a green building consulting service on the side. Coming out of the recession, he was determined to make self-sufficiency a priority for his own family. “We wanted to [function as if] off-grid, but still be grid-tied,” says Steve.

Although he owned 5 acres near Ashland, the site—with its steep, forested, east-facing slope—wasn’t perfectly suited for solar. The couple started searching for property with ideal southern exposure. They even visited Michael Reynolds’ Earthships in Arizona, and briefly considered moving there.

But the recession convinced them to work with what they already had—land that was paid for, even if it lacked perfect solar access. They decided they couldn’t even build the smaller redesigned house without borrowing from a bank. They could, however, afford to build the planned “garage”—which Steve had originally intended to use as a shop and office—and several smaller outbuildings.

“At that point, the fun began,” says Steve. The design for the garage-cum-studio soon morphed into “a statement and model—an adventure in living.” The result is a small compound designed around a courtyard. The studio flanks the south end and measures 840 square feet; its northwest side is bermed into the hillside. Across the courtyard is a sauna, a small greenhouse, and a storage room, which are all connected. Pear trees and raised garden beds surround the courtyard, which includes a patio, outdoor kitchen, and outdoor shower. “We live outside six months out of the year,” says Steve. “This design reflects our lifestyle.”

Comments (2)

Scott Turner's picture

How can I put this? Butterfly roof? Skylights in an 850 sf house with excessive south glass? Butterfly roof? What was the cost per square foot?

Linda Branson's picture

I love this idea. I have been looking for SIMPLE passive solar house plans for years now. Maybe twelve hundred sq. ft. We live down in the Etna, California area.Would you be interested in helping me design something small and SImple? Would love to take a peek at your 840sq ft project.
Linda Branson 530-598-6192.

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