It’s hard to believe that our year of living in the New Norris House is over. During our time there, it was a bit like living in a lab; our energy and water usage were monitored, and we tested the design and systems installed in the house. Although we’ve moved out, there are several things we grew to appreciate while living there that will stay with us.
We loved the natural light that filled the house during daylight hours. The roller shades over all the windows block direct sunlight and help keep the house cool, but don’t block the light entirely like blinds or curtains would. Even on cloudy days, the skylight in the living area let in enough light so we didn’t need to turn on the kitchen or loft lights until dusk. The skylight and kitchen window are two features in the house I miss the most.
the windows, skylight, french doors all let in plenty of light (source)
Initially, we weren’t sure how scaling down to 768 square feet would work—would we be able to fit our things in the house, and would it feel too small? We discovered that although the footprint of a living space may be smaller, it can be more functional than a larger space because of its design. The house’s layout provided small private areas (bedroom and bathroom) with a large open living space where most of our time was spent (the kitchen and swing space). The house has ample storage, with cabinets in all rooms and bookshelves in the swing space and loft. While the loft space didn’t make the footprint of the house seem larger, it provided a separate area for relaxation.
a small footprint of great design (source)
The rainwater cistern and filtration/purification system was explained to us when we first moved in; rainwater is collected from the roof into a cistern, then purified and used in the house for washing clothes and filling the toilet tank. I was a bit skeptical about how well the purified rainwater would work in the washer, but it did the job just as well as fresh water. The washer water had a leaf-like smell to it, but was noticeable only when opening the washer door to transfer items to the dryer. After being in the house for a few months, I found myself looking forward to rain, knowing it would keep the cistern full and provide water inside. Before living in the house, I hadn’t given any thought to repurposing rainwater; the firsthand experience of being able to reuse water has made me more mindful about how much fresh water I use daily.
rainwater on the back porch railing (source)
After moving into the house, we were asked if we thought our quality of life would be affected by living in a smaller and energy efficient space. Living in the house affected us positively, with design and systems we wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. Much like the original residents of Norris who were introduced to electricity in their homes 75 years ago, we had the opportunity to experience the latest in energy efficient and sustainable systems, in the same community where electricity came to Tennessee. While the house looks a bit different than the first Norris cottages and the use of electricity has expanded to support computers and telecommuting, the experience we had there was educational, helping inform us about design and energy choices we can make wherever we might live in the future.
The New Norris House is a design/build effort from the University of Tennessee's College of Architecture and Design. Began in 2009, the home was designed and built by UT students in collaboration with Clayton Homes. The built project is now complete and the final phase of the project has begun. A team of 4 people (2 living in the home, and 2 graduate researchers) will rigorously document the experience via qualitative assessments and quantitative measurements, posting results to this blog.