Austin-based retailer TreeHouse has a comfy niche for itself: It’s a home improvement store à la Home Depot, but with a hip aesthetic and a environmentally-friendly focus, à la Whole Foods. So if you’re been in the market for a smart shower head, you can head over to the South Austin store—or, now, the Dallas location, which opened last week in the Hill development on the city’s north side.
Energy-efficiency is a priority for homeowners who care about the environment, or who care about saving on their bills, or who like attractively-designed furnishings. But at the Dallas location, it’s not just about smartening up your home with lights you can turn off from your phone, or installing renewable countertops made of bamboo. The store is the first big-box (27,000 square foot, about a quarter of the size of the average Home Depot) retailer in the world that’s not just carbon-neutral, but which is actually “energy positive”—that is, which generates more electricity than it uses, feeding the excess back into the grid with the help of Tesla Powerpack batteries.
The building was designed by San Antonio-based architecture firm Lake & Flato, which utilizes south-facing, saw-tooth roofs designed to allow for a huge array of solar panels atop the store. The store uses LED lighting, heat load reduction techniques, and north-facing windows to brighten the store with natural and artificial light without generating direct heat to reduce cooling costs during sweltering Texas summers. The expected energy consumption was modeled after the amount used in the Austin location, which Lake & Flato monitored during the design process of the store. The Tesla batteries, meanwhile, allow for the energy generated on sunny days to power the store when the weather conditions aren’t so forgiving—and to feed the extra energy generated by the solar panels during the bright times back into the grid.
It’s a cool approach to design that fits in well with TreeHouse’s brand—and it’s the sort of thing we expect to see more of. TreeHouse might be the first big-box retailer to generate more energy than it consumes, but it’s part of a wave of buildings constructed along the same principles. Elithis Tower, in Dijon, France, was the first energy-positive office building in the world, while a number of companies—including Houston builder Houze—promise energy-positive homes for people to live in. But landing a building this size—that meets the unique needs of retail—is groundbreaking. We’re curious to see what other retailers are next out the gate.