Bill Hoy Creates the Next Generation of Sustainable Living

In Bozeman, Montana, there’s a home that produces nearly as much energy as it consumes. Shaner Hotel Group’s Bill Hoy designed it, and now he’s working to secure its legacy.

(George Sporn)

If it wasn’t for Frank Zappa, the REHAU Montana Ecosmart House might not exist. Years ago, when he was a struggling student, Bill Hoy found himself in a Pennsylvania bar, pondering his next move. Suddenly, Zappa’s voice echoed from the jukebox: “Movin’ to Montana soon / gonna be a dental floss tycoon,” the famous, idiosyncratic artist sang. Hoy thought that plan was as good as any, and soon he was on his way to the state’s city of Bozeman. Although he didn’t go on to become a dental floss tycoon, he did set out on his own unique and successful adventure, studying architecture at Montana State University (MSU) and, eventually, building one of the most sustainable homes in the world.

Set against the region’s scenic mountain vistas, the house encompasses 4,000 square feet and multiple floors. Its energy-efficient features include a closed-loop geothermal heat system, a thermal-storage heat sink, and windows that automatically tint in direct sunlight. With its multiple systems, the comfortable, accessible home creates nearly as much energy as it consumes.

The idea for the house spans back to Hoy’s days as a student in the early 1980s. However, it didn’t begin to crystallize until 2008, when his work with the Creative Research Lab of MSU’s College of Arts and Architecture led to the opportunity. A corporate sponsor was found in REHAU, a German manufacturer of polymer-based systems with whom Hoy had been working on a window project. It didn’t hurt that the company’s CEO at the time, Kitty Saylor, was an MSU alumnus. Construction began in 2010 and lasted about two years, after which the project’s effectiveness was to be measured via 300 sensors located throughout the house.

Unfortunately, only eight experiments were carried out over two years. REHAU’s North American division capped funding, thus hindering the original plan to provide experiment results in real time via an accompanying website. Hoy and his family moved into the house in 2014 but moved to Pennsylvania soon after, where Hoy landed his current position at Shaner Hotel Group. There, he serves as the vice president of development, planning, and construction.

So, what has become of the house? Hoy still owns it and rents it out to tenants. The basement and the mechanical room are still functional, with data still being collected. Hoy says that ongoing experiments are part of the lease terms: “It’s basically a lab that’s just sitting there. There are a lot of little things there that someone could literally pick up right now and do experiments on remotely since all the systems are tied to the Internet.”

It’s unfortunate that the house’s full potential hasn’t been harnessed, not just for the information it could provide in terms of environmental sustainability, but also for the awareness it could raise for what Hoy calls “human sustainability.” What this encompasses is ADA accessibility and the considerations of those who want to “age in place” utilizing telemedicine technology rather than spend their latter years in a nursing home or hospital.

To that point, Hoy speaks of the idea of multigenerational living, using his own family as an example. Under the Ecosmart roof, he hoped to shelter himself, his wife, his elderly parents, and his daughter, who is confined to a wheelchair due to spina bifida—with everyone having their own individual areas.

“The way we designed the house was to have everyone living together, but each having their own separate space,” Hoy explains. “The idea was to experiment in multigenerational living from a design standpoint.”

Hoy says the house’s current limited funding didn’t allow for further exploration of this concept, which could ostensibly prove to be a boon in the construction of affordable housing.

If it isn’t evident yet, the entire project continues to be a passion project for Hoy. Now in Pennsylvania, he’s been working to recruit interested parties. That’s in addition to working for Shaner Hotel Group, in a position he describes as “one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.” There, in between ground-up hotel builds and renovation projects that take him everywhere from local sites to the Bahamas, he dreams of building a geothermal hotel and showing that his dream from the past continues to inform his—and his company’s—vision for the future.

“They have geothermal hotels out there now, and the payback is about 10–11 years,” Hoy says. “But, you know, that cost keeps coming down.”

Meanwhile, he continues to design on his own time. He’s currently building an accessible house and working to recruit to experiment on the REHAU Montana Ecosmart House with the US Green Building Council Club (USGBC) of Pennsylvania State University. Although the two states are about 2,000 miles apart, long-distance experimentation is certainly an option, thanks to those sophisticated sensors and monitors that allow the house to be examined via the Internet. Any management and on-site adjustments can be made using MSU, which is just a hop, skip, and jump away from the structure.

But innovation takes time. When he was with Marriott in the 1980s and 1990s, Hoy was a key figure in the pioneering of select service hotel brands. “Back in those days, there was no blueprint,” he says. “We developed prototypes. We developed the processes.”

With the REHAU Montana Ecosmart House, Hoy continues to build blueprints for the next generation. “It’s a matter of little baby steps, momentum here and there,” he says. With that kind of inventiveness and persistence, perhaps the futuristic touches of the house will one day be the norm—not just something you’d hear about in a Frank Zappa song.

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Johnson Braund values our relationship with Bill Hoy and the Shaner Group. With their in-depth knowledge of hotel prototyping, Bill and the Shaner Group continue to be true leaders in the hotel-development industry. It is our mission to provide Shaner and our clients with the highest quality of professional service to meet their needs today and in the future. To learn more, visit johnsonbraund.com.

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