COLUMBUS, OHIO — The soon to be completed Universal Design Living Laboratory (UDLL) home is a fusion of universal design and green building technologies and products. The owners, Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D., a wheelchair user, and her husband Mark Leder, started their journey of building a sustainable universal design home when they decided they wanted to live in a house that would be accessible, comfortable and enhance quality of life for both of them.

Rossetti has been using a wheelchair for the past 13 years. A 7,000-lb. pound tree fell on her while she was riding her bicycle, causing a spinal-cord injury that severely limits her mobility.

While the UDLL will eventually become their home, Rosemarie and Mark’s vision reaches far beyond themselves. They are helping the almost 54 million people in the U.S. with physical disabilities as well as the 76 million aging boomers.

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The UDLL home incorporates unobtrusive universal design, resource- and energy-efficient green-building methods, advanced automation technology, a healthy-home construction approach and feng shui design principles. Once the house is completed, Rossetti and Leder will invite the public and groups of industry professionals to the home and offer seminars, so builders, contractors, manufactures, designers and architects can learn more about how universal design and green building practices compliment one another.

The home will also meet industry-leading standards for efficiency and sustainability.

“We believe in having a home that is safe and energy-efficient with all the benefits of building green, including a comfortable climate,” said Rossetti.

When construction is complete in the fall of 2011, the owners will apply for certification under the U.S. Green Building Council LEED for Homes program and the National Association of Home Builders’ National Green Building Program, as well as for ENERGY STAR program certification.

When asked who should consider having a universal design home, Rossetti told CONTRACTOR that it doesn’t stigmatize.

“Universal design is ageless design,” explained Rossetti. “It’s human centered design. Who will appreciate it the most are people with limitations with accessibility and reach, and the use of their hands, legs or their short stature or inability to stand. They will appreciate these features and will recognize them and say that this makes life much more independent where they couldn’t do these things before, but now they can.”

Rossetti told CONTRACTOR that universal design and green building are very complimentary.

“The eureka moment came when I realized why not build a home that doesn’t need to be remodeled if there is a temporary or permanent disability by the residents,” said Rossetti. “Why not design it right from the beginning to make it socially sustainable.”

Rossetti and Leder are the general contractors. They hired a construction management company as a consultant to guide them on the project.

“The consultant helped us check the work of subcontractors, reviewed proposals and bids, and sourced out products and services since we never built a house before,” explained Rossetti. “It’s truly amazing what Mark and I learned during this project.”

Donations galore

Many manufacturers donated products to Rossetti and Leder for this project. Brad Ulery, president of Beinhower Brothers Drilling Co., Johnstown, Ohio, sought Grundfos’ support for the project. The donation request was for a Grundfos SmartFlo SQE Constant Pressure System.

The energy efficiency goals of UDLL and the need for a reliable water supply led Ulery to recommend the SQE constant pressure system pump for the 3,500-sq.ft. home.

“Instead of a standard pump that runs with one speed, this pump will speed up to keep the pressure at each individual place,” said Grundfos District Sales Manager Jim Cole. “It keeps a constant pressure in the household. There are features and benefits with protection on it.”

“This pump maintains fantastic pressure and starts without effort,” said Leder.

Uponor products were also donated for the project, including Uponor AquaPEX tubing, Engineered Plastic (EP) fittings and ProPEX Out-of-the-Wall Support Systems, all tied together with Uponor’s ProPEX connection system. The UDLL house uses an Uponor Logic plumbing layout, which is an organized arrangement of Uponor PEX-a tubing, ProPEX fittings, EP Multi-port Tees and Out-of-the-Wall systems for a design that offers accelerated water flow and rapid hot-water delivery.

The design of the EP Multi-port Tee provides water to all fixtures in a single grouping, making it a logical layout for increasing water flow and hot-water delivery.

“At Uponor, training is a big part of what we do, so we’re very proud to be involved with the UDLL house, which is offering homeowners, builders, contractors, architects, engineers and all in the home-building industry a chance to see innovative, sustainable products combined with smart, universal design,” said Kim Bliss, senior writer, technical communications of marketing operations at Uponor. Kohler toilets and plumbing fixtures were also provided.

