Project Update: A Sustainable Family Lake House

OPTI_Brtltt-(5) This energy-efficient lakeside home is designed for an extended family who has been vacationing in New England for generations. The home combines the rustic charm of a New Hampshire cottage with cutting-edge building technology and sustainability.

At around 3,100 sf, the design requirements were to blend in with the existing Lake House vernacular of the neighborhood and the heavily wooded lot, frame views of the surroundings from inside the house, and fit into the lakeside cottage community in scale, proportion and style. Nestled into trees (carefully preserved during construction), the wood shingle home has a roomy screened-in porch and built-in BBQ—a lake retreat must. The colors and textures of materials reflect the laid-back community and surroundings.

lake house elevations The home’s vaulted timber frame and prominent stone fireplace lend a rustic lodge feel, yet remains intimate and cozy. The building has an advanced thermal envelope using prefabricated structural panels, sealed with gasket and tape technology for superior airtightness, moisture control and indoor air quality.

OPTI_BRTLTA2A folding glass wall opens the main living areas to the screened in porch, with lake views and an outdoor gas fireplace and cooking/dining area. One of the three, second-floor bedrooms is a spacious bunkroom accommodating eight or more—all are open to the living/dining area below via a shuttered gallery, retaining the theme of an open gathering space. The kitchen, dining, alcove seating area and great room all have views of the gas-burning, fieldstone fireplace.

Sustainable Building Features:
-Programmable bath fans.
-Multi-zone radiant heating.
-High-efficiency Low E windows.
-Eco-friendly dense-pack cellulose insulation providing R-Values of 35 in the walls and R-44 in the roof.
-No mechanical air conditioning—ceiling fans, window placement and stack effect design provide natural cooling.
-A timber frame constructed of sustainably harvested timbers salvaged from fire or insect-damaged forests.

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Customized Unity Xyla 212 Sits Softly on the Land

xyla 212

Artist’s rendering of our standard Unity Homes Xyla 212.

Dan Farrell and Melora Kennedy have long been interested in nature conservation. So when they wanted to build a healthy, comfortable, energy-efficient home — close enough to town that he could walk or bicycle to work—a friend, builder and energy consultant, Mark Snyder, suggested they call Unity Homes. Dan works for the Vermont Chapter of the Nature Conservancy as their Conservation Information Manager/GIS Analyst. Melora teaches preschool and kindergarten. The “GIS” in Dan’s title stands for Geographic Information Systems: a science which lets us visualize, question, analyze, interpret and understand data to reveal relationships, patterns, and trends. In the conservation context, GIS would come in handy in evaluating the impact his new home would have on his sloped, 8.9 acre parcel of land, with its old field species and natural plantings — some edible — as well as diverse wildlife crossings.Screenshot 2014-06-23 10.06.14 Unity’s low-waste off-site fabrication and rapid on-site assembly — coupled with its natural materials, extraordinary energy efficiency, and energy-sipping mechanical systems — will all help to reduce the carbon footprint on the sensitive landscape. Their Xyla 212, customized for a walkout, is heated and cooled with an air source heat pump and an optional ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilator) to condition air with minimal energy loss. Both HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator) and ERV systems are vastly more energy efficient than plain ventilation systems or exhaust-only systems with no heat or energy recovery. Despite its higher up-front cost, Dan chose an ERV system for its edge in operating efficiencies, air filtration, degree of comfort (through greater humidification/dehumidification control) and environmental impact.

air pohoda ashp

The Air Pohoda ERV used in the Farrell home in a special housing devised by our Building Systems team.

