Billings, Montana


Randy & Janna Hafer


3900 SF



Project Highlights

LEED Platinum, USGBC MT Special Jury Award of Comprehensive Sustainability 2016, Attempting Passive House and Living Building Challenge certification


Construction is wrapping up on a revolutionary new house built on a former greyfield site in Billings, MT. It is revolutionary because this house has no mechanical heating or cooling system, no gas utility, no city water or sewer service, nor well or septic system, and soon no tie to the electrical grid. The structure is located on a small urban infill lot seven blocks from the center of downtown. High Plains Architects had a vision to create a comfortable, affordable, and low maintenance house that will be entirely self-sustaining. Pushing these goals further, all of the systems in the house are designed to be scalable and easy to replicate in order to make the house a prototype for a healthier more sustainable standard of residential construction.

The Urban Frontier House contains 2,400 SF of living space which will be heated and cooled passively, without traditional mechanical systems. Due to its super-insulated envelope made of overlapping structural insulated panels (SIPs), manufactured by Big Sky Insulations of Belgrade MT, solar heat gain and heat produced by daily activity are expected to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature year round.

A Film about the Urban Frontier House 

In summer the house is ventilated naturally by opening windows and solar powered skylights manufactured by Alpen Windows and Velux Skylights respectively. This passive cooling effect will be assisted by Haiku ceiling fans manufactured by Big Ass Solutions. During Montana’s frigid winters fresh air will be circulated through the house using sun warmed air from the garden room with the help of a 95% efficient Zehnder heat recovery ventilator.

The Urban Frontier House’s power will be generated by a 2.2kW solar array installed by Sundance Solar, and a vertical axis wind turbine manufactured by Taisei Techno of Billings. To minimize power conversion losses, this home showcases its own DC microgrid which powers all LED lighting and some equipment and appliances.

All water used in the house will be collected rainwater, stored in six 1,500 gallon tanks in the basement. Treated grey water will be stored in tanks totaling 1,500 gallons and will be used for toilet flushing, clothes washing, dishwashing, and irrigation. All of the house’s organic waste will be processed on-site by a Phoenix composter, manufactured in Montana by Advanced Composting Systems.

Faculty and students at Rocky Mountain College are collaborating with the architects to design and install sensors to monitor the Urban Frontier House’s indoor air quality, temperatures, humidity, CO2 levels, water, and energy performance. High Plains Architects' Urban Frontier House is certified LEED for Homes Platinum and is pursuing Living Building Challenge (LBC) and Passive House certifications. The goal of the Living Building Challenge, the most rigorous green building certification program in the world, is to create market change towards a more healthy and sustainable built environment.

Urban agriculture is an important component of LBC, and, in addition to the (4-season) garden room, the Urban Frontier House will aim to cultivate the vast majority of the yard for food production. By producing a large portion of their food the owners will enjoy a nutritious and convenient supplement to their diet.

Read about the experience of building the Urban Frontier House on our Blog

 Urban Frontier House was the inspiration for a 2014 TEDx talk given by Randy Hafer where he discussed "how a little house on the high plains of Billings, Montana can tackle some of the biggest problems facing people and the planet and provide a viable alternative solution."

The people of High Plains Architects live and work in Montana because we are drawn to its unique character. Because it is a place that we love and respect, we are committed to creating an architecture that satisfies our requirements for conventional living while sitting lightly on the land and connecting us physically, emotionally, and spiritually to place.
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