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Sierra magazine
Comfort Zone | Smart Designs for Pleasure and Planet

Lighting the Way

By Ashley Pearson

LED lights indicate the BrightBuilt Barn's energy flow (red means it's consuming more than it's generating).

What I Like
"You have to monitor your energy use after you get into the building. You can't expect it to do everything for you."

Lesson Learned
"Green living doesn't have to be miserable. You don't have to wear burlap and be cold. It can't be the future if it's that bad."

Keith Collins had four reasons for building an office and a studio with a lower carbon footprint than a conventional structure: his four grandchildren. "I'm old enough that climate change will impact my life only marginally," says Collins, a 1970 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "But it could be a major change in the lives of my grandchildren and their children."

The 700-square-foot BrightBuilt Barn, complete with bathroom and kitchen, generates enough electricity to power itself and much of Collins's adjacent home in Rockport, Maine. It also monitors its own energy flow in the showiest way: An LED "light skirt" around the base of the structure glows green when the barn is making more energy than it's using and turns red when the barn is consuming energy. (Real-time energy data, as well as technical information about the BrightBuilt Barn, are available at

Sunlight pours into the office and art studio, which are separated by movable bookcases. The building is cozy
and inviting, not just a high-tech experiment.

Rooftop solar panels generate the building's electricity, and solar thermal tubes provide heat and hot water. Foot-thick walls and triple-glazed windows conserve warmth. The BrightBuilt Barn is so efficient that it doesn't require a furnace, something that's virtually unheard of in Maine.

For now, the barn serves double duty as a comfortable home office for Collins, the CEO of several healthcare companies, and an art studio for his wife, Mary, a painter and glassblower. "It's the best commute I ever had," he says of his 100-foot walk to work. "The building has a Zen quality to it." The couple plan to move into the barn when they grow too old to navigate their multilevel home.

Collins found the project so rewarding that he's become an evangelist for carbon-neutral buildings and is hoping to help retrofit a building for a local nonprofit organization. His enthusiasm suggests that these projects aren't just for his grandkids. "Some people say, 'Do you want to come over and see my boat?'" he says. "For me, it's 'Do you want to come over and see my barn?'"

ON THE WEB What's your idea of a green living or work space?
Tell us at

Photos, from top: Dave White (3); Trent Bell



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