The Honda Smart Home in Davis is a house of superlatives. The appliances are the most efficient. The furnishings are the most environmentally conscious. The construction materials have the lowest possible carbon footprint. Built to test the boundaries of conventional residential design, energy production and transportation systems (yes, there’s a Honda Fit charging station in the garage), you can’t help but want to live this way. It’s clean, green, clutterless, stunning and stingy with resources. The landscape thrives on gray water recycled from the washing machine, showers and bathroom sinks. The stairway treads are made of ingeniously pieced furniture-grade maple that didn’t go into the landfill. The soft furnishings are natural, organic and durable. From front door to backyard, the home and everything in it is a seamless composition of heady vision and beautiful reality.
The house: American Honda Motor Co., Inc. conceived the two-story, 2,000-square-foot home built on the UC Davis campus to test and evaluate low-carbon living and sustainable construction methods as close to zero-carbon use as possible.
Project manager: Michel Koenig, American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
Interior design, surfaces and finishes: MAK Design+Build, Davis. Anthony Anderson, director of design; Kristen Gong, project designer.
Who lives there? Since October 2014, Stuart and Susan Bennett and their two 9-year-old daughters. “We’re the live-in researchers,” Stuart says. No, they don’t wear white lab coats or carry clipboards, but they do provide feedback. “What we were surprised about is without changing the way you live, you can have a much smaller carbon footprint. . . . You don’t have to worry about setting temperature controls or lighting. The house responds and automatically adjusts the environment in response to what you are doing. At first it’s strange and you’re not expecting that, but after a while, it becomes very normal.”
Interior design philosophy: MAK designers sought out FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) woods, recycled and/or recyclable materials, organic and durable soft goods (pillows, mattresses, upholstered pieces) and furnishings made as close to home as possible.
How they chose: Furnishings, paints, stains and surfaces were selected according to stringent standards. (Get ready. It’s quite a list.) The designers wanted to know where the product or material was made, where it was shipping from, if it had any adhesives, stains, or chemicals that could leach into the air, and if it was durable and/or recyclable. They wanted to know who made it, under what kinds of working conditions, and that it would fit the look they were after and, yes, the budget.
What’s underfoot (first floor): A radiant heating system embedded in polished low-carbon concrete. The living room “rug” is actually commercial-grade carpet squares, heavy enough to lie flat without adhesive.
Kitchen: The Cambria countertops are of quartz quarried in North America or Canada. The cabinets look like walnut. They’re not. MAK design director Anthony Anderson points out: “All the wood in the built-in cabinetry is a fast-growing poplar that’s sustainably harvested and designed to mimic exotic wood.”
Waste not: Touch the kitchen faucet to turn it on or off. Leave it running, and it shuts itself off. Another plus: It forces air and water so it feels like a lot of water, but it’s not.
Eating in: The modern console is cork and bamboo, both rapidly renewable and FSC-certified materials. The chairs integrate small pieces of wood that ordinarily would have gone to waste. The table base is powder-coated recycled steel.
California love: The living room sofa and table were made in Southern California. “Couches that satisfy green requirements can be hard to find,” Gong says. “What’s unique about this one is that it has organic fabric, natural latex and the springs are made of recycled steel.” (And it’s a knockout in the looks department.)
Lighting: Programmable, sleep-pattern-friendly, motion-sensing LEDs. Designed with the California Lighting Technology Center, part of UC Davis.
Off the grid: Rooftop solar panels and radiant geothermal heating and cooling. There’s no forced-air air conditioning. Koenig says he’ll know more about energy use and production by the end of the year, so stay tuned. (He’s got 270 data channels reporting every minute of the day.) All the data will be published and available.
In the meantime: Want to find out precisely who made the faucets or where you can get one of those Big Ass Fans in the bedrooms? (Yes, that’s the brand name. “They’re incredibly efficient,” Gong says. “Nothing else even comes close.”) You can download the entire interior design spec sheet. No kidding. If you want to build your own green-as-it-gets home, all the plans are online and yours for the asking: architectural, mechanical, plumbing. Quite a gift.