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Prefab brings modern day sustainability to historic planned community
In observation of one of the original New Urbanist-style planned communities' 75th anniversary, Norris, Tenn. gets a self-sufficient prefab demo home designed by a team from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
A bit of back story first: As its name portrays, the home — following an extensive research and design period, it was installed by the University in 2011 and achievedLEED Platinum status in May 2012 — is located within the confines of Norris, Tenn., a New Deal planned community of homes erected in 1933 by the Tennessee Valley Authority as a means of showcasing the latest and greatest in modern domestic amenities (Electricity! Indoor plumbing! Central heating!) enjoyed by many Americans outside of rural Appalachia.
Currently a historic district that’s home to the Museum of Appalachia, Norris has a fascinating — and flawed — history. Originally envisioned as a egalitarian, self-sustaining utopia and inspired by Ebenezer Howard’s greenbelt-centric garden city movement of the late 19th century, Norris essentially served as a company town for the TVA and provided housing for the families of workers constructing the nearby Norris Dam. Cooperative living and walkability were key in the planning of Norris.
Writes the TVA of this "American Ideal": "The people of Norris would be able to visit their neighbors, mail a package, fill a prescription, do some light shopping, and meet their kids at school all without getting into a car. The town would be surrounded by a buffer zone of protected, undeveloped forest that keep the ugly outside world at bay."
Sounds lovely. However, controversy — complete with a series of complaints from the NAACP — defined Norris in its early years as the TVA refused to let black workers and their families live in the pre-New Urbanist community. In 1948, the failed 4,000-acre community was sold in its entirety at auction for a little over $2 million dollars. Today, it serves as an affluent bedroom community for Knoxville.
Now back to the present day and the New Norris House, an award-winning project meant to “transpose the original vision of a sustainable Norris and embrace the adept, global social network while locating itself with a lightness and vernacular rigor essential to the original TVA vision.” All of this and minus the racial discrimination!
Measuring 768 square feet square feet and consuming 50 percent less energy than similar homes in the area, the New Norris House is an impressively high performance little abode that, in line with Norris’ original vision of self-reliance, puts little strain on the grid (in fact, it’s completely fossil fuel-free as it relies on hydropower from a local dam). The super-insulated home follows passive solar design principles and features ample natural daylighting while thermal hot water panels heat the home’s water.
On that note, water conservation is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the New Norris House. Nearly all graywater produced in the home (everything but the kitchen sink, essentially) is treated in an innovative water infiltration garden along with captured rainwater which is used for everything from the toilet to the washing machine. EcoHome notes that due in part to “experimental permits” granted to the University by state and local governments, the home’s water reclamation tactics are ones that are largely prohibited in other parts of the country.
Other sustainable aspects of the home include a heat-reflecting roof made from recycled metal, reclaimed oak flooring, low-E windows and skylights from Andersen, and, of course, an energy monitoring system. The home itself was factory-built by Clayton Homes.
Given its status as a living laboratory, married couple Marry Leverance and Ken McCown — a UT grad student and landscape architecture professor, respectively — took up residence in the New Norris House to lead public tours and to maintain the place. Or, in other words, “to rigoriously document the experience via qualitative assessments and quantitative measurements of the building’s active and passively employed systems.”
Leverance and McCown moved in during the summer of 2011 for a year-long stint. After that, the plan was to sell the home to a private buyer with the proceeds from the sale going toward the College of Architecture and Design to help fund similar projects in the future. About a year and half later, it’s unclear if/when Leverance and McCown will vacate the home or if its even been sold yet — from the sounds of it, they’re still there playing happy homemakers/caretakers/lab technicians.
Plenty more info and tons of photos over at the (sporadically updated) New Norris House website. The New Norris House YouTube channel and Facebook page are worth a look as well. Any Knoxville-area residents out there had a chance to tour the home in person?
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