Sunday, February 5, 2012

You Asked, We Answered

It’s been almost two years since we moved into our home. But I still remember our first uncertain night like it was yesterday. We arrived at sunset, cars topped with a comical amount of bikes and overflowing with bits and pieces of our life. We slept on the floor of our room in sleeping bags while a windstorm wreaked havoc on our very, very brand new house. Fortunately, my visions of flying siding, deck and roofing (solar panels and all) were unwarranted. Our house survived that first windy night, and countless gale-force wind storms since then. It’s also endured negative thirty degree temperatures, marble-sized hail and Hurricane Irene; I think it’s here to stay—and so are we.

Because we get a lot of the same questions about our house, I want to take a moment to address those most frequently asked here:

Q: What do you heat with?
A: Our everyday source of heat in the winter is fueled by wood. We purposely located our Vermont Castings Encore wood stove in the center of the house so that the heat it generates would warm our open layout quick. We typically start a fire after work, burn until the house is about 70 or 75 degrees, then let it burn out overnight. As a result of spray foam insulation, the following morning we wake up to an indoor temperature of about 65 degrees. The temperature inside drops throughout the day--typically never more than five degrees--until we light the fire again that evening.

When we travel, which is fairly frequently, we keep our electric boiler/radiant heat set at 50 degrees. This keeps the pipes happy (the plants, not so much).

Q: How much wood do you use?
A: We used one and a half cords of wood our first winter, and we’re on par to reach that again this year. Friends and neighbors of ours who heat with wood a majority of the time use anywhere from four to nearly a dozen cords each season. The woman who performed our Energy Star home test said ours was the most efficient home she’s tested in all of New Hampshire.

Q: How did your solar panels perform?
A: New England isn’t exactly known for year-round sun. Even with a record-breaking amount of snow last year, our 2.7 kilowatt PV system provided us with 10 months’ worth of energy. We relied on the grid for just two months of our energy usage. That is an awesome feeling, but we’d love to reduce that even more. What inhibits us from reaching ‘zero energy home’ status is winter travel. As mentioned above, we have to leave the heat at 50 degrees when we’re away from home and that eats into our piggy bank of energy credits that have rolled over from months we’ve made more energy than we used.

As far as placement goes, I know some people have mentioned regretting theirs, but we are still happy with the decision to place the panels on the roof. We use a roof rake from Lowes to aide us in brushing the snow off. It's a bit of a pain since our roof is so tall and steep, but because of the southern exposure, the snow melts quickly in the winter.

Q: Would you have done anything differently?
A: I would rethink the bamboo flooring in such a large area upstairs. It scratches pretty easily. A local, sustainable wood in the hallway and office might have been a more durable, albeit possibly expensive, choice.

Also, our concrete countertop has two faint cracks. I don’t know that I would choose anything else, though. I love the look of it. Thinking back, I remember that both Paperstone and Icestone were way out of our price range, as was soapstone. We were building on a budget and would still have that same budget if we did it over again! Granite wasn’t an option because of off gassing and sustainability reasons. And butcher block clashed with our wood cabinets.

Q: If you did it again, would you build or buy?
A: We started this process looking into both options. We wanted our home to take advantage of alternative energy and work with its surrounding environment. While it is possible to do this with an existing structure, we didn’t have the means to buy and then completely renovate a house to make it as efficient as we wanted. So, we decided to build one within our financial means.

That said, building a house is a very tedious, draining process that takes a toll on everyone involved. At times building small, green and on a budget was downright discouraging. However, watching our dream turn into a real-life process was incredible. And it yielded an end result that justified all the previously encountered headache and heartache.

We would 100 percent build again.

(A little background: Several years ago, we made the decision to unplug from life as we knew it and build a home in a place where the great outdoors began in our backyard. Life is just too short for hour-and- a-half commutes, and that’s all there is to it. We couldn't be happier to have swapped stress for a simpler lifestyle. Much of our happiness is due to stumbling on a quaint town nestled the mountains that welcomed us with open arms. In less than two years, we’ve made lifelong friends we can’t believe haven’t always been a part of our lives.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Exterior Home Tour

First off, I’d like to wish y'all a happy Earth Day! It’s a gorgeous, sunny day in my neck of the woods today. If you know me, you know I’m celebrating by going for a bike ride. (If you don’t know me … I’m semi-obsessed with bikes.)

OK, on to our house. You may have forgotten by now, but I promised you pictures of our home’s exterior a really long time ago. Sorry about that! I had to dodge wind, rain and SNOW (!!!), but I finally got around to taking a few. Thank you for patiently waiting!

