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Energy-Efficient Construction of a Concrete Cabin

An architect uses an energy-efficient concrete material to construct a LEED-certified cabin that’s as cozy as it is functional.
by Whitney Richardson | Photos by courtesy of BRZ

The home was constructed with not only energy efficiency in mind, but also low maintenance. “Ninety percent of the water off the roofs is collected in gutters and piped into the cistern for use in the irrigation system,” Peter details, “and 100 percent of plant materials are native plants that should require little or no watering once they’ve been established.”

Coastal living calls to mind images of well-weathered, clapboard-sided cottages perched high above the dunes. Rarely does a colder, more urban material like concrete come into view. But that’s exactly what architect Peter Brower used in the energy-efficient construction of his LEED-Platinum cabin in the Spring Island community of South Carolina.

Peter had long been interested in the concepts of LEED prior to building in this community. A widower and newfound empty-nester, he found the 5,200 square feet in which he resided to be more than he needed and opted to downsize. Like his previous home, Peter chose to construct his new 1,570-square-foot cabin using auto-claved aerated concrete (AAC), an energy-efficient material, to create a supertight building envelope.

All the appliances in the home are Energy Star-rated, from the fridge to the paddle fans. Peter used LED bulbs with a color temperature of 2,700 degrees Kelvin in lieu of 4,000-degree bulbs to emit a warmer light instead of the cooler blue-white glow most people associate with LED lighting.

“There are many ways that you can approach trying to achieve a particular LEED certification,” he explains. “What we tried to do was to build a house as efficient as possible so that we didn’t need to go to wind, solar or geothermal energy to keep costs down. We chose to take a path that didn’t require much energy to begin with. And that really resulted in a building shell that’s extremely tight. The AAC helps with that.”

Energy-efficient construction bunk beds

Two bunk beds — one on the upper level, one on the main level (shown here) — are tucked discreetly into the hallways leading to each bedroom for extra sleeping space. Peter designed large drawers into the base of each bunk for additional storage space.

Air Quality

  • In addition to the AAC, Peter used closed-cell insulation in the wood-framed areas of the home — namely the dormers and roof — and installed the windows and doors properly into the AAC to prevent air leaks. One of the concerns in building tighter homes is stagnant air inside, so Peter included a fresh-air circulation system that automatically monitors the outside temperature and humidity of the air to determine if it’s the right time to pull fresh air into the house.
  • Inside, Peter selected plywood for the cabinetry and closets that employed soy-based glues as opposed to formaldehyde, no-volatile organic compound (VOC) paints and reclaimed heartpine flooring instead of carpeting to limit the amount of harsh chemicals circulating in the home. “When you walk into a new house, that smell you get isn’t good for you,” he cautions.

Local Flavor

  • The oyster shells and stucco finishes on the exterior walls and the metal roofing are indigenous to the area, as are the native plants used in the landscaping.
  • Local materials were used whenever possible, with recycled materials sourced within the 300-mile radius that LEED prescribes. A dumpster was omitted from the property during the seven-month construction process, for which Peter served as his own general contractor, to encourage as much reuse of materials as possible.
  • The smaller design also creates a less obtrusive footprint on the two-plus-acre property and focused attention on utilizing every square inch of the interior. “When you do small homes, you can give much more attention to every detail. It becomes very expensive in larger houses,” Peter explains. “There is almost no drywall in the house, and I love that feeling. But more than anything, I like the feeling that every nook and cranny has a use.”

Square footage: 1,570
Bedrooms: 2
Bathrooms: 2
Architect; general contractor; interior decorator: BRZ (843-815-2000;

Published in Country's Best Cabins
Comment Feed

5 Responses

  1. This is an interesting concept. Lots of natural light!
    What costs were involved in designing this home? What was the cost to build the home featured in this article?

    Will AAC concrete crack like most foundation concrete? Can AAC be used for basements? Would building on a sloping property be a problem?

    Gilbert MillsFebruary 27, 2013 @ 8:43 pmReply
  2. Ditto Gilbert Mills! Exactly the questions I’d like answered.

    Lisa KavanaughMarch 16, 2013 @ 11:44 pmReply
  3. The best person to ask regarding costs would be the architect/general contractor, who also happens to be the homeowner in this case: BRZ (843-815-2000;

    Because it is lighter weight than traditional concrete, you should probably check with your builder on usage in load-bearing applications (e.g., basement or foundation) to see what reinforcement may be required.

    Log HomeMarch 18, 2013 @ 3:22 pmReply
  4. Should have used EverLogs and made it look like a concrete log home.

    JustinJuly 2, 2013 @ 4:47 pmReply
  5. You can’t use below grade, but could do pannels inside the pour for insulation for the thermal resistance and insulation.
    I’ve seen the end product, quality, additionally you can do many artistic things with the blocks and pannels. It can also be shaped and sculpted for crown moldings, etc..
    Very, very efficient!

    Eric WiltzJanuary 9, 2014 @ 12:20 pmReply

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