Self Reliance


Self-Reliance is a comfortable functional family home inspired by the timeless New England farmhouse. The home’s layout, gable form and materials relate to Vermont’s vernacular architecture, but its details reveal a more modern approach. Our design distills classic domestic architecture to its elements, resulting in a simple, solid shelter that fosters family living.

In our design, we pursue the sense of quality that defines historic farmhouses. We intentionally use natural materials that are durable and safe from cradle to cradle. Such materials are not outdated in a decade, but will maintain their appeal and integrity through time. The design of our home also responds to the inherent quality of natural daylight.

Through efficient and deliberate use of space, we have created a small home in which a family can live comfortably. We distinctly separate public from private areas by providing an open, light-filled living space with a kitchen, dining nook and entertainment system to the west and keeping cellular spaces for sleeping, bathing, and leisure to the east.

Self-Reliance, Middlebury College’s U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 entry, is a two-bedroom, ultra-efficient, 990-ft2 house designed for a family of four. It features a green wall for growing plants, open family living space, and healthy building materials. Its traditional gable, or peaked roof, is a familiar form that holds a 7.2-kW photovoltaic array.

Design Philosophy

By incorporating the best features of the New England farmhouse into a novel design for the 21st century, Middlebury College offers an environmentally responsible house that can compete in the current market. Modern technologies such as energy-monitoring software, high R-value insulation, and triple-paned windows make the traditional form more energy-efficient. In addition, the team considered upfront and lifecycle costs and chose durable, natural materials that have minimal embodied energy and environmental impact.


Self-Reliance is simple, durable, and family-friendly. It reflects New England values and responds to the Northeastern climate. Self-Reliance includes:

  • A gable roof that sheds snow and rain.
  • A green wall in the kitchen and outdoor planters that provide space for growing fresh produce year-round.
  • A kitchen counter peninsula that encourages a communal cooking experience.


Self-Reliance provides a solution to sustainable living through technologies such as:

  • A solar array of 30 panels that can produce 7,930 kWh annually
  • An air-to-air heat exchanger that circulates air through a network of aluminum ducts and feeds the green wall with condensed moisture
  • Triple-paned windows with cork-insulated frames that have an R-value of 7 and a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.53, which allows them to provide net heat gain over the course of a year
  • Stack effect ventilation, which pulls in cooler air toward the ground and vents out warmer air from the skylights.
  • Leaf to home residential power system integration.

Market Strategy

Designed for a New England family of four, Self-Reliance offers a comfortable space that fosters community. The adjacent kitchen, dining, and living spaces are designed to encourage the family to make dinner, do homework, and play a game together. The efficient use of space reduces the demand for energy and materials.

 Video Walk Through

Division of Public and Private Space

Our goal has been to produce a house that is both functional and comfortable for a family of four. While it is smaller than the average American home, we have maximized our square footage by creating two distinct zones in our house, separating the public from the private. The result is an east-west division, in which the west entry and mudroom open up into a large, public living space while the bedrooms and bathroom are significantly more private.

The public space contains the greenhouse, kitchen and dining nook for food preparation in addition to a comfortable couch and entertainment system for the family and their guests. The space visually and literally opens up to the natural world with large southern glazing and a trio of skylights, further creating a feeling of openness. The natural progression then leads to a centrally located bathroom and mechanical room before moving into the eastern pair of bedrooms. The public-private division is a crucial feature of our house, allowing a family of four both to live and entertain comfortably without compromising their lifestyle.


Integrated into the kitchen, the greenhouse-wall provides fresh produce for family meals. We were inspired by Vermont’s agrarian landscape to provide the home’s occupants with an immediate source of fresh vegetables and greens throughout the colder months. In addition, we have carefully landscaped our site with planters to grow a greater variety of fruits and vegetables in the summer months. The greenhouse and planters represent our team’s commitment to sustainability. By allowing for the ample production of fresh food, we are significantly reducing the family’s use of water, fossil fuels, pesticides, and fertilizers, while also promoting a healthy lifestyle.

Response to the Environment

Self-Reliance is designed to respond to its environment. Vermont has a cold climate, which requires sturdy homes with passive solar capabilities. In turn, Self-Reliance has a significant amount of glazing on the south-facing surfaces to allow for natural daylight and heating, but has minimal glazing and small windows on the north, east and west to minimize heat loss. We’ve also insulated the home with 11-inch thick walls to fight the cold winters.

Engineering  Walk Through

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