This is the north side of our home. I cropped out the pieces of machinery that haven't left our driveway yet! The weight limit should be lifted from our dirt road soon enough, though! That little bubble sticking out of our roof is a solar tube, which I'm happy to report, provides a surprising amount of light into the second floor bathroom. This time of year we are able to go until after 7:30pm without using an actual light in the room.

Below is a close up of our screened-in porch, which serves as the entrance to our home. We learned pretty quick that the porch will see much use--especially in "mud season" and during the winter. I've been told the screens will be a blessing in "black fly season" too.

Below is an interior shot of the porch ... unfinished as of now. If there's some left over, we are going to use the extra HardiePanel siding to cover the unfinished portion under the screens.
A photo from the east side of the house puts the screened-in porch into perspective a little better.
And here's a view of the home from the west...which also shows our utility meters. One meter is designed for homes like ours that are net metered, so it runs both forward and backwards depending upon energy consumption/solar production. The other measures only our solar production and is used for renewable energy credit purposes.
In the photo below, I'm standing at the edge of the clearing in our back yard, looking up at the south side of our home. I hope this gives you a better feel for our passive solar design. This side is where the majority of our windows exist and where our solar panels soak in the rays. The two solar panels on the top left of the metal roof are for solar hot water. The rest are to offset general electricity use. Our wood stove pipe is positioned to eliminate shading on the photovoltaic and solar hot water panels.

Here is a shot of our deck railing. We chose a wire insert instead of traditional vertical wood slats so as not to disrupt from the view.

Oh, right, and speaking of the view...
Whatever word I choose doesn't give it justice. And neither does that photo. It's our favorite part of the house.
I'm going to leave you with this photo ... just in case you thought I was joking when I said we had snow in April.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Virtual Home Tour!

We're finally living in our green home! It feels a little surreal. Actually, a lot surreal. But ultimately awesome.

I don’t think either of us can believe we own a house—even though that’s all we’ve been saving for these past five years!

I know you've been waiting very patiently for without further ado, here is your very own virtual tour of our green home. Room by room.

Living Area
- Natural Vermont slate
- Wood stove
- Two ceiling fans (no AC)
- Reclaimed farm table
- Efficient windows/doors
- LED recessed lighting
- Zero VOC paint

- Natural cork
- Efficient windows
- Energy star-rated appliances
- Environmental Stewardship Program-certified wood cabinets
- Zero VOC paint
- Salvaged kitchen sink
- LED lighting
- Beeswax-sealed concrete countertop

The photo below is a bit dark, but I wanted to capture the view from the stovetop, so you could relate to my stove hood dilemma!

We looked into green countertops (such as Paperstone and Icestone), but they were out of our price range. We settled on concrete and are happy with the results. (Just don't let a glass jar of milk slip out of your hands...)

Guest Bedroom
- Natural cork
- Transom window to living area
- Zero VOC paint
- Efficient windows

First Floor Bathroom
- Salvaged bathroom vanity
- Low flow sink faucet (uses 20% less water than standard faucets)
- Natural Vermont slate
- Dual flush toilet
- Zero VOC paint
- H2Okinetic® Delta Shower faucet (uses 36% less water than standard showerheads)
- Transom window to kitchen
- Energy Star-rated fan
- Compact fluorescent light
- Salvaged window pane/soon-to-be mirror

Second floor office
- Bamboo flooring
- Zero VOC paint
- Efficient windows
- Ceiling fan
- Hidden sleeping area

(We love our Murphy bed...and it already got used when our friends visited!)

Second floor bathroom
- Natural Vermont slate (bathroom floor & shower floor)
- Dual flush toilet
- Low flow sink faucet
- Salvaged bathroom vanity
- Zero VOC paint
- Energy star-rated fan
- Solar tube
- Compact fluorescent light
- Efficient window
- Salvaged window pane/soon-to-be mirror

You can see in the photo below that we chose galvanized metal to line the shower instead of tile. This option was much less expensive and goes with the industrial barn look we wanted.

Nope, that's not a fluorescent light; it's the solar tube--on an overcast day!

Master bedroom
- Bamboo flooring
- Zero VOC paint
- Ceiling fan
- Sliding barn doors
- Efficient windows

I think a lot of people didn't get the sliding barn door concept. So, let me try to show you in photos. This is looking up at the master bedroom from the first floor.

With the doors shut...

...and with them open.

We also have a sliding barn door as you enter the master bedroom. Here is the view from inside our bedroom, looking down the hall.

