My father built his first house in the San Bernardino Mountains when he was 29, and now over 20 years later we’re working together in designing and building a new house for my girlfriend and I.
I wanted the house to be as eco-friendly as possible, a “green” home, and you can accomplish this in many different ways. Unfortunately this method of building is fairly new in the US, unlike most of Europe, with only small pockets of varying building designs cropping up across the country. Due to increased awareness of climate change however, more and more people are becoming aware of it, and I hope that we’re now reaching a tipping point towards more widespread use in this country. The next few years should be pretty interesting.
The main goal is a super insulated house, that requires minimum energy to run. The overall design of the house and placement on the land takes into account passive heating and cooling, reducing the mechanical systems that we’ll need over the changing seasons. Vermont can have extremely cold winters, as well hot and humid summers, so the systems used need to cover a large range of temperatures. One aspect that was very important to me was to see if we could reduce our fossil fuel use, meaning no natural gas (which is scarce in VT anyway), propane (widely used), or oil (also widely used). An all electric house however can skyrocket utility bills, depending on what you’re running, so we decided to offset this with a geothermal heat pump system for our main heating/cooling and hot water heating. Regarding electricity, Vermont is lucky that a very high percentage of its power comes from either hydro or nuclear, two very clean sources (nuclear has larger implications of course), as well as “cow power” at a slightly extra cost, and so all electric seemed to make the most sense.
As it stands now, a geothermal system will be combined with an HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator) and hydronic heating/cooling furnace, similar to traditional forced air systems. An HRV however is a air circulation system that provides constant filtered fresh air from outside, while at the same time removing the stale air from inside. The “recovery” part is that it transfers the temperature of the inside air back to the new air coming in, keeping it warm in the winter and cool in the summer. What this type of system gives us is excellent indoor air quality year round, and the ability to heat or cool the air cleanly via its hybronic coil.
General House Specs:
• Super Insulation – R40 walls, R50 roof, R20 slab.
• Triple-Glazed windows on all sides, except south, which will be double-glazed for south facing passive solar heat gain in winter.
• Deep roof overhangs for sun protection in summer.
• All materials – sustainable, researched materials and from local sources as appropriate.
• High Energy Star rated appliances, kitchen and bathroom fixtures – all sourced from socially responsible companies.
• Energy Efficient – geothermal heat pump.
• All lighting to incorporate CFLs.
• Striving for 5 Star Plus Energy Rating and LEED certification.