Unity’s standard HRV system is designed to recover approx 80% of the heat in the air that is being exhausted from the house, while the ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilation system) is expected to recover over 90%. Given the ERV’s added efficiency, there would be a relatively short payback period on its premium cost over the standard HRV system. In comparing the ventilation systems, the ERV units are expected to save about 1315 kWh per year over the HRV system. At $0.15/ kWh, that comes to almost $200 per year at the current electric rate, with those savings continuing to rise as electricity rates increase. The Return On Investment calculator projects an 11-year payback on the $3,000 additional investment over the cost of a comparable HRV system.  (Source: EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.) IMGP7792But for Dan and Melora, it wasn’t just a matter of dollars and cents. Framing it more in conservation terms, the 1,315 kWh per year saved by their ERV over the HRV, is equivalent to 102 gallons of gas, 97 lbs. of coal or 21 barrels of oil. Saving that energy would be the carbon equivalent of 23 tree seedlings grown for 10 years or 0.75 Acres of forest grown in one year. The 2-bedroom, 1-bath Unity Xyla, with its super-efficient 1,028 SF first floor space plan and optional 939 SF walkout level, celebrates the lagom values at the heart of all Unity Homes. Roughly translated, lagom is a Swedish word meaning “not too much, not too little —  appropriately balanced.” The home is neither too big nor too small, but just right perched lightly on its steeply sloped site and in-balance with its surroundings. work in progress Xyla 212Entry is from the up-slope side (and future patio) directly into the living area, which is open to the eat-in kitchen and second bedroom. Down a short hallway and adjacent to bedroom two is the master bedroom and common bath. Dan and Melora plan to leave the ground floor, with its separate down-slope entry, unfinished for the time being, but it will eventually have a rec room and second bath. With the home fabricated off-site and assembled on-site over late spring/early summer, the Farrells expect to be in their home by mid August.

Sunday River Ski Retreat: The Best of All Worlds

Tedford ElevationSome ski homes high on the mountain have beautiful views down the valley. Others near the base lodge typically have great views up the slopes. This timberframe home at The Glades at Ridge Run, a new slopeside residential neighborhood at Sunday River Resort in Newry, Maine, captures both.

Situated in the western mountains of Maine just three hours from Boston, Sunday River Resort has long been one of New England’s most popular four-season playgrounds, but what is so special about the property that owners Meredith and Jamie found here is that it sits uniquely midway up the mountain with expansive views above and below.

Though Meredith and Jamie had just completed an extensive renovation on another home and weren’t anxious to begin a new construction, this was the first time a ski-on, ski-off home opportunity was available at Sunday River, so the couple knew they had to jump on it. They were also motivated to replace an old beloved, but small, ski lodge they had outgrown. Sensitive to the feeling of transplanting their relatives away from a getaway that had been in the family for years, they wanted an open concept floor plan with the feel of a true home. They also wanted to maximize family interaction, and minimize the size of the house to facilitate that function—as well as for aesthetic and environmental impact motives.

sunday river family ski lodge renderingPast renovations had taught Meredith and Jamie to be flexible but decisive, which helped in this first new house project. They also knew from experience that “design by committee” was something to be avoided, rather it was better to create a team dynamic between client and architect that respected roles and responsibilities, but also valued input from all parties. The mutual trust that developed allowed changes to be made fluidly and without conflict.

The Bensonwood design team of Randall Walter, Curtis Fanti and Dave Levasseur, all avid skiers in their own right, were excited to create this special place from a perspective of years spent skiing and snowboarding. Their personal insights proved invaluable in informing practical aspects of the design.

The architectural review process at the resort and the corresponding design standards requires development that complements the surrounding natural setting; minimizing the impact on the landscape while allowing for individual freedom of design to suit the needs of each homeowner. A common theme, described as a Northeast Cottage with Adirondack and Shingle Style influences, dictates the use of building materials, colors, landscaping and building style at the resort. The style is best illustrated in Summer Cottages in the White Mountains by Bryant F. Tolles, Jr. (2000), in which the use of native materials blended with natural colors provides an effective link to both the local environment and the great cottage architecture of the early 20th century.

Sunday river ski lodgeWorking closely with the clients, the resort, the civil engineering firm Main-Land Development Consultants, Inc., and the town zoning board, Randall was able to design the energy-efficient home into a challenging site with steep terrain and protected wetlands. He was able to navigate the regulations and arrive at the design—a traditional Adirondack timber lodge style with a modern twist on the gables to accommodate the views—in a way that pleased all the parties involved. In the end, the review board process was easy and the owners got a home that fit their needs and respectfully fit the mountain landscape.

