A different kind of architectural practice…

Let LIVING SYSTEMS become your Design/Build advocate… saving you the most money while delivering the highest quality sustainable home. A healthy and sustainable lifestyle is the result of smart choices.  Smart choices are the result of up-to-date information.  Living Systems is dedicated to empowering its clients to make informed choices about how they want to live now and what they will leave for future generations.  Recognizing that buildings consume about half of all energy in the United States and are, therefore, responsible for nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions, LIVING SYSTEMS has taken a leadership role in establishing sustainable building standards and ethics that:

  • Exceed LEED for Homes standards
  • Provide for health and comfort
  • Are an excellent value & investment
  • Need very little maintenance 
  • Require very little in additional energy and water
  • Result in a pleasing regional aesthetic

Let us help with your next Project!

A home full of natural light feels happy and healthy

Whether undertaking new construction (residential or commercial), a micro-dwelling, or a remodel of an existing home, Living Systems is dedicated to making your sustainable Design/Build project a wise financial decision. Through the process of VALUE ENGINEERING, a method that both controls and reduces cost and risk, enough money will be saved to pay for the architectural fee and more. Living Systems’ goal is to create a real budget rather than a hopeful one.  Working as both architect and contractor with the client allows us to take steps throughout the design process to assure cost control. Let’s look at this method of Design/Build in more detail. In a typical custom design and construction project, an architect draws a set of plans he or she believes will fit the client’s budget. Once finished, the plans are then given to a contractor(s) for bidding. Because most architects and contractors come from separate and specialized worlds, communication is usually incomplete.  As a result, buildings generally overbid by 20-40% Moreover, costs generally continue to rise throughout the construction process, itself.


Architecture that feels good

Living Systems, however, approaches the project from a very different perspective. As both architect and contractor, the Design/Build process replaces the unnatural division with one that is seamless and dynamic where problems are addressed forthrightly and creatively with an eye always to the client’s bottom line. Another way to view value engineering is to think of it as a process of both cost and quality control from the very start. Beginning with the client’s desires and input, an agreed upon budget is determined. And, because Living Systems is trained in both the architectural and construction side of the business, costs are realistic. Indeed, throughout the design process, every choice can be examined in terms of alternative construction techniques, finishes and/or product selections. Because this process is fully transparent, the client remains in control of the budget throughout the project. Before final drawings are initiated, a detailed “pre-bid” is executed to aid the architect and client to value engineer costs once again, if necessary. The result:  the final bid on your new sustainable home will be within your budgetary limits and groundbreaking can begin with ease, on time and on budget.


Isn’t it a conflict of interest being both architect and builder?
No. The historic definition of architect is that of master builder which means craftsman and designer are one and the same. Just as the industrial revolution resulted in severely eroding the nuclear family, the same has happened with the building “family.” The many people that are required to build a home have become isolated from one another and healthy communication has withered away. We choose to reassemble the “building family” to the benefit of all. Acting as architect and builder creates a unique opportunity to replace the unproductive “conflict mentality,” that all too often pervades the building industry, with that of cooperation so that the new home owner is better served.
Costs and Quality: Why is Living Systems the Better Alternative?

Most homes today are built to minimum standards regarding health, safety, durability, and energy efficiency.  While they can be attractive on the outside, they generally are not comfortable spaces in terms of heating and cooling, they tend to require more maintenance and often directly contribute to poor health due to the toxic nature of many of the common building products commonly used in every-day construction.

In contrast, the homes designed by Living Systems are built to exacting, state of the art, standards regarding health, durability, comfort, use of energy, and use of resources such as water, building materials and products that exceed LEED standards.  Therefore, due to their intrinsic value, homes designed and built by Living Systems stand apart from the usual “custom” home because they provide a balance between quality living for today and a sound investment for the future.

Why build with Poured Earth high mass wall?


Why build with Poured Earth high mass wall? Because they:

  • Reduce or eliminate energy costs.
  • Require little or no maintenance.
  • Provide quiet, comfort and health.
  • Endure for many generations.
  • Make use of on-site or local soils.
  • Create walls that are non-flammable.

