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Making a Comeback: Milestone 1930s Home Gets Modern Update

Monday, August 29, 2011

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Inspired by the historic Norris, Tenn., houses constructed during the Great Depression of the 1930s, a student-led team from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, spent three years designing and constructing an energy-efficient and sustainable 21st century take on the Norris house. 

 New Norris House

 Photo by Ken McCown

 The model house features the latest developments in building systems.

The “New Norris House,” project was led by UT College of Architecture and Design. The idea for the project stemmed from classroom discussion and ultimately led to the design and construction of the 750-square-foot structure, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony held Aug. 25. 

The model home integrates developments in building systems, ventilation, electric and solar energy, plumbing, and light, said Tricia Stuth, associate professor of architecture and project manager.

The design also features “green” materials intended to ensure indoor air quality, and a well-insulated, bright and open interior, said Clayton Homes, (Maryville, Tenn.) the modular home manufacturer that worked on the project.

Low VOCs, Energy Efficiency Are Priorities

Samuel Mortimer, a 2010 UT architecture graduate and now the project’s research associate, provided Durability + Design with information regarding the paint, coatings and related materials used in the project.

Interior paint finishes used included Sherwin-Williams’ PROMAR® 200 Zero-VOC Interior Latex Semi-Gloss, (0 grams per liter VOC) and Ultradeep Base Sherwin-Williams Premium Wall and Wood Interior Latex Primer, (41 g/L), and Masterchem Industries Inc.’s KILZ 2 Low-VOC Latex Primer (10 g/L). Sherwin-Williams’ ProClassic Interior Acrylic Latex Semi-Gloss (145 g/L) was applied to cabinets throughout the house.
The wood floor was finished using Osmo 5125 Polyx Professional Hardwax Oil (50 g/L VOC), a clear oil finish manufactured by Osmo Holz und Color GmbH & Co Kg of Warendorf, Germany.

Cabot’s Bleaching Oil was used on the house’s exterior siding and wood windows. The decks were coated with Sikkens’ CETOL Semi-Transparent SRD.

The exterior steel awnings and railings were coated with Japanese Brown and Black Magic Patinas and Smart Coat and Metal Oil Sealers, manufactured by Sculpt Neaveu of Escondido, Calif.

A spray-foam insulation and air-barrier material, ICYNENE LD-R-50®, was installed in the house’s roof and floor rim.

 New Norris House

 Photo by Ken McCown

The design features green materials to address indoor air quality, and a well-insulated, bright and open interior.

Other sustainable features include solar-heated hot water, a high-efficiency heat pump, ductless heating and cooling, ventilation that recovers heated or cooled air before exhausting, a system for collecting and storing rainwater, and an on-site system for treating gray water.

It is a “prototype for green living and a 21st century take on the original homes, which were revolutionary for their time,” Stuth said.

The original Norris houses were built in 1933 in the community of Norris, Tenn., as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Norris Dam Project.

The town of Norris was a visionary product of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the university said.

The modest home designs were models for modern and efficient living, introducing electricity and heating systems into the home—luxuries not typically found in the Appalachian region at the time. 

More historical information about Norris Home and Norris, Tenn., is available here.

More than 78 years later, economic and environmental factors make the need for affordable and sustainable housing even more vital, Stuth said.


 University of Tennessee

 A design rendering of the New Norris Home.

Clayton Homes’ engineering, manufacturing and architecture teams served as consulting partners throughout the project, the company said. Clayton Homes worked with the students to design and manufacture a pre-fabricated base in late 2010, the university said.

Among other partners contributing resources and knowledge to the project were the Town of Norris, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The university plans to seek LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for the project; the designation would make it just the seventh LEED-platinum home in the state and the first LEED-platinum project for UT Knoxville, the university said.

Students from an array of university disciplines were involved in the process, including participants from the UT Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment, the College of Engineering and the Department of Environmental Studies, the university said.
The house is now home to a UT couple: landscape architecture professor Ken McCown and information science graduate student Mary Leverance.

For the next year, it is also a living laboratory to measure energy efficiency, natural light, air quality and the effectiveness of an innovative water infiltration and treatment system, the university said.

The couple will provide feedback about what it is like to live in the home and blog about their experiences at here.

In addition to a research facility, the house will also serve as a source of education and information-sharing and will be used for tours and accreditation workshops for professionals and organizations, including the USGBC.

After the research year ends, the house will be available for purchase, the university said.

The New Norris design won an award from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2009. The National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) gave the project the 2011 Prize for Creative Integration of Practice and Education.

More information: www.thenewnorrishouse.com.



Tagged categories: Design; Energy efficiency; Residential Construction; Sustainability

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