Another welcome test for Bensonwood is the truncated construction timeline. With designs finalized this past spring, the owners wanted to ski from the home this coming winter. Anxious to prove that even a custom 3,900 SF mountain home on an undeveloped site could go up in record time with our Open-Built® systems and offsite fabrication, the Bensonwood team embraced the challenge. Rapid onsite assembly will also help cut build times in half over conventional construction, effectively giving the homeowners an entire extra season to enjoy the resort.

ski deckLike many of Bensonwood’s mountain and shore homes, the house features gable roof lines, with one important distinction: these gables, dormers and bump outs will have asymmetric rooflines that permit both mountain and valley vistas as well as views of arriving and departing skiers. These roof angles, along with the heavy, rough sawn, red cedar clapboards, work to give the exterior its distinctive look: at the same time both traditional and contemporary, while the property’s southern exposure allows for plenty of natural daylighting and passive solar gain.

On the inside every detail of the sanctuary, which will accommodate three generations of family, has been strategically planned. The owners wanted to maximize the use of space, and that included the kids’ space on the ground level, with the fun feel of a ski resort locker area. The ground floor has a rustic lumberjack-inspired kids zone, with a mud room off the garage, an open play area, a game room, a guest bedroom, a bunkroom with three beds, and facing his and hers bathrooms.

The first floor has a large open space plan with cathedral ceiling and a gathering area across from the kitchen/pantry and adjacent to the dining area. The dining room will have a long, farmhouse-style table with benches accommodating 10 or more. The second floor plan has three bedroom suites, each with their own bath, and a balcony open to the gathering area below.

sunday river ski lodge renderingPerhaps the most unique feature of the project, however, is a very innovative ski-on, ski-off deck. The custom deck required Randall to create a multi-functional outdoor living space with views up and down the mountain in a style that also satisfied design review board restrictions. His solution was adjust the roof pitch and angles so skiers on the deck will still be able to enjoy the views, as he had done on the main house.

Mindful of the homeowners’ sensitivities to limiting the home’s size, he placed the deck atop the garage so skiers will have easy to the home’s bathrooms and kitchen on the main floor when they ski home at lunchtime. Unique features include a hot tub—not tucked away in a secluded spot as is often seen—but in the open air on the sheltered ski deck so all guests have ready access. There are also ski and snowboard racks, overhead heating elements, a fireplace and a hot tub on the deck.

FLOORPLANOne of the most creative elements of the home is one the clients devised. Rather than the traditional guest book for visitors to sign, the couple will immortalize them with a round timber into which they can carve their names and the dates they stay, creating a family legacy crafted in wood that will last for generations—just like the home.

Architect Randall Walter predicts that, like many vacation homes Bensonwood has crafted over the past 40 years, this house will be used much more than originally intended, because families often discover they enjoy spending time in them so much more than in their primary residence.

 

 

 

Unity Homes: Indoor Air Quality and Comfort

unity homes kitchenYou can live 21 days without food, 7 days without water, but only a few minutes without air. Every day we take 21,600 breaths; that’s nearly 8 million breaths of air a year. By weight, we take in more air than food: 4,500 times our own weight in an average lifetime.*

On average, we spend 90% of our lives indoors, and approximately 2/3 of that time is spent at home. Today’s health conscious consumers will pay a premium for healthy, natural foods, but often give less thought to indoor air quality or overall healthiness of their homes. A recent McGraw Hill Construction report, “The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings,” finds that most homeowners turn to family, friends or coworkers for advice on home products and practices, with few requesting advice from the builders, remodelers and architects who know most about how these decisions might affect occupant health.

However, homebuyers are increasingly concerned about the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) of their homes. Pollutants like mold, radon, carbon monoxide and toxic chemicals are receiving greater attention than ever as poor IAQ is linked to a multitude of health issues. Some pollutants cause health problems such as sore eyes, burning in the nose and throat, headaches or fatigue. Other pollutants cause or worsen allergies, respiratory illnesses, heart disease, cancer, and other severe long-term health issues. At high concentrations, pollutants such as carbon monoxide, can be fatal.