How do high-mass walls actually provide heating and cooling?

Mass refers to a materials’ capacity to store energy (or heat).  Different materials have different capacities to store this energy.  A pound of water, for example, stores three times as much energy as a pound of wood, twice the amount of energy as concrete and over 3000 times the energy of a pound of air.

The key to understanding how high mass works is to realize that all materials (the mass of a building or of our body) are constantly trying to achieve a balance in temperature.  For example, if you are sitting in front of a sunny window your body mass receives the comfort of collecting and storing the sun’s energy. However, if you then walk into a cool room, you feel chilled as your stored body heat is radiated back to the materials around you.

The interior of a building behaves similarly. In the winter, the collective building mass – the walls, floors, wood, wallboard, etc. – are heated up by the sun during the day.   As night comes on and the room begins to naturally cool down all these sources of stored energy radiate their heat back “into” the room in an attempt to achieve a balanced temperature in the space. The effect, however, is of added “free” heat.  In the summer, if a house is vented at night to capture the cool of the evening, the collective mass will store “cool” which is then radiated back into the home during the day in order to find a balanced temperature.  The effect is one of “natural” air conditioning …..that is free!

Obviously, all homes are to some degree passively heated by the sun during the day or able to be cooled by night time venting of cool air. However, when the walls and floors are made of materials that are able to store more heat (or cool), as they are in buildings made of high mass walls (and concrete or tile floors), they become much more efficient at storing the heat or cool.  In a sense, they are like a battery that efficiently stores heat or cool for later long-term use.  The result is a home that provides vast sources of “free” heating and cooling.

Another feature of a passively heated and cooled home is that there are no drafts created by moving air. Unlike forced air heating and cooling, this process happens almost without our being aware of it.  All we feel is the comfort of the room as it accommodates to our needs to be heated or cooled.

KEYS to how to optimize the efficiency of Poured Earth high mass walls:

  • Correct orientation to the south. First, the home must be properly oriented toward the south to allow for the maximum amount of sun to enter the building during the winter months but not during the summer months. By balancing the amount and distribution of the sun’s energy that enters the windows in the winter with shading during the summer, the building mass now becomes the primary heating and cooling system.
  • Excellent insulation from top to bottom. Next, a passively heated and cooled home depends on a very well insulated building envelope. In order to effectively reduce heating and cooling loads, insulation must be installed properly throughout the building.
  • Deflection of light into the building to maximize heating/cooling. Through the placement of a well-designed inside and outside “light shelves” (designed by Michael Frerking) on the south side of a home, light (which is heat) is bounced from the outside through upper clerestory windows and then diffused onto the ceiling of the building. The result is an evenly distributed, warm, indirect light that helps avoid both the uncomfortable glare of direct sunlight and the overheating that is common in way too many homes.
What do we mean by a “Net-Plus Home?”

“Michael Frerking and Living Systems Sustainable Architecture are designing and building homes that incorporate technology years beyond anything else that is commonly seen in the domestic home building market.” 

(From Green Building & Design magazine, 2012. To read the full article, see the Resources/News page)


One of 5 homes designed by Living Systems that were built in Borrego Springs, California, and featured in Newsweek magazine for their sustainable attributes. They were designed to handle temperatures of over 115ºF.

Tid-Back with Glowcrop

A “Net-Plus” home in Prescott, AZ.

LSSA’s goal is to enhance the natural habitat, not deplete it. Therefore, a “Net-Plus” home is one in which NO off-site energy is used to heat, cool, run appliances or provide lighting within the home. In fact, excess energy is often returned to the grid.

Living Systems’ Net-Plus homes Exceed LEED standards and score a “negative” number on Energy Star ratings (0 out of 100 is the best score possible so a “negative” score makes it “net-plus!”).

Steps to the Design of a “Net-Plus” home by Living Systems…..

