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By: Hanna Smith, reporter for Christian County Headliner News - Ozark, Missouri
From the roof of Pensmore, you can see for miles. Pristine hills blanketed by fleeting fall colors, meadows and glades —the view, standing in the chilly morning breeze, will take your breath away. The sun has just appeared over the hills in southern Christian County, shedding its life-giving light on the earth below. The blue-tinted mansion appears out of place in Highlandville, standing tall on the hilltop.
The sunlight that falls on the rooftop is vital for Pensmore as the rays reflect off 142 shimmering, blue solar panels. Homeowner Steven Huff smiles at the project, two weeks old and a step closer to attaining his mission of sustainable, green energy for Pensmore.
“One of the main goals was energy efficiency,” he says. “...They aren’t operational yet, but will be before the end of the year.”
It’s no easy task powering, heating and cooling 72,000 square feet, but Huff, who currently lives in the guest wing, has worked tirelessly to achieve his goal. Soon, Pensmore will come to life from the power of the sun.
Powering the palace
When sunlight hits Pensmore’s roof, the panels create a chain reaction as photons knock electrons free of atoms in the particles of light, generating a flow of electricity. This energy is channeled from the rooftop to the third level of Pensmore.
Wandering through the skeleton of Pensmore’s unfinished area, Huff takes a right into the inverter room. Two Skywire Electric employees are standing behind a row of inverters. Huff walks around the partially-completed wall and greets them, asking about their day and progress. And then Huff gets back on topic, explaining how the system — his own design — will operate. He points out the channels where the green energy will travel. Out of the wall, across the ceiling, down poles and into the inverters — the system is efficient in operation.
Huff has taken great time and care in the design and sought out the most innovative tools to complete his specific project. For instance, batteries.
“The best battery depends on what you’re trying to do,” Huff says.
For him, that was North Star Battery, located in Springfield. It’s surprising and impressive, he says, how many resources are right in his own backyard.
That’s another important aspect of Pensmore, says Ralf Augstroze, media coordinator, who towers at 6 feet, 9 inches tall with a firm handshake.
“All technology here is made in the U.S.” Augstroze says.
Huff says he has found a valuable resource in Ecobee, a company that monitors and moderates electricity use for heating and air. The system also compares Pensmore to homes in similar climates to judge average usage.
“It compares to other homes in similar climates,” Huff says. “You get an apple-to-apple comparison.”
Through his methods of energy conservation, Huff says he has been pleased and impressed by how Pensmore has maintained internal temperature despite external conditions.
“These numbers are better than I hoped for,” he says. “...We’re much more gentle on the utility company. We’re not asking for any more at night in January than during the day in January ... The house has a high thermal mass ... It’s almost like adobe walls. It keeps the average temperature. It’s the same principal, but with high-tech management.”
And that’s another goal of Huff’s: Maintaining traditional, valuable aspects while implementing innovative technology.
“One of the goals here is to show how to build high-tech,” Huff says. “We use very low energy and it looks like it’s traditional.”
With this kind of conservation, Huff says he plans on actually producing extra energy — almost voiding his electric usage.
“Our goal here is to generate as much electricity as we use,” he says. “... The greenest energy is energy you don’t use.”
Educating future innovators
Pensmore is also an outlet for education. Huff has invested in college students who in turn, generate ideas and research for his home.
“We have a full physics model and built a small energy-research building,” Huff says.
He also has given grants for computer science students to build new software. Most of the colleges are located in Virginia, specifically at his alma mater — Hampden-Sydney College.
Educating future engineers and scientists is important to Huff as he sees students shy away from those vital fields. He says he hopes Pensmore will inspire the next generation of engineers.
Recently, teachers from the Lebanon School District visited Pensmore and discussed ways the mansion could inspire high-school students to pursue science and engineering fields.
“We had teachers in Lebanon look at how they may be able to expose students to technology,” Augstroze says. “There is a lot of cutting-edge stuff going on here.”
That being said, Pensmore will never be complete. As long as science evolves, so will Pensmore.
“It will never be finished in the way you mean it,” Huff says.
Built to last
Walking through hallways, up winding stairwells and past tall windows shedding light on the stone floor, Augstroze explains the vastness of the mansion not only in mass, but in its theory.
“There are five suites for friends, family, scholars, authors, scientists,” says Augstroze. “This will be a place for them to write books, think deep thoughts.”
Pensmore is not built for the here and now — Huff has innovation in mind for future generations and said it’s something everyone has the responsibility to remember.
“Our ancestors, we owe a lot to them,” Huff says. “We owe to future generations to do things better.”
So, Huff invests in students, generates green energy, keeps a farm, builds with sustainable material and plans for years to come — many, many years.
“This is going to be around for a couple thousand years,” Augstroze says with a smile.
This isn’t anything more than his duty, Huff says — it’s simply being a good steward of what has been given to him.
“(Pensmore) is rooted in basic, Christian stewardship and being good stewards of what’s here,” Huff says.
See Story Here: http://ccheadliner.com/news/christian-county-s-green-giant/article_c1d4df30-824f-11e5-ad73-d77d6f86d254.html?mode=story
HIGHLANDVILLE, Mo. The owner of the 72,000 square foot Pensmore Castle near Highlandville wants it knocked down and rebuilt, because he believes it wasn't constructed as strong as it should have been. The Steven Huff family is suing the concrete company, claiming it left out a core component to make the structure disaster-resistant.
The Huff family alleges in its lawsuit that the concrete company that worked on Pensmore intentionally shorted the amount of reinforcing materials they were supposed to be putting in the concrete as it was mixed.
Pensmore was designed to withstand an EF-5 tornado or even a bomb blast, with small pieces of a reinforced steel called Helix inside the concrete walls.
But the lawsuit says a former employee of City Wide Construction Products came forward in October 2014, claiming that he and other workers were ordered to short the amount of Helix in the concrete, and the Helix that wasn't used was possibly re-sold.
The lawsuit says he tried to stop the practice, but failed and felt "lousy" about what occurred.
The suit says Pensmore did core testing, which confirmed the whistleblower's account. The man also claimed another additive called plasticizer to strengthen the walls, was watered down or not used at all.
We contacted an attorney for City Wide and Monarch Cement Company, named collectively as defendants. In a statement, Attorney Michael E. Callahan said, "We find the plaintiff's allegations of an intentional scheme to short steel fibers to be without merit, and there is no evidence even suggesting there is a shortage.
The Monarch Cement Company and City Wide Construction Products are known for their high-quality products and longtime commitment to customer service. They will defend their hard-earned reputations against the plaintiff's allegations all the way through trial, if necessary."
The Steven Huff family is asking for $63 million in damages and for specific performance, which would require the defendant to tear down and build Pensmore back right. The case is set for a jury trial in federal court November 14th.