“We went with all Kohler toilets and plumbing fixtures,” said Rossetti. “We picked the comfort height toilet with the dual flush and low-flow green components. Kohler designers met with us, looked at the floor plan, met our needs and showed us options for universal design. We are also using their no-threshold barrier-free wheelchair shower module.”

For the HVAC, Lennox products were installed, including two gas furnaces and heat pumps with four zones on timers with a fan continuously running to circulate air, sized for the house to be energy efficient.

According to Bill Duecker, division manager and VP of the Columbus, Ohio, operation of Airtron Heating and Air Conditioning, the company that designed and installed the system, the load on the house was bigger than one system could handle.

“We put the great room, breakfast, kitchen and pantry/mud room on one system,” said Duecker. “We also included the lower level on one four-ton system with a zone control system on it. Then there is a two-ton system for all the bedrooms and the attached bathrooms. The efficiency of both systems is the same. There is a thermostat on the lower level and two upstairs for the living areas, so they can control the climate in those different areas.”

Duecker also pointed out that there were some challenges since this was targeted as a LEED certified house.

“There aren’t many LEED homes in this central area of Ohio,” explained Duecker. “It’s the first one we have done. It was different from how we are used to doing installations because of the LEED certification. For example, all the return air needed to be ducted back, so that took some thinking. All the duct work had to be all sealed up, and whether it was glue or caulking, low VOCs had to be used because of the certification. There was also a lot of third party testing that needed to be done too.”

Healthy Climate Solutions by Lennox and media air cleaners were used for indoor air quality along with a MERV 16 filter.

“A MERV 16 is almost HEPA quality,” said Duecker. “Healthy Climate has exclusive rights on the filter. They were the only ones with a MERV 16 filter available. We used Panasonic humidity sensing exhaust fans in the bathrooms and a Panasonic exhaust fan in the garage tied to a motion sensor, so anytime the garage door would open the fan would turn on to draw any fumes out of the garage area.”

“There were a lot of folks and companies that stepped forward and donated products for this project,” said Duecker. “It’s been great working with Mark and Rosemarie. It’s a really great project. It’s going to be a very nice house and I can’t wait till they start doing workshops at the house.”

Tempzone radiant flooring by Warmly Yours is also being utilized in the home. “Tempzone is very energy efficient,” said Julia Billen, president/owner of WarmlyYours Radiant Inc., Long Grove, Ill. “Radiant is a good fit for this home especially when you compare it to traditional heating, forced/hot air. The biggest difference between radiant heating and conventional heating systems (hot air) is that, hot air systems just put air into the room without heating the objects. Radiant heat warms you and all the objects in the room. This is especially important if mobility is an issue as you don't need to position yourself in relation to the heat source, the heat comes to you.

“This is a vehicle where we are reaching other people, helping them control their environment in a way that gives them comfort,” added Billen. “So many times, when a person has mobility issues, they lose control, they have to learn to maneuver within the constraints of their environment. Imagine how frustrating that is in general, the one place you want control and comfort is in the home. We are giving that back to them. That is my greatest reward.”

The home is also utilizing a photovoltaic system made up of Uni-Solar panels integrated into the roof to capture energy and light the exterior of the home and a Solectria inverter. The solar panels are flexible thin film panels that adhere to the metal roof.

According to Peter Rienks, project manager at Inovateus Solar LLC, South Bend, Ind., the company that consulted on the solar system, the Uni-Solar panels work very nice in the Midwest and generate electricity even on cloudy and overcast days.

Other products donated include a rainwater harvesting system by Aquascape Inc., Navien tankless hot water heaters, and many others. Go to http://www.udll.com/contributors/ to review an entire list of companies that contributed to this project.

Once the house is completed this fall, the couple will move in, and tours and seminars will be given.

“We have an educational mission,” said Rossetti. “Once the tours are over in the house, we will do virtual tours on the website and then do some videos, a series of CDs or small videos. Mark and I will continue to host people in the lower level of the house. We will invite small groups of professionals to spend time with us, so they can come over to the seminar room, pick our brains, and find out how they can improve upon what they are doing. We also hope that manufactures will ask us to come and give advice or test out new products. We’ll bring in new things to test out.”

Additional information about the home is available at: http://www.udll.com/.