Bryan Beaulieu’s house is alive. The 4,000-square-foot home nestled in the shadow of Scottsdale’s Troon Mountain is unlike any other in the East Valley. The home is actually a collection of five hexagonal buildings connected by outdoor walkways.
Gardens sit atop roofs, and grapevines line walkways. Solar panels act as both awnings and power generators.
“This is an experiment,” says Beaulieu. “Half of the stuff we try doesn’t work, so we try something else.”
The experiment is green living: An engineer and inventor by trade, Beaulieu set out four years ago to build a home that would provide a healthy living environment for his family while conserving natural resources.
“People are becoming more aware that the environment isn’t just outside, it’s what is inside your carpeting, wood cabinetry and plaster,” says Beaulieu.
“We consider a living house one in which you can sleep comfortably.”
Beaulieu spent a year scouting locations around the Valley to build his living experiment. He settled on a spot under the auspices of two homeowners associations — Troon Village and Tusayan. The architect for the development stipulated that every home be built in the Southwestern style.
“This home is based on a Navajo hogan,” Beaulieu says of the five hexagons whose rooftops are covered with mud and plants. “It’s hard to argue with that.”
Beaulieu built the home in harmony with Troon Mountain; when you drive through the gate and into the carport, your wheels are touching the actual mountain. Paving the entryway was out of the question — tar retains heat and would have reflected it back to the home.
A room just off the carport is a command center of sorts. Golf-cart batteries store power collected by the solar panels (a “low-tech” storage mechanism Beaulieu hopes to replace one day). From here Beaulieu can control the water temperature and check for electromagnetic fields caused by modern conveniences such as televisions, computers and cell phones.
“We monitor where those fields are and intentionally keep them away from areas where we sleep,” says Beaulieu. “We wouldn’t want to have this around our heads.”
Despite their solar panels, the family isn’t completely off the grid. Whatever energy the family doesn’t use is sold back to the power company. Eventually the home will be hydrogen-powered with net zero energy consumption (which means the home will produce as much energy as the family consumes).
THE STAR GATE
Beaulieu climbs a set of stairs and reaches a gate made of rusted steel.
“This is our star gate,” he says with a laugh. It’s an allusion to the far-out, almost futuristic appearance of his home.
The center of the home is an outdoor living space covered with a bamboo roof and Thompson seedless grapevines.
“The goal is that all this bamboo matting will disintegrate and the vines will take over,” says Beaulieu. “It becomes kind of a combination of Robinson Crusoe meets Mr. Wizard. ... The plants really then become the house and there’s no clear line between where the architecture starts and the organic material ends.”
A hydrogen fireplace sits in the center of the outdoor living room; only heavy fabric drapes separate the area from the outside, which makes one wonder if the family ever feels vulnerable and exposed. The family spends about 75 percent of the year outside.
“When you see a bobcat racing across the mountain you feel you should have more of a barrier, but for us it is liberating,” says Beaulieu, a Minnesota native who mmoved to Arizona in 1999.
The kitchen, game room, offices and bedrooms are all in se parate hexagons, connected by outdoor walkwa ys covered with grapevines and solar panels. The Eastern-inspired decor was chosen by Beaulieu’s wife.
Beaulieu traveled the world looking for inspiration; he visited Italy, China, India and other countries where people make do with less and tried to replicate their solutions to daily problems in his futuristic home.
“Most people live in mud houses, and they’re using a fraction of the energy that we do,” says Beaulieu.
“The hydrogen is the icing on the cake,” says Anthony Floyd, green building manager for Scottsdale. “It’s the highest-scoring green building in Scottsdale.”
Despite the accolades from green advocates, Beaulieu’s fa mily is the ultimate authority on the project.
“My wife and kids were not going to be satisfied with a bubbling test tube,” says Beaulieu. “She’s basically the customer.”