An energy-efficient, solar-powered home in Canterbury

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Powered by the sun and heated with not one drop of fossil fuel, Ruth Smith and Beth McGuinn’s home reflects their commitment to sustainability and energy efficiency—and a passion to share their knowledge and home with others. 

Homeowners Ruth Smith (left) and Beth McGuinn cradle a pair of hens at their solar-powered home in Canterbury, where they raise sixteen chickens and one rooster, plus have a small organic garden.

The two-story, 1,800-square-foot saltbox-style home, called FeatherLeaf Farm, has been opened to the public during several home and garden tours hosted by church, community and green building groups—both during and after construction. 

“We’ve literally had hundreds of friends and strangers come through here,” says McGuinn, who produced a brochure with details about the construction, including a timeline, reading and resources list, and lessons learned during the ten-year process.

McGuinn—a trained forester who works as the executive director of the Five Rivers Conservation Trust that serves sixteen towns in the Concord area—says she read at least a dozen books on green home-building and that research came in handy when working with the builder and energy consultants.

“We wanted to build a green, energy-efficient home that would be accessible to people,” she says. “We want to show this is a house anybody can build. We didn’t want it to be a complicated science project.”

McGuinn and Smith launched their home project in 2004 when they purchased a four-and-a-half acre lot in Canterbury, a town they love. “This is a special town with people with similar values and a great location,” Smith says. “It’s a great community with a rural feel, with convenience to work.” (Smith works as centennial coordinator at the Audubon Society in Concord.)

Using the site’s wood

The land was cleared in early 2005 with all the lumber set aside for future use. Logs were harvested, transported to a local sawmill, taken to a kiln facility for faster drying and then to a finishing mill, before being returned to Canterbury. McGuinn lists the tree species used: white pine, red oak, white oak, ash, gray birch, red maple, sugar maple, cherry, yellow birch and poplar.

Most of the floors are red oak. Pine was used for paneling; shelving units; closet doors and flooring; and the wood shed and the chicken coop. The stairway treads are oak with cherry kick panels and banisters. The spindles alternate between five key species: oak, cherry, poplar, birch and maple. Except for the sheathing, siding, framing, doors and windows, all the wood used to build the home was harvested from the site.

Milled hardwood lumber was used for trim and moldings as well as in horizontal paneling. The variations in wood grains, tones and striations became as much of a design element as selecting a paint color for an accent wall. “There is no painted wood in the whole house,” Smith says. “We wanted it all natural wood.” One of the “accent” walls with the horizontal paneling turned out “drop-dead gorgeous,” she says. Smith and McGuinn call it the “rainbow of wood.”

By January 2006, the framing, roofing, electrical, plumbing and much of the interior features—such as the kitchen counters, interior doors, oak floors and paneling—were completed. “We were really lucky we had contact with people who knew how and where to mill, kiln-dry and finish the wood,” McGuinn says.

Two solar-energy systems were installed at the Smith-McGuinn home by ReVision Energy in Exeter. Two panels atop the porch are linked to the hot water heater, and the more expansive, sixteen-panel solar array on the roof generates more than enough electricity for the lights and appliances, especially on sunny days.

Heart of the home

The kitchen—within view of the centrally located soapstone woodstove with a chimney running up through the middle of the house and through the bedroom on the second floor—is the heart of the home.

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February 2019


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