Montana State University

MSU students, graduates collaborate on ecosmart house in Bozeman

May 24, 2010


Digging in at the beginning of the REHAU MONTANA ecosmart house outside Bozeman are (left to right): Gary Brown of Amvic building systems; Michael Maher of REHAU; Kathleen "Kitty" Sayler, CEO of REHAU and a graduate of Montana State University; Bill Hoy, architect and home owner who is also an MSU graduate; Bill Johansen of REHAU and Terry Beaubois of MSU's Creative Research Lab. The house is a sustainable home that is an unusual collaboration between industry and a university. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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Work has started on an innovative, sustainable home that is being built in Bozeman, but the idea for the project was born more than a year ago when stars aligned in a curious Montana way in a restaurant near Leesburg, Va.

That's where Bill Hoy, a corporate architect in Washington, D.C., first met Kitty Saylor, who is the president and CEO of REHAU North America. REHAU, a German firm whose American headquarters is in Leesburg, is an international innovator and manufacturer of polymer-based products and systems.

"Bill was talking about this house he wanted to build and he pulled out this photo that was unmistakably taken in Montana," Saylor recalled. "I said, 'That's Bozeman.' And Bill said, 'Do you know Montana?' I said, 'I'm from Montana.' And he said, 'Are you really, really from Montana?'"

In short time, the two discovered not only that they had attended MSU at the same time, but they had also lived just blocks away from each other while they were students on the Bozeman campus in the 1980s.

The connection was enough that Saylor, who is originally from Choteau and an MSU communications graduate, and Hoy, who came to MSU from his native Western Pennsylvania to study architecture, decided to collaborate on the house that Hoy wanted to build in Bozeman. Hoy's dream was to build a house that would demonstrate how sustainable, passive heating systems could work in a northern climate. From the beginning, Hoy and Saylor wanted to bring in students from their alma mater so the students could learn from the cutting-edge project in a way that would enrich their education and future careers.

"Students who work on this project will graduate with the ability to work collaboratively, to work on teams, which is the way the real world works," said Terry Beaubois, director of MSU's Creative Research Lab, which is coordinating the MSU element of the project. "It is just a tremendous advantage."

Beaubois estimates that 20-30 MSU students will be involved in the three-year project. They will come from a variety of colleges and departments across campus, including the School of Architecture, the College of Engineering, the School of Film and Photography and the College of Business.

Hoy designed the 3,800 sq. ft. house, which is being built in the Bridger Creek Subdivision, to be sustainable, wheelchair and disability accessible and with a goal of zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emission. Hoy and his family plan to live in the home, which is called the REHAU MONTANA ecosmart house.

While the house design will fit nicely into the upscale subdivision, the workings inside the house will be unusual. For example, the house will include a number of redundant systems for heating and cooling. Data will be taken and students and professionals will evaluate the best system for the climate. Because of REHAU's involvement, a variety of other suppliers joined in the project, which will feature such sustainable building technologies as geothermal ground loop heat exchange, ground-air heat exchange; radiant heating and cooling; solar thermal energy for hot water; and insulating concrete forms.

Once the house was designed, Beaubois brought the project to the Creative Research Lab. Based in the MSU College of Arts and Architecture, it is "a think tank of sorts," according to Susan Agre-Kippenhan, dean of the college.

For about a year several groups of students in the lab have been working on aspects of the project. For example, mechanical engineering students have been computer modeling innovative heating and cooling air exchanges and the effectiveness of various building supplies in Bozeman's cold climate. As Beaubois explains it, the house will take advantage of the 55 degree air under the basement to cool in the summer and heat in the winter.

Beaubois estimates that construction on the house will take approximately one year. Students will continue to run tests on the house for another two years. The data will assess the effectiveness of the many technologies and products used in the house.

"We will post the information on the Web, and it will be used in architecture schools across the country," Beaubois said.

Beaubois said the REHAU MONTANA ecosmart house will be one of the first times that a university has been involved in a sustainable, model home that a client will live in. Saylor said she is proud that the project will be affiliated with her alma mater.

"The REHAU MONTANA ecosmart house is a unique and authentic showcase of both the present and future possibilities in sustainable building," Saylor said. "It's exciting to see the university's exceptional resources highlighted through this project, as well as to be collaborating as an active part of the process."

Beaubois also has Hoy to thank for his MSU connection. Beaubois was an architect based in Palo Alto, Calif., when he met Hoy, who was then working for the Marriott Corporation. Hoy, a member of the MSU School of Architecture Advisory Board, invited Beaubois to come to MSU to speak about new technologies in the field. One thing led to another and Hoy encouraged Beaubois to become founding director of the CRLab. The purpose of the lab is to support collaborative projects across the campus.

"Collaboration isn't easier, it's just better." Beaubois likes to say. "Collaboration does not necessarily result in making the project easier for each team member on the project. In fact, it can be more difficult. But collaboration does results in a better project."

Beaubois said he believes that such collaborations between universities and companies are critical to the future of education in the U.S. For example, he notes that the MSU students involved in the REHAU MONTANA project already have been involved the research and the application of research information to the design, engineering, and construction of a house that features sustainability, low-energy use, a disability-friendly design that will be built, tested and lived in.

"This real-world experience provides the students with exactly what employers say they want in a graduate -- someone who can work on a team made up of different disciplines and can work together to find solutions to problems," Beaubois said.

Terry Beaubois (406) 994-4184, tbeaubois@montana.edu