Whew, I think that's about it for the interior...there's also a pantry off the kitchen and a full basement, but neither are very photogenic at the moment. ;)

I'll give you a tour of the exterior soon. So, stay tuned!

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Salvage Sneak Peek...

Oh my! I can’t believe we’re moving this Sunday … I wonder when it will start to feel real. Perhaps when we wake up in our home and don’t have to greet the Presby crew? I’ll keep you posted on when it feels like home. Until then, here’s some eye candy.

I received some photos from Presby that show some of our salvaged items in their finished state. Remember the corn stalk chopper we purchased from Admac Salvage? Let me refresh your memory.

After some retrofitting, here is our one-of-a-kind first floor bathroom vanity now.

Early on, we purchased a soapstone kitchen sink that had been ripped out of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine during a renovation of their anatomy labs. This is what our kitchen sink looked like when we first got it.

After a good scrubbing, we sealed the sink with natural mineral spirits. It's currently installed and looking gorgeous in our soon-to-be kitchen. Take a look for yourself!

We have more salvaged items that I'll show you once we see them for ourselves in a few short days!

Stay tuned for pictures of our master bath vanity, bathroom mirrors and more.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Eco-Friendly Interior Paint: Zero VOC

I can’t believe the time has come to talk about paint! It seems like just yesterday I was discussing dirt! But we’re in the home stretch now, and with any luck we’ll be moving into our very own green home this weekend! I can’t wait to stop planning and start living!

OK, back to paint. Our walls are coated in zero-VOC paint.

Zero what? VOCs. As in volatile organic compounds. As in our paint has none. Which is a good thing since the carbon-containing chemical compounds evaporate into the atmosphere.

These compounds, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects.”

Side effects of VOCs can include eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; and damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system. Some have also been shown to cause cancer.

Typical paint (as well as gasoline, alcohol and nail polish, etc.) emits VOCs. We chose to forgo “typical” paint for Benjamin Moore’s Natura line of paint. Virtually odorless, 100 percent acrylic latex and available in more than 3,000 colors, Natura contains zero VOCs—even after the colorant is added.

Vibrant Colors + VOC-Free = Very Cool. :)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Photovoltaic Installation

Three cheers for the solar panels we thought we couldn’t afford! Our rooftop solar photovoltaic system has been installed and is looking good. (Thank you, Solar Wind Electric!) Check out the photos below of the installation process.

We have a 2.76 kilowatt PV system, which consists of 12 230-watt Sharp ND-U230c1 panels. Our photovoltaics are made of Polycrystalline silicon, which will convert solar radiation into direct current electricity. We’re still connected to the grid, so we’ll have an inverter to convert DC to AC. The company, Sharp, claims that the ND-U230c1 panels use an advanced surface texturing process to increase light absorption which will, in turn, improve efficiency.

By taking advantage of daylighting techniques, conserving energy and using only Energy Star-rated appliances, we hope our PV system will offset our electricity needs in the warmer months and take a chunk out of our electricity bill in colder, darker months.

And finally, I leave you with a YouTube clip about solar energy. Sounds boring, but it’s not. How's this for an endorsement—one person comments:

Man this 2 minute commercial was far superior in many ways than Transformers 2 and 2012!

It’s important. It’s dramatic. It’s short. Watch it. Please. :)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Wood/Cable Staircase Design

So…we know this woodworker who is absolutely amazing at his craft. Seriously. Take a look at his work on our wood/cable staircase.

We chose this industrial-style staircase design for a few reasons: One, we think it looks awesome. Two, the open style makes the house less crowded in a way no other railing could. Three, we think the natural wood compliments the metal perfectly. Finally, we hope it will also compliment the other industrial aspects in our "modern barn" themed home, such as the:
  • Corrugated metal (behind the fireplace, under the kitchen counter bar, in the master bathroom and on the master bedroom barn door)

  • Simple stainless steel-looking ceiling fans

  • Outdoor barn lights (which will be used indoors)
Back to the amazing woodworker: He told me the other day that he’s having fun working on our house because it’s not designed like a lot of other houses he builds.

Ain’t that the truth.

Even when you take out the passive solar design, small footprint and open floor plan, the house is still pretty atypical. He’s building us the wood/cable railing system, sliding barn doors in our bedroom that open up to the floor below, transom windows to bring daylight to back rooms and a desk area to disguise our Murphy bed, among countless other projects.

What, you don’t have a Murphy bed?

We knew our house was going to be different from day one. We didn’t know we’d have someone so talented and willing to take on the challenge. And we’re darn grateful we do.

(Thank you Paul!)