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Haw River House

Sitting above a knoll overlooking the Haw River in Chatham County, NC, this house has a spectacular but harsh site.  The well provides less than 1 gallon per minute of water!   We responded to this by designing a delicate butterfly roof which will collect all the rainwater that hits it, among many other green and sustainable features. 

But we believe the most important green feature of all is livability, with an open flowing floor plan, cross ventilation and bright daylit spaces for the Owners to enjoy their life on the river.

The clients – an artist and an attorney – asked for a “very sustainable yet super-modern” house for their blended family, which is generously populated with children and an ever growing array of rescued dogs. They approached us to design a modern and thoroughly “green” residence with clean lines and clear volumes, and open, uncluttered interior spaces filled with sunlight, panoramic views, and easy access to the outdoors.


Perched on a knoll above the Haw River rapids in Chatham County, the 2600-square-foot house was designed to be perfectly at home within its wooded site. In form, footprint, and materials, it defers to the towering deciduous trees and evergreens that rise among craggy rocks and boulders along the riverbank.   The architect was inspired by the trees that were bent and floating out over the riverbank.  The house echoes these forms by floating out over the knoll toward the western view of the river.


Three major exterior elements extend the living space toward the river view as if they are floating among the trees: a cantilevered screen porch, a deck off the house’s main volume, and a private cantilevered deck off the master bedroom. 


A graceful butterfly roof shelters the main living space inside. Its purpose is for more than shelter, however. 

The site is remote and harsh.  The existing well provides less than 1 gallon per minute.  Power outages in the area are common.  For all these reasons, a PV system and rooftop water collection became imperatives.  With a massive carefully designed gutter leading to downspouts on each end of the house, the butterfly roof funnels 100 percent of the rainwater that falls on it into two massive above-ground cisterns leading to triple filtering system including a UV system to kill 99.9% of the bacteria that may appear in rainwater.  The local health department has never approved a potable water system before.  They have approved the project’s gray water collection and will graduate the system into a potable water source once a few months of monitoring data prove that the quality of the water exceeds local well water. 


Among the many features that elevate the house to Net Zero status are the geothermal heating and cooling system and a roof mounted PV system. Triple-glazed, European Passive House windows and doors – including a 20-foot-wide sliding glass door on the riverside elevation -- contribute to the house’s super-tight envelope. Schechter also carefully designed the fenestration and open floor plan to assure that every interior space enjoys natural light and natural cross ventilation.


For all its high function, there’s also a sybaritic side to the Haw River House, expressed through such luxuries as a floating private deck off the master suite;  passive house corner windows in both bathrooms;  a soaking tub with a corner window by a fireplace in the master bathroom; a soaking pool with an integral hot tub overlooking the rapids, and space for a future home sauna.  


  • 22.5 KW PV Rooftop Solar Array

  • Double the code requirement for insulation in the thermal envelope

  • Seals on all air gaps.

  • An Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) for an extremely tight house.

  • R-75 roof insulation

  • Air to Brine Geothermal Heat Pump -- 3 geothermal wells

  • Two 5000 gallon above ground cisterns.  When full, they would last 230 days without a rainfall.

  • Sliding cypress screens originally designed by the architect were removed for cost reasons.  However, solar reflective shades will be installed on the exterior of the deck before spring.  These are critical for deflecting solar heat gain from the brutal western sun.

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