The building

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The building in 1920.


The building is a former Model T showroom built in 1920 that has landed in the 21st century as a net-zero energy building helping to develop triple-bottom-line businesses. We have traced the history of the building and its occupants, beginning in 1920 with the DeFord Motor Company, all the way to our purchase in 2007. For those who have an interest in this area, we have even researched the history of the property where the building stands, all the way back to pre-American Revolution days. For more detail, see our building history page.


Tom and Peggy Brennan bought the building on December 31st, 2007. The next 2 years were spent in design discussions with over 200 volunteers dedicating their time to helping us develop this building into what it is today. The discussions covered everything from net-zero energy design, Alexander design (based on the work of Christopher Alexander), water management, gardens, materials management, etc. To view some of our design work, see our One Earth Patterns pages, which delineate the work done in dozens of areas.

The building today.


After design work, we turned in our building plans to the City of Detroit and they were quickly approved. We worked with a number of contractors over the 2 years of construction, and their contact information is found on our building community page. We are currently working on As Built pages that describe our building systems as they were completed.

We chronicled the construction work on 4 pages, beginning in October of 2009 and lasting until November of 2011. To view these pages, see our construction archives page.

To see some pictures of the building before and after construction, see our Before and After: A Look at the Green Garage Before and After Construction slideshow.

Design Features

Windows in the SW corner of the building.

After construction was completed, we developed a series of pages, called As Built, that described the various systems in our building. For the complete list, see our As Built page index. Five representative pages are listed below.

  1. Heating and cooling system We developed a hybrid type system is to allow the earth's natural systems (e.g. the sun and earth) to do as much of the heating and cooling work as possible, and only when they cannot meet the required heating and cooling levels are high-efficiency mechanical systems required to complete the job.
  2. Ventilation system Our building has a ventilation system that integrates mechanical ventilation components with moisture control to create an efficient and healthy system for the building.
  3. Materials management - as built Describing the process we used to repurpose 90% of the materials that were in our building prior to construction, and bring in mainly repurposed materials from the U.S. waste stream.
  4. Walls and insulation Describing our Super Insulated Building Envelope, a main contributor to our low energy bills.
  5. Windows Our windows were intentionally designed to maximize the daylight they allow into the building while balancing the lower thermal properties of the windows versus the normal wall. This page includes a diagram of our window insertion system.

Measurement Pages

KWh for HVAC Feb 2014.png

Designing and building an energy-efficient building is one thing; it's another to measure performance month after month, year after year, and report the results. We have been measuring our systems for over a year now, and report our real data about our Waste, Water and Energy on our Measurement Pages. Our data shows that we use about 1/10th of the energy and water of a typical office building, and also throw away only a small fraction of what is typical for an office building of a similar population. More detail is provided on the pages below, including charts.

  1. Energy - Electrical Usage Statistics
  2. Waste Statistics
  3. Water Usage Statistics