Building a net-zero home for the long term

A Concord couple designs a home that produces as much energy as it uses—and allow its occupants to easily age in place.



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Harold and Laura Turner had a particularly ambitious list of goals when they set about designing their new house in Concord a few years ago. Like all prospective homeowners, they envisioned a beautiful, comfortable home. But they also wanted to build one that was self-sustaining in terms of energy (a net-zero home), that they could age into and that would serve as a leading-edge example of both kinds of houses—a kind of living laboratory so others could discover how to build more efficient and age-appropriate homes in the future.

photography by john w. hession

A three- season room allows Harold and Laura Turner to enjoy the comforts of home with views of the great outdoors.

The Turners’ home is in a rural neighborhood in the city of Concord, surrounded by 6.74 acres of conservation easement along the shore of Turtle Pond. The footage for the finished living space is 3,300 square feet, but Harold estimates the actual living space to be closer to 3,100, due to the thickness (about one foot) of the house’s walls. The two-level house is on a sloped piece of land, with grade access at both levels (the surrounding earth serves as insulation).

The upper level has all the rooms the Turners need on one floor, and includes living and sleeping areas as well as a kitchen, bathrooms and a washer/dryer. The lower level can accommodate guests and can also be used for a caregiver suite, should it be needed in the future, or for “multigenerational living” for extended family.

In addition to the home’s renewable-energy design, which includes geothermal heating and solar panels, all materials used were chosen with an eye for sustainability and durability.

Multiple motivations

Given Harold’s role as president and chief executive officer of The H.L. Turner Group Inc.—a Concord-based team of architects, engineers and building scientists that is nationally recognized for award-winning environmental building design—it is not surprising that he embarked on a project like this. His home is dubbed the ROSE Cottage Project because it is constructed using the Turner Group’s ROSE (Renewable energy production, Owner driven spatial design, Sustainable building practices and Energy efficient construction) construction method.

“We didn’t build a house just for the sake of building a house,” Harold says. “We built it for ourselves but also as a demonstration project, as a kind of net-zero example for people who might want to do something similar.”

He continues to take numerous measurements of the house’s efficiency, and a great deal of documentation and helpful information can be found on the ROSE Cottage.

In addition, Harold and Laura viewed ROSE Cottage as a way to try out new materials and ideas that weren’t available when they built their last home in Goffstown thirty years ago. “Even five years ago, not many people were talking about net-zero energy homes,” Harold says. “Ideas and materials for energy efficiency are evolving at a rapid rate now, and the possibilities for creating a self-sustaining home are more numerous than before.”

Aging in place

The Turners had another motivation for building a new home: they were now a family of two instead of four. With two grown children, Harold and Laura began considering a different home style where they could remain for the long term.

An island with seating for six allows the Turners to entertain guests while preparing meals in the kitchen.

“The entire house was designed around aging in place,” Laura says. That meant one-floor living, other adaptations and a home design that won’t require a scientist to operate.

“We wanted a home that wasn’t so ‘smart’ that you can’t run it when you’re older,” Harold says. “We all know we won’t be as sharp as we think we’re going to be.”

Planning for a reduced footprint

The Turners started planning their new home about five years ago. From the start, they wanted to find land in Concord near Harold’s office, so his commute would be shorter. He can now drive, bike, or walk the approximately two miles to the office. Construction began in the summer of 2011 with the garage, which served as a dry storage space for the on-site contractors, as well as providing solar-powered electricity for the balance of the construction period via the photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof.

The home’s main/upper level has a master suite and everything the Turners need to operate on a daily basis: kitchen, laundry, master suite, living and dining rooms. There are three steps into the house through a front or garage entry, but there is also a ramp leading from the garage to the side-entry door. Right now, the lower level of the house has two guest bedrooms along with a small kitchen, living room, laundry room and full bathroom.

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