When Joe and Lucianne Carmichael built their home in Lower Coast Algiers in 1977, they were well ahead of the times. With minimal environmental impact and conservation in mind, the couple built the house of materials they gathered over a seven-year period.
That was three decades ago, and the couple is still way ahead of the curve. The Carmichaels, along with students in Tulane University's School of Architecture, are working on a fully "green" building on the couple's Algiers estate. The 8-acre parcel was recently donated to Tulane University so the school can conserve the land after the Carmichaels are no longer able to.
At present, the Carmichaels are the land's stewards, and founders of A Studio in the Woods. A Studio in the Woods is a program that gives artists a chance to live and work uninterrupted on the Carmichaels' rural land.
The main house the Carmichaels live in serves as headquarters as well as home. And as the Carmichaels enter their golden years, they need peace and privacy.
"The new building will be our home," Lucianne Carmichael said. "But it will be more than that. It will serve as an example for what homes can be."
Their new home will be the first all-solar and geothermal home in Louisiana.
"It will be off the grid," David Siegel, Tulane architecture student, said. Off the grid means structures that are not reliant on outside power sources, thus off the grid of a power plant.
"The house gets 100 percent of its energy needs from the earth. That's pretty rare," said Siegel, who is also the home's designer.
Once the house is built, it will sit 10 feet above the ground, protecting it from flooding and eliminating the need for a slab.
"Anytime you cover the earth with concrete, it's bad," Lucianne Carmichael said.
The home will feature plenty of functional windows to ensure good ventilation, greatly reducing the need for an air conditioning system.
Materials used to build the house will be derived locally and, when possible, will be recycled.
"We are getting some great floors from the Green Project, they should be pretty nice," Siegel said. The Green Project is a New Orleans-based organization focused on acquiring and selling used building materials. And while the house will have running water, it will also collect rainwater for non-potable needs.
"Also, we're not clearing any trees to build the house. That's important while we're conserving nature," Siegel said.
Lucianne Carmichael said, "Up until around 1941, we lived in a world that we thought was indestructible, and when we saw what the A-bomb could do, it was apparent we were wrong.
"We have to protect what we have here. It's too important not to," Carmichael said.
Eean McNaughton, professor of architecture at Tulane, is aiding students as well as the Carmichaels in the planning and execution of the new house.
"The house is going to be a great place for the Carmichaels, but it's a lot more than that. This will show people what is possible. We have the opportunity to really teach people. That's important," McNaughton said.
Once a contractor is selected, the construction should take from six to eight months. Tulane's architecture students will make up the bulk of the work force.
No one is exactly sure how much the project will cost, since there is a heavy reliance on donations of money and materials.
"If we can get the solar panels donated, we will save a big chunk (of money)," Siegel said. Tulane has pledged $80,000 for the house.
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