#Making Sustainable Construction Their Highest Priority Is a Rewarding Experience for Two Brothers
At first glance, it could easily be mistaken for a well-appointed renovation of an early Connecticut farmhouse, but this new home in the Litchfield Hills is actually the first LEED Platinum home in the state. Traditional proportions, cedar clapboards, a partial timber frame, and a standing-seam metal roof are nods to the region’s architectural vernacular, though an open design, superinsulated envelope, and both passive and active solar features truly make this a 21st-century home.
Green and quality go hand-in-hand
This was the first venture into green building for brothers Mark and Jim Picton, but they have been building custom homes in the area for more than 30 years. As they worked through the LEED checklist, Mark and Jim quickly realized that much of it was already familiar to them as builders of high-quality homes. Attention to detail and thinking ahead accounted for many of the points they earned; they left space for the addition of future mechanical equipment — including more PV panels; they put extreme care into sealing the building envelope against air and moisture; they located the boiler and other equipment centrally and planned hot water pipes to be as short as possible.
When GreenBuildingAdvisor.com last featured the house, it was on track to attain LEED Gold. A continuous effort to make the best home possible propelled the project to Platinum status before its completion.
Other than the solar hot-water and electric systems, there aren’t any high-tech gadgets to differentiate this from a less-sustainable home — just good design. Mark and Jim felt that designing a compact home with a functional layout was the logical first place to start.
They wrapped the hillside around two sides of the lower level to temper a good portion of the conditioned space and allow access to most of the home from ground level. The whole shell is insulated to about double the code-required R-values (R-40 in the walls and R-60 in the roof), and the thermally isolated concrete floor on the lower level absorbs passive solar heat.
Dealing with materials
Resource efficiency was a main goal for this project — in fact, awareness of the excessive waste common in custom-built homes was a big factor in their initial decision to build a green home. Recycling became a core responsibility of the crew; they recycled all packing material (about 3 yards), reused as much scrap material as possible, and policed the subcontractors to keep them honest.
Sourcing materials was an equally important priority. In an area with several sawmills and a healthy amount of woodland, finding locally cut ash for the floors and pine for the timber frame was relatively easy. Tracking down recycled-content wallboard was a bit more elusive, but a local (and conscientious) lumberyard was able to track some down.
By putting the bulk of the insulation on the outside, Mark and Jim were able to use thinner studs and rafters and cut the volume of framing lumber by more than 25%. For the kitchen and bathroom surfaces, they used Fireslate, a material typically used for counters in science labs, reclaimed from a kitchen renovation. They tiled the entryway, hearth, and bathrooms with reclaimed ceramic floor tiles.
A comfortable home
Ultimately, Mark and Jim strove to create a place that is a joy to live in. Inside, simple details and warm, natural wood surfaces lend a farmhouse feel, while a bank of southern windows, a cathedral ceiling, and a loft create a bright and contemporary space. Several small decks made of reclaimed cedar siding and mahogany pallets allow direct access to the outdoors from nearly every corner. The minimal landscaping involved reseeding disturbed ground with meadow grasses and clover that blend seamlessly into the surroundings.
The true test of the Pictons’ success will be finding a family that enjoys the place as much as they do; the house will go on the market this spring.
Integrated design is a term heard more and more as green home building gains recognition. The Picton brothers will be the first to tell you how valuable the concept really is. With a reputation for building great homes and decades of experience under their belts, they still took over a year to build a relatively simple, 1,850-square-foot house. Granted, they decided part way through to beef up the insulation and shoot for LEED certification, but that just emphasizes the value of design before building.
Mark chalks it up to a valuable experience: “It took too long, but we learned a lot.” Next time around they will bring consultants or at least knowledgeable subcontractors in during the design phase. Saving time and materials by making all of the parts of the house fit together efficiently is reason enough, but calculating the relationship between additional insulation and reduced demand for conditioning equipment could really pay off.
Savings in one place can make more work elsewhere
Though they are happy with the resource and energy efficiency that came along with the thick layer of polyisocyanurate foam outside the framing, it didn’t come without challenges. Fastening furring to framing through four inches of foam is tricky enough, but the real hitch is prepping for all of the things that penetrate the envelope. Enough time and effort went into blocking for hose bibs, exterior lights, exhaust ducts, and plumbing vents that the brothers may consider alternative wall systems on the next project.
On to bigger and better things
This home was very likely just the beginning of Picton Brothers’ future in sustainable construction. They are aware that a project that connects homes with infrastructure and social networks could do even more good — perhaps redevelopment in a town center where, as Mark puts it, “it really makes sense.”
General Specs and Team
|Location:||New Milford, CT|
Builder/designer: Jim and Mark Picton, , Washington Depot, CT
Engineer: , Brookfield, CT
LEED provider: , Pittsfield, MA
Foundation: 2-in. XPS foam under 4-in. concrete slab (R-10); Poured concrete floor; 2-inch XPS rigid foam outside, 2x4 walls with damp-spray cellulose inside (total R-value, 23)
Walls: 2x4s at 16 in. o.c.; damp-spray cellulose in stud spaces; two outer layers of 2-in. XPS rigid foam (total R-value, 40)
Roof: 2x8 rafters at 16 in. o.c.; blown-in cellulose suspended by netting between rafters; 5-1/2-in. XPS rigid foam in three layers; unvented (total R-value, 60)
Windows: double-pane, low-e, argon-filled (SHGC: .31, U-factor: .33)
- High-efficiency space and domestic water heating
- Window placement for passive solar tempering
- Flourescent CFLs installed in almost all fixtures
- Energy Star appliances
- Active solar hot water
Heating/cooling: Gas boiler (80,000 Btu), high-velocity forced air
; noncatalytic wood stove as backup, sealed-combustion air supply (Vermont Castings Encore)
Water heating: solar hot water from two flat-plate collectors (Schuco) in 80-gallon storage tank (approx. $7,000); 40-gallon indirect-fired from gas boiler (backup
HERS rating: 30
- Efficient routing of hot-water pipes
- Low-flow faucets and toilets
- Very low-flow showerheads
- Drought-resistant turf
Indoor Air Quality
- Low-VOC finishes
- Formaldehyde-free wood composites
- Whole-house heat-exchange ventilation system
Green Materials and Resource Efficiency
- Sealed concrete slab used as finished floor
- Wallboard contains recycled gypsum
- Job-site recycling and waste-reduction plan
- Recycled-cellulose insulation
- Cabinets and trim made of reclaimed lumber
- Roof contains recycled steel and is recyclable
- Locally milled ash flooring and pine paneling
- Exterior decking from locally salvaged cedar (formerly used as siding) and mahogany pallet material
- Salvaged Fireslate counters and tiling
Alternate Energy Utilization
Photovoltaic: 2 kW; Cost: $9,500
Energy Star: 5+ stars
LEED for Homes: platinum