Given how important air is to life, let’s examine perhaps the most important attribute of Unity Homes, and properly built high-performance homes in general, which is how they can help you breathe easier and live healthier.

air pohoda ERV

Air Pohoda’s Ultima 240E i-ERV uses an Enthalpy heat exchange core

To start, only low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) materials and finishes are used in the construction of Unity highly-insulated, tightly-sealed, energy-efficient homes, resulting in exceptional levels of indoor air quality. Because of their extraordinary air-tightness, the indoor air is continuously replenished with fresh and conditioned air, reducing the energy losses that typically come from whole house ventilation. This is accomplished by the use of a standard Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) or optional Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) with adjustable humidification and dehumidification controls. 

Regardless of which ventilation system is chosen, Unity homes come standard with air-source heat pumps (for heating and cooling). When properly installed, an air-source heat pump can deliver one-and-a-half to three times more heat energy to a home than the electrical energy it consumes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.  This technology loses less humidity in the winter than with forced hot air/furnace systems that scorch the air at high temperature—driving off its moisture—making an outboard humidifier consume more energy to replenish it. Finally through filtration, allergens and other pollutants can be removed, making indoor air considerably healthier than outside air.

Why build tight houses that require sophisticated ventilation systems, you ask? There are many myths held by the public (and by many builders as well) surrounding the false notion that houses need to breathe. This bogus theory holds that houses can be too tight and that air leakage or “natural ventilation” dries everything out and keeps the air quality healthy. But as Green Building Advisor.com points out, “…air leaks mean you’ve lost control of air movement…air and moisture can be forced into wall and ceiling cavities where water vapor condenses and fosters the growth of mold.”

Additionally, according to Green Building Advisor.com,

“Warm air exiting the top of the house can draw in cold air to replace it, wasting heat and energy. In many ways, uncontrolled air movement wastes energy and increases the risk of long-term damage to building components. Effective air and moisture barriers reduce those problems, but they come with a few caveats: Tight houses need mechanical ventilation to ensure a supply of fresh air to keep people healthy.”

a Unity Homes Xyla 212

Artist’s rendering of a Xyla 212.

And while we’re on the subject, what exactly is “fresh air?” Most would assume outside air is fresh air, but whether you live in the city or the country, outdoor air carries pollutants in the form of gasses, droplets, and particles. This includes pollution from cars, trucks, airplanes, industry, tractors plowing fields, wood and crop fires, ground level ozone, and allergens like pollen. Indoor air, too, can contain a host of pollutants from combustion sources like stoves and furnaces, to high VOC building materials and furnishings, to household cleaning products and radon, to name a few. All of these pollution sources can cause health problems if not mitigated through green building practices and sophisticated air handling technology.

Unity Homes, and other quality high-performance homes, help you breathe easier and live healthier by using only green materials and finishes, by sealing out unwanted moisture, dirt, dust, insects and allergens that can lead to health problems and costly repairs, and by conditioning and filtering incoming air. At the same time, Unity’s well insulated and tight building envelope reduces overall heating and cooling costs, and adds comfort by eliminating drafts and temperature variations.

Moreover, while a Unity Home conditions your indoor air, its low-waste, precision offsite fabrication and super-efficient energy performance thereafter works to lower its impact on the outside air—which we all share—as well.

xyla 212 under construction

A Unity Homes Xyla 212 under construction in Vermont.

Our newest Unity, a Xyla 212 with an ERV in Montpelier, Vermont will be featured in our next newsletter.

Read more about what steps to take both to reduce the risk from existing sources of indoor air pollution and how to prevent new problems from occurring in EPA’s “Care For Your Air: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality.

*Source: http://minkukel.com/visualize-it/every-breath-you-take/

 

 

 

First Unity Home: Part 1: In the Shop

Our first Unity Home is on-site this week. A five-person team will be raising a Xyla in a just a few days.

In this video (1 of 4 on our YouTube channel) Jay Lepple, Bensonwood’s Building Systems Team Leader demonstrates the features of a wall panel that was recently fabricated in our shop for this home.

This is video 1 of 4, with other videos demonstrating window and siding installation in shop, and the benefits of the Computer Aided Design (CAD) in our off-site construction process.

Walls in the shop

Wall panels packed and ready for wrapping before being trucked to the site