The Future of Homebuilding: Style With Sustainability

Tour a LEED Platinum house in a historic neighborhood that features energy-efficient technology, space-saving design and community-minded living.

Photo By: Jason Kisner ©Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner ©Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner ©Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner ©Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner ©Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner ©Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner ©Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner ©Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner ©Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner ©Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner ©Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner ©Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner

Photo By: Jason Kisner ©Jason Kisner

Norris History

In 1933, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) built a community of homes for workers of a nearby dam project. At that time the homes were considered the prototype for modern and efficient living. Even though they were small in size, the houses were equipped with modern conveniences like electricity and indoor plumbing. The community's design was also considered state-of-the-art because of its pedestrian-friendly layout and town square commons. The community still thrives nearly 80 years later and is being updated again with the future in mind.

The New Norris House

This 768-square-foot, award-winning home was designed and detailed by students at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK) College of Architecture and Design. Their goal was to build a LEED-certified home that incorporates all of today's top-notch building practices but still embodies the Norris community's original design.

Backyard View

The university partnered with a mobile home manufacturer to create the base structure of the home. The house is roughly the same size as a double-wide mobile home, but it has a cathedral ceiling on one side and a loft on the other.

Recycled Floors

The wood floors throughout the home are made from salvaged barn wood. The wood was cut and the tongue-and-groove milled into the boards by a local millwork. Using local sources helps keep the home's carbon footprint low, but it still gets high marks in character and charm.

Nontoxic Finishes Throughout

Low- or no-VOC and formaldehyde-free finishes and paints were used throughout the home. Even the floor was done in a low-VOC finish, which is uncommon for hardwood flooring.

Efficient Use of Space and Resources

A solar water heater is the main source of hot water in the summer. In case the solar power isn't enough in the winter, a backup system is in place to help out.

Natural Lighting

A loft dormer, high ceilings, skylights and a lot of strategically placed windows bring a lot of natural light into the home, which also helps keep utility costs low.


The skylights in the peak of the cathedral ceiling let in plenty of natural light. Even in cloudy and rainy conditions, the lights rarely need to be turned on during the day.

Used to Be Above 18 Wheels

The countertop is made from a reclaimed-oak truck bed that was originally the floor of a tractor trailer truck.

An Ongoing Project

Even though the house is complete, the students continue to monitor all the utility systems to get an accurate picture of the performance of the home. They calculate the cost-return period on the appliances and utilities and test manufacturers' claims for efficiency ratings.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative

The home's temperature and humidity is constantly monitored to check the performance of the heating and cooling systems. Besides the quantitative results, residents of the home also log their comfort level to see how well theirs match with the hard numbers.

Cloud-Supplied Water Source

A rainwater collection system supplies all the water for the toilets, washing machine and the exterior hose bibs. To save space, the full-sized washer and dryer are tucked inside a closet next to the kitchen.

Plenty of Space to Stash Stuff

Within the home's 768 square feet are a kitchen, living space, office/library, bedroom, bathroom and mudroom. It sounds tight, but with a lot of well-planned storage and use of vertical space, the home feels spacious and airy.

Well-Equipped Bedroom

The bedroom is lined with storage above and next to the bed, and opposite the bed is a full-length closet.


Some of the furniture in the living area was also made by the architecture students. These modular chairs made of composite wood fold flat, and when both chairs are put together they make a queen-size bed.

Garden Cistern

Rainwater is collected in an underground cistern then drawn out from a cast-iron pump to water the raised-bed garden. The lawn and other native garden beds are watered via the home's graywater.

Outdoor Rooms

The home includes plenty of outdoor living space. A fire pit next to the raised-bed garden is a great place to entertain or just spend a quiet evening looking up at the stars.

The Concealer

A slatted structure was built to hide the outdoor utilities and the garbage cans.

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