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The House on Hummingbird
Hill: Breaking the Rules

John Middleton and Lyn Kalani sit on an anchor in Larry Weingarten's "front yard."

The House on Hummingbird Hill. What does it mean?

It might mean the house of tomorrow. The news is full of talk about global warming, energy shortages and rising prices. Choices may be coming soon between ever-more-centralized, costly, complicated and fragile utility infrastructures serving housing that can't function without them, or a kind of house that stands on its own and lessens or eliminates the need for all that. One choice: More dams, more coal and nuclear plants, more windmills. Another: Homes that don't need a link to such facilities because they're self-sufficient.

Hummingbird House through the trees

But this house also embodies a dream that a couple of average Americans turned into a most unaverage reality.

That dream was to build the most energy-efficient house in the United States, a house that would heat and cool itself, really take care of itself, a nearly maintenance-free house that would do fabulous things, yet be inexpensive to build. It also incorporates unique ideas its creators had and wanted to implement.

For instance, most solar-centric homes in North America face south. It's one of the basic rules. However, homes that face south often suffer overheating problems or large temperature swings. So the Weingartens decided to break some rules. Start by facing the house north to control direct gain, the technical term for the amount of sunshine coming in. They decided to collect that heat in a big storage tank and use it when needed instead of when it's available.

Another supposition was that it cost more to have an efficient house. The Weingartens broke that rule, too. While part of their savings were from doing a lot of the work themselves, the cost of the house came in around $100 a square foot, as opposed to about $250 a square foot for most other houses in the area at the time it was built.

So let's look at the things that make this house special. They comprise:

Inside Technologies -- All the stuff like heating and cooling, plumbing and such.

Outside Technologies -- All the stuff like insulation, water, gas, roofing, siding and such.

The Anchor -- It came off the bottom of Monterey Bay, found by Larry and a friend when they were in their teens. Here anchored anew by John Middleton and Lyn Kalani.