Frerking East Deck #2

All of Living Systems’ sustainable homes are designed to join the inside with the outside. They are also designed to create many different outside spaces so there is always one space comfortable during the summer ….at all times of day!

Orientation.  First, the building must be oriented correctly toward the south in order to optimize the energy of the sun entering the building through the windows and the sun falling upon the mass.

• High-mass Passive Heating and Cooling. Mass refers to a material’s energy storing capacity.  Thicker walls, concrete or tiled floors are all excellent ways to capture the heat of the sun or the cool of the evening.  Like a battery, the high-mass Poured Earth walls are able to store “free” heat and cool.  (Read FAQ on “High-Mass” for more in-depth information on how high-mass works).

With the addition of a hydronic radiant floor and/or hydronic wall system, the, high-mass walls can become even more efficient.  Tubes are places within the walls (before they are poured) and under the roof during construction.  These tubes carry water that is either 1) heated by the sun hitting the high-mass walls or the roof or 2) chilled during the night due to night sky radiation! This water is then circulated through the floor and/or the walls when additional heating or cooling is needed.   

A Well Insulated Building Envelope.   The first “key” is to install high R-value windows and doors (minimum R-3).  But it is also important that they are installed properly.  Windows and doors are the “holes” in a building; the places where heat/cool escapes most quickly. When the building envelope is properly insulated and sealed, Living Systems is able to achieve extraordinarily high building envelope R-values. In fact, they achieve values that actually exceed the International Energy Efficiency Code Standards for 2006 by 300%!  Window and door R-values range from R-5 to R-9; the walls are R-35; and the roof is R-50.

Tid:Front Doors inside

The beautiful sculptural patterns of these doors add to the aesthetic of the home.

TRI-DOOR technology: Insulation, Security and Screening all in one. This triple function technology (patent-pending by Michael Frerking) was designed specifically to increase outside door R values to an R-9.  This is achieved by inserting a 3/4” panel of translucent nano-gel into the wooden frame of the Tri-door.  At this point, you can stand in front of any door with this technology in place and not feel cold or a draft!  They literally “plug the hole” that doors create in the building envelope.

During the warmer weather, these panels are easily removed exposing the metal design of each door (made from recycled “throw-away” pieces of steel). Screens can then be added easily to the outside of the metal using magnets.  The doors now become both security and screen doors enabling the home to be opened securely at night during the summer to allow cool air to be absorbed by the mass

Frerking Back Patio #3

Note the low profile of the PVC system on the roof of this home.

  Photo-Voltaics and Solar Hot Water. This is the “active” part of the overall heating/cooling system supplying electricity for the home and for heating hot water.  If energy efficient appliances and lighting are chosen, the energy use can be reduced by at least 50%.  Today, the cost of both photo-voltaic and solar hot water systems is coming down very quickly. Plus, there are generally both federal and state rebate programs to bring the cost down even more

• Net-Zero Water Use.  Through a well-planned water-catchment system, savings on water can be huge. Believe it or not, there is enough rainwater that strikes the roof of a moderate home in the desert climes of the southwest to easily satisfy a family’s needs! These systems can be integrated into the home for irrigation only or for full home use.  In addition, the “rain-chains” that direct water from the roof to the cisterns can be designed to become sculptural pieces all on their own.  They are also incredibly spectacular during heavy rainstorms!


Rainwater is channeled from the roof of this home through attractive “rain-chains” located around the home. Several “chains” connect to larger pipes which lead to the underground cistern for water storage.


Rainwater catchment is achieved using these sculptural rain “tubes” that lead to a large cistern located under the garage. These sculptures add not only to the sustainability of the home but to the overall aesthetic of the building. They were also specifically located so they could be viewed from the inside during the rain!


The rain-chain in action during a storm!


Living Systems is led by architect Michael Frerking who specializes in a revolutionary building technique called Form Free Poured Earth. We offer sustainable architecture services including Design/Build and consulting, and provide Poured Earth Training and Certification. Please feel free to contact us if you would like to learn more or start a conversation about your next project.

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