From humble beginnings to 21st Century, this is the signature event for learning to live comfortably in Central Texas climate
For nearly a quarter-century, Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB) and the Texas Solar Energy Society have been on the front lines raising awareness about energy-efficient design and construction to architects, builders, contractors, suppliers and Texas homeowners.
In 1992, a grassroots group in Austin, the Sustainable Building Coalition, sprang up from the enthusiasm created by AEGB and ‘green home’ tours became popular events. Staged in the Fall after scorching Texas summers and with a different name every year, the event lured curious Central Texans to explore residential and commercial spaces built specifically for efficiency, comfort and beauty. Ultimately, the Texas Solar Energy Society and AEGB collaborated to create the Cool House Tour; today we celebrate this 24-year partnership.
Lucy Stolzenburg, former TXSES Executive Director, came to the tour in 2007. Over its 24-year lifespan, the Tour has evolved from concept to the remarkable if not predictable success it is today, consistent with Austin’s heightened awareness of and predilection for sustainability.
According to Stolzenburg, AEGB considers five important areas: site, energy, water, materials and equitable access. “The Tour looks for 4 or 5 Star-rated homes or multifamily projects that fit into the tour geographically, have knowledgeable and enthusiastic owners and can easily demonstrate the features we consider crucial. The Cool House Tour promotes AEGB’s work to educate local residents on what they can do to build or remodel for our hot and humid Central Texas climate,” she said.
The application process to be part of the Cool House tour is rigorous. Tour organizers begin accepting applications from architects, builders and owners in early winter, working predominantly with 4-Star to 5-Star AEGB rated homes. “By February, we’re visiting potential projects. And let me just say: nothing nails it like a homeowner who spreads out all their past Cool House Tour guidebooks documenting their tour attendance.”
Interesting outcomes have emerged from the Tours.
Last year, the Tour highlighted a DIY remodel designed by the owners’ architect daughter. Though not rated in the program, it was a treasure of green design and construction: passive solar design protected the home from heat gain; rainwater collection under the decks filled the pool and irrigated the landscape; natural lighting negated any need to turn on the lights during the day; both solar PV and solar thermal were installed on the roof, and one of Austin’s first residential greywater systems for reuse was a special draw for those engineers who love building systems.
Then there’s the young architect who received 2 Stars on her first rated project. Instead of complaining about the low rating, she was thrilled to start working toward more efficient and sustainable design. “We’ve been delighted to feature her highly-rated work in the past few years.”
In the past few years, there’s been a decrease in footprint and square footage of the featured homes. Homeowners now understand good design can make a modestly sized home feel large, while saving on resources. There’s also been an increase in accessory dwelling units (ADUs), built to house extended family or create rental property for added income.
“If I had to pick one of our biggest challenges for a successful tour, it would be logistics, logistics, logistics.” Builders and owners scramble to get photos ready by mid-March. Perfect 5-Star rated homes might be located on the most dangerous streets for tour-goers. The heat can be brutal. “Last year, a home’s air conditioner shut down but AEGB staff saved the day with spectacularly fast-action!” During the recession years in 2009 and 2010, Tour organizers previewed 36 homes each year, ultimately featuring 18 for the Tour. “Over the years, we’ve found eight to 10 projects make a perfect tour.”
Except for 2020.
Because of COVID-19, this year’s Cool House Tour is entirely virtual. Three projects are on the Tour: a single-family home in the Texas Hill Country; an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) built as a rental that sits behind the original 1950s home; and The Jordan, a Foundation Communities’ multifamily project that provides affordable housing and learning opportunities to transform lives. Tour this year’s offerings of climate-responsive, energy efficient design and ask questions to the owners, architects and contractors who brought these homes to fruition, all from the comfort of your home!
The tour is sensibly and agreeably priced at $10; student tickets are $5. LEED professionals and AIA members are eligible for CEUs at $15. All proceeds benefit TXSES.
REGISTER for the 2020 Tour, Sunday September 27, 2:00-4:00pm CDT.
‘See’ you there!