Hi, thanks for your interest in our story.
My desire to build “green” was hatched many years ago, so I am happy to tell you that I am truly building my dream home.
I have owned this house and property for 19 years, but in fact have never lived in it. I have so often pictured myself in the house, visualized my life inside for so long, that I can hardly believe that I will soon be in! Built in 1925, my small beach cottage was rented to others as I kept up with both the active and passive ways to reduce my carbon footprint, regularly researching the latest green technologies and concepts, and waiting for the resources and opportunity to build a sustainable home, and a sustainable life. In November of 2009, the time was right to move forward.
I literally learned of the passive house concept and design during my search for a green architect. Passive technology was a great find – it seemed to be the culmination of all I had learned up to that point, and I began a whole new, specified search for a PH architect. I still cannot believe my great luck in finding the talented and calming Andreas Benzing (New York/Germany). He has been my partner in this project since the beginning, working closely with me on the architectural plans for over a year, crunching the numbers in the PHPP software – listening to my sensibilities and advising me on the possibilities. With my own experience as a project manager (in theatre and music production), and with the abiding knowledge that cast and crew are everything, I thankfully made the decision to contract the job myself.
So, I am the GC as well as the homeowner, and have managed to assemble a truly amazing cast of characters. I mean subcontractors! First (and foremost), builders Dominic and David Taormina came on board, but in general, talent and expertise abound. I think I can speak for us all when I say that we are so proud to have this project be among the group of first Passive Houses in the United States – indeed, part of the fast-growing “Passive House Movement”.
The passive house concept is simple. A super insulated (exterior as well as interior), airtight envelope, triple glazed windows for insulation and solar gain, and an ERV system for heat recovery and exchanged (as opposed to re-circulated) air. This design has it all – greatly reduced thermal-load, incredible efficiency, and it’s good for your health!
And as one of the first “enerphit” passive house projects, we are in some ways “writing the book” on passive house retrofits, a fact that really thrills me! From my long held dream of building green, to the process that led me to Andreas and the PH design, to the decision to GC the job myself, and the amazing “team”, this project has been nothing short of life-changing. Everyone has had to think outside of the box, and all have more than risen to the occasion.
We hope to achieve Passive House as well as Energy Star Certification in the coming months. My ultimate personal goal, however, has been to build a cutting-edge, energy efficient house that looks like it’s been sitting here for 100 years, the latter of which I will achieve with the old-world design, reclaimed materials, basic functionality, and edible landscaping. As to the former, I plan to eventually encompass every green/sustainable practice possible on my modest 1000 sf lot.
I stayed in my footprint, only expanding the second floor, adding 385 “livable” sf, plus an attic.
We “de-constructed”. The exterior sheathing and entire second floor frame was gently deconstructed – saving every savable piece of tongue & groove 3/4″ fir, and every rafter and beam of old-growth, 1925 southern yellow pine, and many hands de-nailed this special wood.The interior 3/4″ tongue & groove southern yellow pine paneling was also carefully removed.
The original enclosed front porch needed to be removed, but Build It Green New York, of Astoria (www.bignyc.org), came out with their truck to collect the 14 vintage windows and matching screens, as well as 8 solid wood doors. I did keep the front door’s side lights, which now live as daylighting windows between the master bedroom and my office.
Self-reclaimed and salvaged interior elements. My southern yellow pine rafters and beams were sent to Suburban Mills of Huntington, NY, where some were re-sawed into the tongue & groove boards which now cover my second floor, and some were planed and squared for the coffered living room ceiling. Much of the interior pine paneling was turned upside down and now floors my attic (it’s awesome!), while the rest will be the beadboard ceiling of my upstairs hallway.
Salvaged materials (tile, hardware, doors) will abound when I am done. Elements were salvaged from the house itself – the original kitchen sink will become the pantry sink, some lighting comes back, and every interior door is reclaimed – the original front and back doors now inside the house they have served since the 20’s.
Self-reclaimed and salvaged exterior elements. The upper porch knee wall and fascia are constructed of the de-constructed fir sheathing. Self-reclaimed denim batting will insulate interior walls where sound-proofing is a priority, and the front porch archways will be faced with used bricks.
New materials are green/local. 10” X 6” power laminate beams, constructed of (8) 2X 6’s glued together, span 27’ for an open downstairs floorplan. These engineered beams use renewable resources and have superior strength to huge timbers that would have required the felling of some pretty old trees. The upper porch deck is being built of naturally felled local black locust, milled by Suburban Mills.
Energy Efficient appliances, lighting, heat. I will have Energy Star appliances and LED lighting wherever possible. The new boiler is a Navien combination on-demand boiler and hot water heater. The passive house design will reduce my thermal load by as much as 90%, but the back-up system is natural gas fired radiant floor heating in the kitchen and bathrooms.
Daylighting. As mentioned, my original porch sidelights now daylight between the master bedroom and office. A self-reclaimed stained glass window will be placed above the bathroom door to get light from the east elevation porch, and reclaimed glass block, some donated and some purchased from BigNYC, will daylight the guest and downstairs bathrooms.
No VOC paints, off-gassing particle board, MDF, or synthetic rugs will make the cut!
Solar PV for electricity will be installed on the south-facing roof (we specifically changed the orientation of the roof for this purpose). A proposed array of 24 panels has been reduced to18 panels, pushed up to ridge to avoid, and therefore save, my beautiful Chinese chestnut shade tree. A conduit for the PV panels has already been buried in the styrofoam “outsulation”, without touching the plywood sheathing of the house to avoid thermal bridging.
Solar thermal for domestic hot water. I will do this on my garage roof in the near future.
Drainage. My pebble driveway and un-cemented bluestone patio and pathways keep my little mini eco-system happy. A French Drain of leaching pipes whisks water away from the insulated foundation and into a drywell in the driveway, keeping humidity and mold away from the house.
Rain harvesting. Also a someday item, I hope to install a RainXchange Rain Harvesting System in the west corner of my property, and have my south gutters set up to eventually drain rainwater, through hard PVC piping, to the system.
Green Roof. The roof of my second floor porch is relatively flat, and facing southeast – a perfect location for a green roof garden! My attic work-out room window opens up to it, and I will surely be out there picking vegetables before I know it.
Edible landscape. I’ve been working on my landscaping for the last few years, planting fruit trees and berry bushes. I have a persimmon tree, a nectarine tree, a fig tree, an apple tree. I have blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, kiwi vines, perennial herbs, and plan on several raised garden beds in my sunny front yard. I compost everything, and of course never, ever use chemical fertilizers!
Dark Sky Lighting. All exterior lights are “dark sky”, directing light toward the ground to limit light pollution.
And I drive a Prius!
Thanks for visiting, call me if you have any questions, 917.319.9244