October 12, 2021 - January 15, 2022
It was hard to think of moving from the great energy-efficient solar house I had built nine years earlier in Burlington, VT, but I wanted to be closer to my daughter. Looking for housing in Brandon, I realized that I didn’t want to give up the bright warmth, open design and energy efficiency of my “old” house. The only answer was to build. Everything fell together, as I found a small lot with southern exposure in an established neighborhood, with houses close by on each side, and within walking distance of the center of Brandon. I visited my builder, Chuck Reiss’ new house on the Green Building Tour and got excited about new developments in the field and the possibility of reaching for net-zero. I immediately began designing, and Chuck agreed to bring his crew down to Brandon. Final plans were drawn up by Dora Coates of Dovecote Designs, with suggestions from my son-in-law, David Martin, who trained as an architect.
Much of the house design is carried over from my previous home. I had known from experience that Chuck’s building techniques (double walls with dense pack cellulose, careful sealing of all penetrations) would give me a tight envelope. The water-to-water geothermal heat pump greatly reduces the energy needed to heat the house and, as a bonus, gives me the comfort of radiant floor heat, as well as freedom from radiators. I keep the heat at a comfortable draft-free 67º. Based on the reduced heat load, solar hot water and energy efficient appliances, Chuck calculated the optimum amount of solar needed to reach net-zero.
The few north-facing windows are triple-glazed, and the large south-facing windows and skylights keep the house toasty warm on the coldest of sunny winter days, while being shaded in the summer by the large overhang of the roof. There is no need for air conditioning. The windows provide splendid natural light, supplemented, when needed, by florescent lighting. Insulating shades, which open from top or bottom, provide flexibility in privacy and shading. The open design, with its upstairs loft and cathedral ceiling, lets the warm air and light circulate through the whole house. All living areas but the study have natural light from windows to the south.
The 45º angle of the roof not only optimizes the solar collection, but also sheds snow quickly, and it provides excellent high-ceiling storage space, much needed in a house on a slab.
I sacrificed nothing in my move from Burlington (save proximity to Great Harvest Bread). I am glad to have been able to pass another five-star energy efficient house on to a new owner, and I have gained the immense satisfaction of paying no utility or heat bills, except about $30 a year for propane for stove-top cooking (more than made up for by about 1,000 extra Kwh fed to the grid). As Chuck says, I have become a “micro utility” and, he asks, “Why isn’t every house being built this way?”