July 31, 2009

First Step in House Design --- The Sun.

It's the center of our solar system. The energy source for life itself. And yes, it should always be the starting point in designing any home.
Credit: Solar Geometry from SolarOregon.org

Orienting your home with respect to the sun's position in the sky throughout the seasons will yield huge benefits... economic, environmental, physical, even emotional. Ignore the sun and you will pay the price -- in the form of higher energy costs and fuel usage for heating, cooling and lighting, cold winter drafts and sauna-like rooms in summer. Some people even suffer from mood disorders when they are deprived of sunlight. I get a little cranky myself wondering why so many New England builders plop the cold, dark garage on the south side of the house!

Two gorgeous designer kitchens.

One filled with sunshine.

Where would you rather cook?

(Credits: Craft-Art, Victoria Hagan)

Homes whose main living spaces and windows face south will be bright without even turning on the lights. They will require far less energy to keep comfortable, and will boost everyone's happiness quotient, if only when opening the utility bill each month.

Solar orientation was a key factor in selecting THE CONCORD GREEN HOME's lot. The inner back corner of the L-shaped footprint faces directly south, enabling the main living spaces to be both private and flooded with sunshine. The tall trees at the rear of the property leaf out just in time to block hot summer rays, and then shed their autumn leaves to let the low winter sun penetrate deep into the house.

Credit: University of Florida IFAS Extension

If you are buying serious acreage in the country, solar access can easily be had on every lot. If, on the other hand, you are also chasing lifestyle goals of "front porch community" and walk to town, small infill lots with good southern exposure are harder to find. Our lot shopping only took a year. :) But it was worth the wait.

July 30, 2009

What? No Basement?!! - The Sealed Crawl Space Foundation

"You are crazy."
"It's free square footage."
"You'll kill your resale value!"

Yes, the detractors have a point.

I admit that building in New England without a basement is, well, let me just say, unusual. But I was determined to avoid the inevitable problems of mold that accompany virtually every basement eventually. Sure, there are French drains, sump pumps, waterproofing sealers, the list goes on... but we are fighting Nature here, and Nature always wins. Then the mold starts. You may not see it at first. It's lurking behind that nicely painted drywall, or under the laminate flooring. Water always finds a way.

The footings go in.

THE CONCORD GREEN HOME building site has a wonderful in-town location, but it also happens to have a high water table. Advantage: Walk to Walden Pond! Disadvantage: You might wake up one rainy morning to find your nice leather sofa floating around the basement.

So, the decision was easy. Especially when one is trying to build Healthy, which means acknowledging that, unless you completely seal off the interior of your home from its foundation - with smart utilization of insulation and water/vapor barriers - that moldy basement air will mix with your interior air. Not good. Really not good for those with allergies and asthma, or the many more folks who might easily become sensitized from repeated exposures to mold.

The experts at ZeroEnergy Design recommended a sealed crawl space, which is the best building science available for this type of lot. Strong. Sealed. Completely lined with thick insulation. Absolutely no air or vapor connection with the interior of the house. Nice. If you want some bonus space, meet me in the nice dry attic, with its graceful sheltering roof lines and sun-drenched views.

Foundation walls go up.

As Henry David Thoreau, author of On Walden Pond, so eloquently said, ""If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost. That is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." If Henry were still around, he might have added, "... And make sure you seal them up tight!"

Sometimes you have to do things differently.

July 17, 2009

Panelized Construction - Efficient and Green

Imagine having a beautiful, classic, high quality home like this...

delivered in panels, like these...

... a big jigsaw puzzle just waiting to be put together by your able contractor. That's exactly how THE CONCORD GREEN HOME will be built. You are looking at the Exterior Shell for two stories plus attic in the photo above.

It's called Panelized Construction. The entire house shell is detailed down to the individual piece...

and then cut and pre-assembled in a factory.

The benefits of panelized construction are many:
  • Protection from the elements - materials stay dry, preventing hidden rot and mold from ever developing (critically important in a healthy house project like ours), and workers can keep working, no matter what the weather
  • Minimizes waste - Materials are precision cut, and what little waste is left over is reused or recycled
  • Faster build saves time and money
Lucky for our project, these panels are created by Connor Homes, a historic reproduction home company out of Middlebury, VT. Experts in classical proportion, and timeless, durable materials, Connor designs "new old homes" - new homes that look like they have been there for years, even centuries. Here's a slightly broader sampling of their homes, which is mouthwatering eye-candy for the traditionalist side of me.

July 16, 2009

Deconstruction - Construction in Reverse

Fittingly, on the 4th of July, most of the interior building components of the lot's old house were liberated, to be reused and enjoyed again in someone else's new home.

A special thank you to The Candlewick Group, LLC., a firm that specializes in home renovation. Their team executed a perfect salvage operation. Greg and Ron worked all day in the heat to save kitchen cabinets, appliances, granite countertops, fireplace mantle, french and dining hutch doors, bath vanity, wall sconces and glass door knobs. Feels a lot better than smashing lovely 50-year-old craftsmanship to bits with a wrecking ball and sending it to the landfill.

Save the Trees - They're our Air Conditioning. :)

While some advised taking down the majestic sugar maples at the back of the property, we are grateful for all that they provide -- cooling shade in the heat of summer, a colorful show in autumn, and then a kind release of leaves to let in the warming winter sun. It is because of these very trees that a super-insulated house built here will require significantly less energy to heat and cool. Working with Mother Nature is a beautiful thing.

Today the left tree got a haircut.

The guys at Bark Busters of Weston were terrific.

We also mapped out a protection plan for construction to ensure that we don't disturb the shallow roots of these beauties.

July 12, 2009

Why a Healthy House?

With all the rage about green building, why complicate things by adding the goal of a healthy house too? The answer is clear. Our health, and the health of our children, depends on it. The good news is that a healthy house does not have to be complicated. In fact, it can be quite simple.

Like many people, I have experienced the negative long-term health impacts of “modern” unhealthy construction practices, after spending years in a corporate “sick air building”. Back during the energy crisis of the 1970’s, the building had been sealed tight to preserve heat. Unfortunately, by the time I joined the firm, this “ziplock bag” environment also contained a toxic soup of black mold, cleaning chemicals and fragrances, printing ink particulates, and off-gassing formaldehyde –-- all kept constantly airborne for easy inhalation by the miracle of forced air heating and cooling.

Unfortunately, this dangerous situation repeats itself in our homes, schools and workplaces every day. The EPA tells us that the indoor air of a typical home is 2 to 5 times more polluted than outside air, and much higher after construction and refinishing activities … from toxins lurking in paint, cabinetry glues and adhesives, floor finishes, carpeting, cleaning products, air fresheners… the list goes on. Worse yet, the off-gassing continues for months and even years after that “new paint or carpet” smell disappears. These pollutants can lead to severe health effects, including respiratory distress, headaches, dizziness and even anaphylactic shock. Thankfully, these problems are easy to avoid, if we are just informed.

After losing my youngest sister Jeannie to cancer in 2008, I committed myself to learning all that I could about healthy living environments. My personal mission is to demonstrate that healthy, green buildings are not only possible, but easily achievable if we just follow a few important guidelines. In the coming posts, I will share what I have learned, along with valuable resources, so that you can start living in a healthier home too.
Related Posts with Thumbnails