Great Gulf Active House by Superkul
Fotograf Torben Eskerod Great Gulf Active House, Superkül, Ontario

With Earth Day around the corner, BUILDER and Custom Home take a look back at nine Builder's Choice & Custom Home Design Award-winning projects that push the envelope on environmentally conscious design. These projects, designed with the planet in mind, are dynamic and innovative—and some even produce their own power.

Also around the corner are deadlines for this year's Builder's Choice & Custom Home Design Awards (BCCHDAs), which honor excellence and innovation in residential design and construction across 13 categories including project of the year, modular, multifamily, and architectural interiors. The final days to submit submissions are fast approaching—April 20 for early submissions, and April 27 for late submissions. We encourage you to submit your own best work here.

Excerpts from the awards coverage highlighting the projects' sustainable features are included below. Follow the link in each project's title to view more photos and information.

Great Gulf Active House, Toronto, designed by Superkül

Fotograf Torben Eskerod

The Great Gulf Active House in Toronto—designed by local firm Superkül and built by Great Gulf—is a high-tech sustainable sheep in a traditional suburban gabled-roof house's clothing. The architects created a remarkably open 3,200-square-foot plan that provides abundant light and air within the heavily insulated brick and wood building envelope. In addition to abundant glazing—there is no point in the occupiable floor area that is more than 23 feet from an operable window—natural daylight floods the home through 14 motorized skylights. Open riser stairs and clear glass guardrails help distribute light throughout, ensuring that little to no artificial illumination is required during the day. A soft materials palette helps bounce light deeper into the space. The home was constructed using a prefabricated panelized wood structure to reduce waste and construction time. Its sustainable credentials are fleshed out with zoned heating, heat recovery ventilation, a high-efficiency furnace, and a rainwater collection system.

Vali Homes Infill Prototype 2.0, Phoenix, designed by CoLab Studio

Vali Homes Infill Prototype
Bill Timmerman Photography Vali Homes Infill Prototype 2.0, CoLab Studio, Phoenix

Conceived as a contemporary take on the iconic Case Study houses, the Vali Homes infill prototype 2.0 was designed by Tempe, Ariz.–based CoLab Studio, and built by 180 Degrees, for Phoenix’s middle-income market. Inside, white gypsum board ceilings and walls, along with white kitchen cabinets, bounce daylight deep into the home and reduce the need for artificial lighting, and wood accents bring warmth to the space. Advanced framing techniques reduced lumber usage for the home by 20%, while also reducing heat transfer and allowing for more insulation. The LEED Platinum design can also be net-positive energy with the installation of a solar photovoltaic system.

Windsor Park Net Zero Energy, Edmonton, Alberta, designed by De Waal Developments

Merle Prosofsky

Efficient use of materials included salvaging windows and doors, hardwood flooring, trim, kitchen appliances, and a 12-foot-square sunroom from the original home. Clean waste lumber was retained and used for heating in the high-efficiency wood-burning fireplace. A Canadian EnerGuide rating of 100—the highest score possible—was achieved through the use of passive solar design, airtight construction, maximum insulation, efficient mechanical systems, and a PV system. Overhangs were designed for maximum solar gain and shading appropriate to the season. In addition to the home’s energy needs, the setup provides power for two electric vehicles.

Tucson Mountain Retreat, Tucson, Ariz., designed by DUST

Jeff Goldberg

The layout is keenly attuned to the Sonoran Desert site. The long side faces south to allow the sun to passively heat the concrete floors, and the building’s deep overhangs and thermal mass keep it cool in the summer. A large kitchen/dining/living space is flanked by an acoustically designed music room/recording studio on one side and two bedrooms on the other. Each volume is fitted with glass walls that dematerialize to take in views and breezes.

Make it Right LivingHome, New Orleans, designed by LivingHomes

Make It Right LivingHome - LivingHomes / New Orleans, Louis.
Cesar Rodriguez Make It Right LivingHome - LivingHomes / New Orleans, Louis.

This 1,550-square-foot home was developed for Brad Pitt's Make It Right initiative in New Orleans' Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward. Santa Monica, Calif.–based LivingHomes developed the structure based on its standard CK5 floor plan, made up of three prefabricated modules that were constructed in Austin, Texas, before being transported to the site and installed in a single day. The LEED Platinum design meets WELL Building Standards and utilizes many Cradle 2 Cradle Certified materials. Designed in response to a cataclysmic event intensified by climate change, the Make It Right LivingHome demonstrates how thoughtful design can provide affordable—and repeatable—solutions to far-reaching problems.

RainShine House, Decatur, Ga., designed by Robert M. Cain, Architect

Paul Hultberg Photography

As an exercise in green design, this LEED Platinum–certified house puts a check in every column: passive solar, active solar, rainwater collection, natural daylighting and ventilation, energy-efficient electrical and mechanical systems, resource-conserving materials, a tight building envelope, low-VOC finishes, and no-irrigation landscaping. What got the attention of our judges, though, was that its environmental ethos also yields a thoroughly pleasing aesthetic experience.

Sustainable Steel Home, San Diego, designed by Macy Architecture/Jensen & Macy Architects

Scot Conti

The home’s footprint allows for plenty of natural ventilation, and it also connects the interiors with the outside in true mid-century spirit. The house maximizes its infill location by providing city and water views to the main rooms, which all occupy the second floor. Photovoltaics produce on-site power, and rainwater harvesting meets the site’s irrigation needs. Lots of glass, both transparent and translucent, helps with daylighting and passive solar.

GREENville House, Greenville, N.C., designed by Tonic Design

Todd Lanning

The owners of this new LEED Silver-rated residence did their sustainability homework in advance. “They knew about solar and geothermal from the beginning,” says project designer Katherine Hogan. That head start allowed Hogan and principal designer Vincent Petrarca to weave green features into the fabric of the building, rather than tack them on as options after the fact.

Green Lantern, San Antonio, Texas, designed by John Grable Architects

Dror Baldinger, AIA

In one of San Antonio’s, oldest neighborhoods, architect and developer John Grable, FAIA, salvaged 45 percent of a 1948 house because of his client’s commitment to conservation and green building. At the same time, a contemporary home was the aim.

View more winners and enter the Builder's Choice & Custom Home Design Awards here.