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.)


  1. Yay Beth! What a great follow-up -- I can't believe it's been two years already. Time flies when you're living the dream :)

  2. Beth,
    So eloquently said, where do I sign up!!!
    I've also been reading your other articles in Holmes magazine. Take care!


  3. I love this post! We cannot believe you only burned one and a half cords last winter- how incredible and wonderful. We still dream of coming up for a visit. Bless you both.

  4. A countertop option that uses recycled wood fibers, and is a fraction of the cost of paperstone is valchromat. I used it in my kitchen and am happy with the results.

    One thing I would have done differently is not use XPS insulation under our slab. A report was published on the global warming potential (GWP) of various insulation products shortly after we used it. [] XPS and closed cell spray foam insulations use gasses that have orders of magnitude higher GWP than does CO2. A well insulated home using either of those products will take decades to a century to save enough energy to pay back for the GWP damage done by its production! There are much better insulation options out there.

  5. Where did you purchase the cables and connectors to build the staircase? It is beautiful.

  6. Thank you! We actually sent Presby a photo of what we wanted and they sourced it out for us. I don't know any more specifics. I'm sorry!