Phil Pfeiffer, a director, and his wife Cee Moravec, a set dresser, began building a house in Cerrillos powered by alternative energy after Pfeiffer took green building classes through Architects, Designers & Contractors Network in Santa Fe. The 2,100-square-foot building, which sits on an isolated 50-acre piece of land dotted with piñon and juniper trees, will use recycled cellulose insulation and solar thermal heating, and is on track to earn HERS (Home Energy Rating System) gold certification for energy efficiency. Pfeiffer and Moravec have been living “off the grid” in a 705-square-foot yurt for the past nine years. ADC Network building classes started Feb. 16. For more information, visit adcnetwork.org/classes.html.
SFR: Why are you so interested in green building?
PP: One, I think that the human species needs to fully wake up and understand that we have a finite amount of resources here. Secondly, most of us around the planet have been building inefficient structures for way too long now, thinking that we had an unlimited amount of resources—ie wood, oil, gas, etc.—which we don’t. For the last 20, 30, 40 years, there have been people like myself, and far more learned than I, that started experimenting with straw bale, double-paned glass, passive solar, using batteries, discovering solar panels, to where we could operate without being tied into the grid.
Do you think green building is accessible to people who don’t have a lot of extra money?
I would say to those people to come up and take these classes. They cost about $36 a class for master classes, six of them. This is unbelievable. I still think they need to add one or two classes. I think they need to have somebody like me come up and go, ‘OK, here’s what you need to think about, here’s what you need to be doing when the architect [is] drawing; you need to pay more attention to what they’re drawing than we did’…So I don’t think there needs to be any fear of cost because you don’t know anything yet. Don’t hold back because you hear that green costs more. Educate yourself.
Do you think you’ll have a different satisfaction when you finally get into your house than you would if you were just handed the keys?
There’s pride that one has of designing your own home, whether it’s 500 square feet or 2,100 square feet, which isn’t a huge house, but it’s huge for us. We’ve been living in 706 square feet. But see, both Cee and I have done films all over the world, and we’ve spent years, literally years and years, in motels, bungalows, cots, tents, trains. We know how to make whatever size place we’re at our nest…so we don’t need 4-, 5-, 6,000-square-foot to think that we ‘made it.’ That’s bullshit in my opinion. There are a lot of people with 3,500-square-foot homes for three people. That’s just so wasteful.
Is it fun applying what you learned about green technology?
It’s fun in the sense that I feel like I’m living in a continuous science project that challenges me…There’s so many different ways and so many different ideas out there. People are not afraid to experiment and to try different things…For us to have this kind of [energy efficiency rating] in the walls up in our trusses, this is unbelievable. I’ve never been in a structure like this.
Does your new house have a name?
Flying Trees is the name of our place. Because when the bark beetles came about five years ago and killed a lot of piñon trees around us, sometimes we‘d get 40-, 50-, 60-mile-per-hour gusts out there and we’d see large piñons flying through the air. It’s really a very magical, magical spot. A half a mile or mile south of us is one of the pueblos called Burnt Corn. In a three-mile radius from our house, there are walls, pottery, tools, and literally hundreds of petroglyphs and spirits out there. To be able to be out there as long as we have, the longer we’re out there, the quieter we are, the more we hear, the more we see, the more we feel. We felt like we didn’t want to start building a house right away until we felt like we were a part of the place…We’re so much a part of the place now, having lived there that long. So I think it’s important to really think about where you’re going to build and how you’re going to build and what you’re going to do and what kind of impact you’ll make. We make an impact no matter what we do, but if we can listen and hear the land speak to us, I mean, it certainly helps.