Desert Dwellings: Eco-Friendly Houses Optimized for the Desert Climate

Mark Boisclair Photography, Inc.

By Michelle Talsma Everson

Austin Trautman, founder of Vali Homes, moved to Phoenix in 2005 and made a notable observation: most of the Valley’s homes work against the sunny desert climate and not with it.

“According to statistics, there are more than 1.8 million homes in the Valley,” Trautman said. “And none of them are built with materials that are optimized for a desert climate. Vali Homes are the first to bring the Passive Home movement to Arizona yet are designed specifically for our Sonoran climate, and built with materials that create durable, comfortable and healthy desert homes.”

Trautman, who founded Vali Homes in 2013, explained that Vali houses stand apart from traditionally built homes in four main ways:

THE HOMES HAVE A “PROTECTIVE SHELL.”

“The houses protect you in a similar fashion to native plants,” Trautman said. “Sunlight of course is one of the Valley’s biggest blessings, and challenges. Through durable metal heat shields and air-tight, super-insulated walls, our homes are designed to absorb direct sunlight and shed the sun’s heat while keeping the interior perfectly comfortable.”

THE HOMES “BREATHE INTELLIGENTLY.”

Mark Boisclair Photography, Inc.Essentially, Trautman said, the HRV (heat recovery ventilator) in each Vali home functions like lungs providing a constant supply of fresh air, while removing stale interior air. Through a heat exchange module, the system uses the temperature of the exiting stale air to pre-cool the inbound fresh air to reduce cooling load on the A/C. The HRV also maintains ideal humidity levels, and eliminates the need for messy, often unhealthy ancillary humidification.

THE AIR AND WATER INSIDE VALI HOMES IS PURIFIED

Thanks to two-stage filtration, dust, pollutants and pollen are removed from the inbound fresh air. Meanwhile, three- stage whole-house water filters remove chlorine gas from showers, and permeate reverse osmosis (RO) filters provide drinking water with a fraction of the water waste of traditional RO filers. Trautman said that the air inside each Vali home approaches cleanroom-level quality, and is perfect for those with allergies, asthma and other breathing difficulties.

THE HOMES ARE BUILT TO BE SUSTAINABLE AND CONSUME LESS.

“Vali homes break the cycle of consumption,” explained Trautman. “While regular homes generate really large footprints in their battle with our desert climate, and need frequent major component replacement, Vali homes are designed to be free of major maintenance for 30+ years and use just 15-30 percent of the electricity of a regular home.

Some of Vali Homes’ eco-conscious features include: record-setting airtight construction; double-stud exterior walls to eliminate thermal bridging; efficiency that exceeds LEED Platinum certification; steel exterior “heat shield” panels with desert wildflower-inspired color accents; polished concrete floors; solid-wood 50-year aluminum-clad doors and windows; sub-slab seal and venting for moisture/ radon gas; high-efficiency, low-consumption mini split A/C; heat-pump hot water heater; evaporative clothes dryer; LED lighting; and low-water-use native desert landscaping.

Mark Boisclair Photography, Inc.“I’ve become attached to Phoenix; the city and the culture,” Trautman said. “I moved here 11 years ago from Seattle and, at first, had a hard time because it’s so different. But then I realized that the desert is beautiful and I adapted. I accepted why it’s great. For example, look at how well certain plants like the Saguaro cactus grow and thrive here. Why shouldn’t we construct homes with that in mind?”

Trautman confirmed that Vali Homes is part of a major shift in the construction and housing industries. He said that there is a trend toward smaller houses and also a rising demand for custom homes. Vali Homes participates in both of these trends, keeping in mind eco-friendly practices from the ground up.

To give locals, prospective buyers, and out-of-towners a taste of what it’s like to live in a Vali Home, one of the homes in the Loma Linda neighborhood of Central Phoenix is available on Airbnb. Trautman said that most people who stay in the home notice three things: how every room is the same temperature, how quiet the home is (no roaring A/C, tons of insulation and no air gaps), and how clean the air – and home in general – feels.

In addition to educating potential buyers about their homes, Trautman said that Vali Homes also places a big emphasis on educating the general public about green building practices and other eco-friendly topics. For example, the company invites those who are interested to become a member of their “tribe” – a social media and newsletter following to keep up on all news related to sustainable building and living.

Mark Boisclair Photography, Inc.“We want to shift people’s viewpoints of what a house can be, and how they can live both comfortably and sustainably in our desert climate” he explained. “It’s not just about sales; it’s about education. It’s a movement.”


To learn more about Vali Homes, visit valihomes.com.

Michelle Talsma Everson is a freelance writer, editor, public relations consultant and mom based in Phoenix. With degrees in both journalism and PR from Northern Arizona University, she writes for several Valley publications. Find out more at mteverson.com.

Read more architecture articles at greenlivingaz.com/architecture

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