Buffalo House to Weather Rainstorms in Kansas

June 9, 2009

U of Kansas grad students have just completed their chic Buffalo House at Springfield in Kansas City, designed with a very elegant approach to sustainability.

We are seeing more climate conscious design in architecture: In this case; the rain screen.

A skin over the house is designed to manage and harvest occasional heavy precipitation, to provide protection from premature decay from moisture intrusion.

I like the way the rain-screen is carried up over the roof and mounted flush with the photovoltaic solar panels on the roof for a sleek look while also protecting the building.

Like a skin over the building; this Cumuru wood cladding is designed to shed rain water separately from the structure of the building. Rain screens deter rainwater intrusion into walls – by shedding most of the rain and by incorporating storage to reuse the rainwater – which you can see below the doors here.

There’s 8 other sustainable features, as well.

Rather than attacking the symptoms of moisture intrusion, rain screens tackle the source-the forces that drive water into the building shell. By neutralizing these forces, rain screens can withstand extreme environments. They appear to be effective in any climate and handle any weather condition short of a disaster.

All rain screens include the following elements:

  • Vented or porous exterior cladding
  • Air cavity (a few inches of depth is sufficient)
  • Drainage layer on support wall
  • Rigid, water-resistant, airtight, support wall

Integral gutters and downspouts are hidden behind the rain-screen. These then carry rainwater for storage in underground tanks.

The home also features passive solar heating through large expanses of south facing glass. These windows are protected from the summer sun with fixed sun louvers made of steel and Cumaru wood.

So as not to trap too much heat, low South-facing operable windows work in tandem with skylight vents in the north-facing roof-top pull hot air out of the top of the building for a thermal chimney effect.

For maximizing filtered daylighting, a three-level steel frame with milky glass inside encloses the staircase for spatial separation but spreading daylight between the rooms of the house.

The sustainable features are:

1. Enough rooftop photovoltaic solar panels for a net zero electricity supply (90-100%) for an average home.
2. One on-site 1.2 KW Windspire wind turbine that could produce about 20% of the energy an average home (550 kWh a month) assuming wind speed of at least 12 miles-per-hour year round.
3. Geothermal heat exchange between the house and the below-ground 55 degree temperatures year round, providing a constant starting point for both heating and cooling.
4. Epoxy coated gyp-crete floors for interior thermal mass to prolong passive heating and cooling
5. Passive solar design: low South-facing windows with sunlight access to thermal mass in the floor.
6. Heat-chimney effect created with roof ventilation in North skylights for expelling hot air
7. The framing wood was recycled from an ammunition plant.
8. Recycled materials in interior finishes such as the composite recycled paper countertops.

and of course

9. The rainwater reclamation using a wooden slat skin to keep water off the building and stored in underground tanks. Cumaru is one of the hardest woods on the planet and can be harvested sustainably.

But it comes from South America, so there is quite a carbon footprint getting it to Kansas City.

Images: Robert McLaughlin
Via Jetson Green