Ann Arbor Home Becomes World's Second Residence to Achieve Highest Sustainability Certification

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Located in Ann Arbor, Tom and Marti Burbeck have transformed their home at Beacon Springs Farm to become the second house in the world to achieve a Living Certified ruling from the Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification by the International Living Future Institute. 

Burh Becc at Beacon Springs, as it’s called, received the certification late 2017 and is the work of an architect, builder, green building project consultant, and a number of building science engineers. With the goal of sustainable living, Burh Becc will be standing in 200 years and will still be regenerative to the surrounding ecosystem. 

The Burbecks learned about the certification of the LBC when they were looking to design their home to have minimal environmental impact. They hope their restorative farmhouse inspires others to reimagine common building techniques. Tom Burbeck describes the LBC as a green building certification program that “establishes the highest possible standards for residential building sustainability.”

“As we looked at the criteria for LBC certification, we thought, why not go for it,” says Marti Burbeck. “If our goals include helping to change peoples’ relationship with the environment and to change building philosophies, we should start with our own project, and then become advocates.” 

Located in the center of 15 acres of farm land, the main floor living space of the farmhouse is 2,200 square feet and incorporates characteristics of 200-year-old Tuscan farmhouses. This design includes a 2,400-square-foot barn and workshop.

“Since the 1960s, the number of U.S. households has grown from 53 million to about 126 million last year,” says Michael Klement, principal of Architectural Resource in Ann Arbor and a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). “We have to rethink the relationship between humans, buildings, and the environment. Our current model is too destructive. We’re depleting our resources and creating an unacceptable amount of economic disparity. The Living Building Challenge forced us to recalibrate how we design a home and build like nature intended. This is our ‘moon shot’ in the building industry.”

The Burbecks led a 20-person design and build team and spent five years working with primary contributors Klement; Bob Burnside, CEO of Fireside Home Construction in Dexter; and Amanda Webb Nichols, senior project manager of Catalyst Partners in Grand Rapids, which managed the certification process.

“The LBC certification comprises seven performance categories – site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty,” says Eric Doyle, senior project manager of Catalyst Partners. “These are subdivided into a total of 20 imperatives, each of which focuses on a specific sphere of influence, such as urban agriculture, net positive water, net positive energy, and responsible industry.”

In order to receive full “Living” certification, for example, the building may not use any materials on the LBC Red List. This includes formaldehyde, halogenated flame-retardants, lead, mercury, phthalates, or PVC/vinyl, among other things.

“The materials imperative was the most challenging project component I’ve come across in my 21 years in the green-building industry,” says Burnside. “Multi-component mechanical, electrical, and appliance products were the toughest. Working with Catalyst Partners, we vetted more than 900 products, around 500 of which we used in construction.”

In turn, the wood used for the project had to meet certain criteria. To verify that the wood was grown and harvested in local forests in a sustainable manner, almost all of it was certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council. The wood that was not certified was either reclaimed or salvaged. The team also pushed for the use of third-party certified standards and fair labor practices for sustainable extraction of stone and rock, metal, and other minerals.

Additional measures taken to achieve the international distinction include the use of permaculture farming methods to undo the impact commodity farming had on the land around the farmhouse, the use of a rainwater and snow harvesting system, and a closed-loop geothermal system.

The LBC certification process is based off of actual measured results as opposed to modeled performance, meaning the project must demonstrate compliance with stringent performance standards dictated by the 20 LBC Imperatives for 12 consecutive months of operation. 

In addition to the full LBC certification, Burh Becc additionally received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes Platinum certification by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).

The Burbecks plan to host educational workshops and house tours with Architecture Resource, Fireside Home Construction, and Catalyst Partners to educate the community,  building industry, government officials, and NGOs about sustainable living and the LBC. Additionally, they will continue to develop the permaculture farm surrounding the buildings.

The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) is a nonprofit working to build an ecologically-minded, restorative world. Using principles of social and environmental justice, ILFI seeks to counter climate change by pushing for an urban environment free of fossil fuels. ILFI runs the LBC, which is the world’s most rigorous green building standard, along with other programs including, the Living Product Challenge; the Living Community Challenge; and the Reveal, Declare, and Just labels. 

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