A Great Looking Green House
An Energy Star-Rated Post-And_Beam Home In Bedford Also Gets High Marks For Design
by Andi Axman | Photography by John W. Hession
Although close to highways heading in all four directions, this handsome post-and-beam home is tucked into a wooded Bedford cul-de-sac, removed from the road and private. Elegant in design, the home is livable and warm?and a model of state-of-the-art green design and construction.
The homeowner, who wishes to remain anonymous, says he knew all along that he wanted to build an energy-efficient home. And this was several years before the price of oil spiked to nearly $140 a barrel in July 2008 (when gasoline was more than $4 a gallon) and “green” became the buzzword it is today. “I knew that fossil fuels were a limited resource,” he says, “and I wanted to find another way to heat my house.”
His first order of business was finding an architect who could help him realize his goal: to build a comfortable, but contemporary, energy-efficient home. The homeowner saw a magazine ad featuring a photograph of a lake home designed by Samyn D’Elia Architects PA in Ashland. “I really liked the style of that home and wanted to learn more about their work.”
That home is what architect Tom Samyn calls “an upper-end post-and-beam home,” so he introduced the homeowner to Timberpeg, a West Lebanon-based company that has specialized in timber framing since its founding in 1974. Timberpeg has built post-and-beam frames for nearly twenty homes that Samyn D’Elia has designed. “Five of those are AIANH [American Institute of Architects New Hampshire chapter] award winners,” Samyn says proudly.
Samyn explains that post-andbeam construction has once again become popular as “anything made from wood is renewable, and these homes are very energy efficient and beautiful to look at from inside and out.” Post-and-beam construction was common in eighteenth-century New England, when nails were hard to come by; “people burned down homes just to get the nails,” Samyn says. Because post-and-beam construction doesn’t use nails-instead mortise-and-tenon joints are held together with wooden pegs-it requires a high level of craftsmanship and engineering to make it work. “Since all the joints are designed on Timberpeg?s sophisticated computer system, you reduce the possibility of error and save time during the construction process,” Samyn says.
Douglas fir, the wood used by Timberpeg for this home’s frame, is not only good looking but also high quality, according to Richard Neroni, the company’s president. “Douglas fir is very strong,” he explains. “Because the grain of the wood is straight, this keeps the wood stable and you don?t get a lot of checking or twisting.”
Neroni adds that these timbers came from the same mill that is now supplying Timberpeg its Forest Stewardship Council-certified timbers and would have been certified had that designation been used when the Bedford home was built. (The Forest Stewardship Council is a nonprofit based in Bonn, Germany, dedicated to the responsible management of the world’s forests.) “Building green has been important to Timberpeg for a long time,” Neroni says.
Deciding on a heating and cooling system
After researching the alternatives, the homeowner decided a geothermal system made sense for his house. “Although it is expensive to put in,? he says, “there is a two-fold payback. One is the rebate from the utility company, and the other is the savings on propane and oil for heat. I think this investment will pay for itself in ten years, or sooner if the price of oil goes up. I know this is worth it for the long term, because I plan to be [in this house] for a long time.”‘
Geothermal systems offer a unique advantage. “Geothermal heat pumps don’t ‘create” heat by burning a fossil fuel,” says Thomas R. Belair of Public Service of New Hampshire Energy Efficiency Services, “but rather they ‘move’ heat from the ground to the home.”
Samyn says when construction began in 2006, geothermal systems were the “newest adventure,” so finding a capable builder was key. “Milestone [Engineering & Construction Inc. in Concord] is so superior, and we love working with them,” Samyn says.
David Baer, Milestone?s general superintendent, says the biggest challenges building this house were with the electrical and mechanical systems. “With a super-insulated shell, there’s no room for wires in the walls-most of the wires run under the floors. And in a smart house like this one, where everything talks to each other, there is a lot of wiring.”
For the geothermal system, Milestone had twelve wells dug for copper pipes; through them, a liquid refrigerant travels down 120 feet and is transformed to a gas by the earth’s temperature to provide energy for heating or cooling the house. Baer says the other part of this system is two pumps in the basement-“one for heat and one for cooling. The system is either heating water that travels through radiant floors or goes to the boiler for domestic hot water, or it cools the air like an air conditioner.”
For backup, the homeowner has two Munchkin mini-boilers-one in the basement and one in the garage-that run on propane. Inside the house, one boiler further heats the 100 degree F water from the geothermal system to 120 degree F for domestic use. The boiler in the garage runs the snowmelt system under the stamped concrete driveway. “My propane tank gets filled only twice a year,” the homeowner says proudly.
His latest project is considering the installation of solar panels to run the circulating pumps for the geothermal system, and he?s just beginning to do the feasibility study. “It’s great to find one renewable source enhancing the other,” says Samyn.
The value of an Energy Star rating
To ensure that his home would meet Energy Star standards, the homeowner decided to contact GDS Associates Inc. during construction. The Manchester firm helps electric and gas utilities implement energy-efficiency programs-like Energy Star , whose guidelines are established by the federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-for new residential construction.
Bruce Bennett, a project manager for GDS, explains that a home must meet a maximum energy rating of 80 in order to qualify for Energy Star? certification. This maximum rating on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index means that the home uses 80 percent of the energy of a home built to code. “This [Bedford] house rated a 52, which means it uses only half the energy it would need if the house were built to code,” Bennett says. “Because this home used better insulation materials and windows, along with heating and cooling systems that included a heat recovery system, the homeowner was able to construct an efficient, durable and healthy home.”
As a result of the home?s favorable Energy Star? rating and its geothermal system, the homeowner received a rebate from Public Service of New Hampshire. He also was granted a federal tax credit for building an energy-efficient new home.
The homeowner, who says he’s “always been fascinated by new technology,” found it appealing to “be able to control things in a central way.” With help from Maverick Integration Corp. and MediaRight SAS, both in Bedford, the home’s lights are controlled from one panel, along with the systems for home entertainment as well as heating for the house and pool.
One system still very much controlled by the homeowner is the extraordinary 110-gallon saltwater aquarium in the library. In it are a variety of brightly colored fish, coral, anemones, crabs, shrimps, snails and marine clams; what you don?t see are all the pumps and filtration equipment, which are installed in the basement’s mechanical room.
Baer says he was impressed by how Samyn “made the outside of the house look so unusual, and capitalized on opportunities for craftsmanship with Western red clear cedar and copper flashings.”
Inside, in the home theater and library, black walnut was used for paneling, crown molding and wainscoting, as well as the cabinetry, which was built off-site by George Dennison, of WS Dennison Cabinets in Pembroke. The upstairs floors are pecan. “The homeowner was great to work with when it came to selecting high-quality materials for floor tiles, trim around the doors and stone countertops, which reflected the overall design potential for the house,” Samyn says.