As a twenty year old just out of Jr. College I began my first house with the desire to be on my own and not have to pay rent. Lake Tahoe in 1973 was a very affordable place to build a home. Most homes there were still “cabins” and most were built with the knowledge and belief it would become a second home. Times have changed in thirty five years. No engineering was needed back then, the county helped you, and 2x4 walls and single pane windows were the excepted norm. Two years later I was using double pane windows and 2x6 walls. In 1977 I became a CA licensed contractor and came upon John Muir’s description of the Sierra Nevada mountain range as, The Range of Light. He was describing the nuances of shadow light found in the Sierras from sunrise to sunset, and even in the moonlight. Being a longtime camper and backpacker in the Eastern Sierras and Tahoe area and appreciating the beauty of the mountain ranges, I thought Range of Light Construction would be the perfect name for our company. We make our home in the Eastern Sierras in Sierra Valley. It's a little known valley in the north end of the mountains, the largest alpine valley in North America. Our first attempt at an energy efficient house was our own home which we continue to live in today. With the first big energy increases in the late 70’s, solar architecture was in its heyday. Our goal was to build a passive solar heated house, which only took 3 cords of wood and a lot of sunshine. After talking with ranchers in the area it was clear that building in the middle of a valley that experiences wind storms, snow drifts, and temperatures 20 below zero, would require radical design ideas. This home design challenge led me to understand the importance of orientation of a home in relation to the sun, wind, and the overall climate of an area. Each climate will put demands on your final design and how you meet these demands will affect the efficiency and comfort of your home. Our design in 1979 was very different even by today’s standards, and is still a hard sell because of its atypical design. Its main feature is its use of the earth to temper the extreme cold in winter and the heat of summer. We used dirt from a pond we dug to cover concrete retaining walls built on all sides except the south which is all glass to capture the sun’s warmth. Dirt was also piled on the roof to create a half buried home safe from wind and extremely well insulated. When it was finished we were surprised to find that it only took one cord a year to heat our house. Since then such radical architecture has not caught on resulting in a different focus for Range of Light. Our houses concentrate on south facing windows, extra insulation, Low E Energy star windows and appliances, orientation and floor plan that optimizes our client’s building site and location, and natural colors and materials that reflect the region we build in. The trend in recent years of adopting more green, energy efficient construction, gives us great hope for unconventional energy saving designs.
Our house near completion - southern face.
Bob and his father building his first house