When it comes to being green, modesty counts.
That was the message conveyed by the judges of New York House magazines first annual Best in Green Building Competition, who selected a small, Energy Star-labeled home in upstate Columbia County as the grand prize winner.
But there were so many exceptional entries among the 12 finalists, the judges decided to additionally recognize two Ulster County homesa net-zero energy antique timber frame home in Gardiner, and a green spec house in the heart of New Paltz, for their creativity in renewable energy and sustainable living practices.
The competition, sponsored by Mohonk Mountain House, was created to identify, recognize, and showcase the outstanding and innovative work of architects, builders, designers, and energy experts in the region, as well as the homeowners who fund and support that work. Our goal was to spotlight exemplary home projects in order to bring them the attention they deserve, educate and inspire our readers, and promote green building practices in our region and beyond.
A panel of judges carefully considered each of the detailed entries, narrowed them down to 12 finalists, and at the end of September made the final picks, based on specified criteria
In selecting the winning house in rural Canaan, owned by Trina Porte and Kristine Cottom, the judges made a strong statement about the value of appropriateness of means and optimizing a homes efficiency.
Completed in July 2006 by builder Jason Smith, the 1,600-square-foot house serves as both a residence and a workplace for its owners. There were many compelling energy-saving and sustainable features about this house, but what set it apart from the luxury homes and conventional center-hall colonials that didnt make the cut was its modesty and practicality.
Details such as the heating system, for example, and its unconventional design impressed the judges. It consists of a sensible blend of passive solar and radiant heat, powered by a high-efficiency Buderus propane boiler with a super-insulated hot water heater of the same brand attached.
In the end, what mattered most to the panel was advocating a new way of looking at green and sustainable homes: that of reducing energy demand.
The scary thing for me is that after 30 years, green building comprises just three percent of the building in the U.S., Michael McDonough said. The sad reality is that energy consumption per square foot has gone up. Whats that tell us? Somethings wrong.
McDonough and the other judges felt that net-zero energy buildings arent responsible if theyre oversized energy hogs that simply use systems such as solar and geothermal to cancel out the increased energy consumption.
Paul McGinniss said he felt that powering your home completely by renewable energy is essential if you want to call it 100 percent green.
The judges debated all aspects of alternative energy.
McDonough questioned the site-and-building-specific appropriateness of solar photovoltaic panels, a technology that can have a 30-year payback in the Northeast but may not last 30 years. He raised the same questions regarding heat pump-based geothermal systems, noting their potential complexity and related need for skilled service technicians, and an economic viability that may be tied to subsidized electrical rates. McGinniss advocated net-zero energy, while Jack Christmann placed a high value on affordability.
In the end, they took a stand on energy optimization of each building. With that in mind, the Porte-Cottom home emerged as the clear winner.
The reason I like [this house] is its modesty and appropriateness to its site. It tries to go beyond the conventional building, McDonough stated.
Added Christmann, If you were to ask me what house I would build as an energy-efficient house, its Porte-Cottom because its oriented well; its optimized on a lot of levels.
Porte, who served as general contractor on her house, explained the intricacies of siting and building a home to optimize every aspect of the landscape and natural resources.
Our goals were to build a non-toxic, locally-sourced, environmentally- and worker-friendly, small, low-maintenance, energy-efficient home, Porte relates. Interestingly, in the short time since we built, a number of the products and materials I had great difficulty sourcing here or obtaining at all are now becoming popular green products.
The house is super-insulated, with Icynene sprayed foam below the metal roof and in all the exterior walls, including the screened porch walls and under the porch roof. Additionally, there is Tuff N Dry insulation around the concrete foundation, rigid foam insulation both underneath and on top of the concrete slab under the Advantek sub floor and ash or tile flooring, and Good Stuff spray foam insulation around pipe and vent outlets and to touch up the gaps in the Icynene.
In addition to the propane boiler and hot water heater, the major appliances are propane-powered, including the Crystal Cold refrigerator, which claims to be 100 times more energy efficient than an electric model, and a propane stovetop and dryer. Last year, the propane bill totaled roughly $231 per month for about 10 months and significantly less for the remainder of the year, while the electricity bill usually came in at under $30 per month, Porte says. I consider propane to be an alternative energy source because it is a domestic, non-petroleum-based product. Part of our electric bill pays for wind energy generation, she adds.
Another modest home earned high marks as a runner up. That 2,170 square foot house, located in the Village of New Paltz, was designed by Matthew Bialecki Associates and completed in September 2005 by Kniffen Builders as an Energy Star-rated house and a Green Building Demonstration Home, sponsored by NAHB Research Center and NYSERDA. The project was designed to balance green building principles, marketability, and price. Owned by Hamilton Stapell and Ana Fuentes, the unassuming home incorporates passive solar design and is super-insulated and sealed. A large recycled brick hearth serves as a thermal mass, moderating temperature swings throughout the day. Two Luxaire sealed combustion furnaces supplement the high efficiency, low-emission Scan woodstove, while in summer, temperatures and humidity are kept low with two Luxaire A/C units. All of the HVAC components were carefully sized and are linked to a Honeywell heat recovery ventilator (HRV), ensuring fresh air year round. A Takagi tankless water heater provides hot water to the low-flow faucets and showerheads throughout the house. The flushing of cold water is reduced through the use of a hot water circulation pump and motion sensors in the bathrooms. A 1,100 gallon rainwater collection system provides water to the dual-flush toilets and outdoor hose bibbs.
Says Stapell of his home: Its incredibly livable and incredibly comfortable in terms of light and being in the space. Its a great environment to live in.
A similarly inviting environment surrounds the next runner-up, a slightly more luxurious home in Gardiner, completed in August 2007 by architect David Kucera, Inc. and owned by Kucera and his wife Paula.
This rustic-looking home set on a meadow overlooking the Shawangunk ridge was built using a repurposed antique timber-frame barn and has antique hemlock flooring and a gracious great room-style dining and kitchen area, anchored by a large stone fireplace. An 8.5-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system meets the homes electricity needs and is used to power its geothermal heating, both installed by Hudson Valley Clean Energy. The geothermal forced air system provides heat, and is optimized by the siting of the structure and placement of the windows. The Kuceras learned from a previous home they owned nearby to place most of the windows on the south side, and just three small windows on the north side, optimizing solar gain while reducing exposure to bitter winter winds. The building envelope of Structural Insulated Panels comprised of plywood sheathing, 6-10 inches of EPS foam and sheetrock, combined with R40 roof insulation and R26 side walls make for a house so tight a whole-house ventilation system was installed to ensure air quality. The result is a net-zero-energy, Energy Star-rated house.
Ultimately, the judges decided that while a homes LEED certification or Energy Star rating demonstrates vital steps toward promoting sustainability, sometimes less is more thus, their choice of the Porte and Cottom home as the winner.
Jonathan Schein, publisher of New York House and president and CEO of ScheinMedia, remarked: What began as a rather humble endeavor to educate and inform the market about the importance of green and sustainability, this competition took on a life of its own.
Were very proud of how this has grown in scale and hope it will bring new awareness about this important movement.
The judges concurred.
Just having this contest is a statement in itself, Christmann said. The quality of the entries is phenomenal.
Added McGinniss: I like the way it filtered out. Its a good cross-section of different strata of building. This made us look at it out-of-the-box, challenge our assumptions. Im still [a proponent of] zero net energy, but you still have to look at other things.
Whats important to consider is the larger environmental and social costs of not investing in renewable energy and net zero building, McGinniss said.
For more details and photographs of each of the finalists, visit newyorkhousemagazine.com (which first published this article).
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