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BrightBuilt Barn Prefab Is Net Zero (Maine, USA)

Credits: ©2009 Kaplan Thompson Architects

The BrightBuilt Barn is an attempt to push the envelope of sustainable design and green building. It is the practical outcome of an in-depth collaboration between Kaplan Thompson Architects, Bensonwood Homes, a Who's-Who team of Maine's green engineers and professionals, and a visionary client to create a super green, off-site fabricated net-zero building that can be adapted and replicated over time. Designers, building fabricators, high performance building experts and solar energy professionals from all over the northeast have participated in the project. From its inception, the design of the BrightBuilt Barn has been driven by five guiding principles: Livability, Sustainability, Replicability/Affordability, Disentanglement/Flexibility, and Education.


BrightBuilt Barn in Snow (Maine, USA)

The BrightBuilt Barn is designed and constructed to last indefinitely as a result of the durable qualities of its materials and by keeping its systems disentangled, allowing for flexibility and adaptability of design. ©2009 Naomi C. O. Beal

The building has a small but adaptable initial purpose - it will serve as a working studio for the client, or can be configured as a one or two-bedroom unit. With large intentions, its mission is to demonstrate an alternative method of building that allows a level of flexibility and sustainability beyond the reach of typical residential construction. Fabricated and erected in the summer of 2008 and available for purchase in early 2009, this prototype will be offered at a square foot cost equivalent to the average small American home. 

Renewable Materials
This home is notable for primarily using materials that have at least 25% recycled content; getting all of the framing and other wood products from local sources within 250 miles of the site; using only paints, adhesives and sealants with little or no VOCs; and for reducing waste in the fabrication process and in on-site construction, while diverting a high proportion of unavoidable waste generated to recycling resources.

Water Conservation
In this home, plumbing fixtures have been installed which use significantly less water than typical fixtures.

Budget / Economy
The goal is for a base model to be offered at a square foot cost equivalent to the average small American home.

Sustainable Landscape
This project keeps site disturbance to a minimum, uses native, drought tolerant plants and reduces the amount of water-thirsty grass on the site, and shades as much of the hardscapes as possible.

Energy Efficient
Each component of the building envelope (walls, floor, ceiling/roof) achieves R-40 insulation; which in combination with high efficiency windows, creates a building tight enough to require NO FURNACE.

Home occupants and observers will be able to track the building's energy performance in two ways. The first way is through an array of LED lights around the lower perimeter of the building are programmed to glow in multiple colors depending on the moment-to-moment level of energy the barn is producing or consuming. At its most energy efficient energy level, when more kWh are being produced than consumed, the 'light skirt' glows green; glowing red when kWh production is less than consumption - not unlike a mood ring. All energy use information, both moment-to-moment and cumulative, will be CONTINUALLY MONITORED ONLINE at brightbuiltbarn.com. !

The second is through a series of three meters on the east side of the facade. This first meter displays the real time energy use of the barn, tracking the amount of energy produced and used by the barn. The energy that is produced is represented by the color green and a graphic of a tree, while the energy that is being used is represented as a red graphic of a smokestack. The second meter displays how many acres of trees could be planted to equal the savings in CO2 emissions generated by the barn. The third meter displays how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) the barn is producing, measured in the number of average homes the barn could power. Along with these three meters is a complex algorithm through which the carbon load generated by the building's construction will be calculated and provide a starting point in the red for CO2 emissions - the carbon debt incurred in construction of the barn. Over time, we will watch the red return to black as the carbon debt is repaid, the result of excess kWh produced by the building's twin solar energy systems.

Renewable Power
This building takes a radical stance toward carbon neutrality. Not only does it generate all the electrical and heat energy that it needs, thus reducing its annual carbon footprint to zero (i.e. Net Zero). It takes the next step by generating substantially more electricity over the course of a year than it uses, and sending it out into the national electrical grid, where it displaces the need for more carbon-producing sources of electricity such as coal-fired generators. Over time, the surplus energy will erase the "carbon debt" incurred by building the BrightBuilt Barn.

The roof of the BrightBuilt Barn is packed with 30 individual 32" x 62" solar panels able to produce approximately 20 kWh per day. These photovoltaic panels are arranged symmetrically on each side of 60 evacuated solar thermal tubes, long glass tubes constructed like thermoses, which trap heat energy from the sun even on the coldest days. The solar panels will roughly produce 132 kWh per day and will feed any excess energy back into the grid. The tubes will produce the energy equivalent of approximately .37 gallons of heating oil per day, saving an estimated yearly total of 137 gallons for domestic hot water and, as needed, to the space heating needs of the building.

Update 1/15/08: The NY Times reports that the original BrightBuilt Barn cost about $300k to construct, but a base model is being offered across the country at $200k.

Relevant book:

Precedents in Zero Energy Design


BrightBuilt Barn Website

BrightBuilt Barn Plans Set