2015 Challenge Participant:
Select Construction - Mastronunzio Residence
Applicant: Andrew Mastronunzio
Project Address: 428 Church Street, Amston, CT 06231
Bdrms./Sq. Footage: 4 BD - 4,553 sq ft
Designer/Homeowner: Andrew Mastronunzio
I use SoftPlan, which is a really great system that is very user friendly, but there is a long learning curve. If you can think of something you want to do, the program most likely has the capability to do it and you just need to check the help menu. I relied very heavily on Houzz.com for design inspiration. Many of the features were inspired by photos I found on Houzz. I believe there are now over 6,000,000 photos in their database, double what there were when I started designing this home. Houzz is a really fantastic design resource for both builders and homeowners.
Energy Design Consultant/HERS Rater: Peter Harding, Home Energy Technologies, Essex, CT
Peter was brought on very early in the process and was able to steer the team in the right direction. Without knowing as much as we do now, we thought for sure we would want to go with full spray foam insulation, which would have been a significantly higher cost than the fiberglass that we ended up using. Peter did a great job of explaining how to make much more efficient use of our dollars by focusing on air sealing and more energy efficient products, components, and methods. Peter clearly laid out the options and his recommendations, as well as WHY he thought his particular set of recommendations was the best fit for this project. I understand so much better now why energy efficiency really can't be "one size fits all." If you have $1000 to spend, sure, definitely spend it on insulation and air sealing. But if you are trying to incorporate a high level of energy-efficient design, then the different combinations of systems, products, and construction methods can really play off each other and become highly complimentary, or highly redundant. We (the homeowners) were fortunate to have a higher budget than many homes, but this project was very ambitious and packed in an awful lot of features and enhancements, so we really had to stretch our dollars to pack everything in. Having Peter involved in the project played a key role in making sure that the home will not just have a pretty face, but be sustainable and comfortable long past our time here.
PV Contractor/Designer: Damon Weiss, JD Solar Solutions, Bolton, CT
Damon Weiss and his team did a fantastic job. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to incorporate PV. Damon took the time to explain how PV really works, and I am still amazed at how I could be so mis-educated and almost clueless about it despite being in the industry for my whole life. Our clients ask about solar fairly frequently, and many of the people that visit our home see the panels and ask about them. I certainly don't know as much as the pros, but I can speak quite knowledgeably about how the system works and different types of systems, and most importantly, how the financial aspect of the PV can work. Damon dispelled many myths and misunderstandings that I had, was excellent to work with throughout the process, very responsive, and he pointed out some ways to compare different quality systems and installations. The panels are set up so that 24 face west and 12 face south. The site was pasture once upon a time, so there are no trees anywhere near the house, which means the solar panels get near perfect exposure, producing approximately 115% of their rated capacity. I highly and quite actively recommend JD Solar to anyone that will listen to me talk about PV!
Truss Designer: Bruce Hutchins, Universal Component Corp, Branford, CT
I’ve been working with Bruce for a few years now and have done some complicated projects, but this one was the most complicated by far. We have 4 rooms with vaulted ceilings, including a 10' dome in the foyer, but we also had to account for "energy heels" and a very unique ductwork plan. We incorporated a duct chase into the truss system so that the plenums could be completely enclosed with insulation and plywood and air sealed. There is 3'x3' shaft running the length of the house for the main plenums, and then the branch lines run between the trusses. This would have been a pretty simple concept to pull off on a simple gable roof on a typical colonial. This roof has many different planes and hips, which meant we had to put some jogs in the plenum chase, plus we had to work around the vaulted areas. Bruce was very patient with me as we kept tweaking and re-tweaking and re-re-tweaking. Again, I highly recommend working with Bruce and Mark Pasquill over at UCC.
HVAC Contractor/Designer: Chris Wierzbicki, Nutmeg Mechanical, Manchester, CT
I work with many tradespeople and I always say the same thing- "I need people that can make me look smart" [for using them]. Bringing Chris onto a project makes me look REALLY smart. I've gotten to work with some very skilled and knowledgeable tradesmen. Chris truly impressed me from our very first meeting, and I am not easily impressed. I had spoken with a few HVAC contractors about doing geothermal. One guy was really expensive and wanted to sell lots of bells and whistles. Another contractor, who we worked with on other projects, was in the right price range but admitted that he was not very experienced in geothermal. Chris is one of those people that, every time I talk with him, I feel like I get significantly smarter about HVAC. The level of detail Chris gave me was probably way too much for most homeowners, but for someone in the industry, it was invaluable information that I very much appreciated. Chris explained what the different components were, how they worked together, why things should be done one way and not the other, how some systems have great components but poorly designed ductwork systems, and what his recommendations were and why they were the best fit for this specific project. To call Nutmeg a "specialist" in geothermal is like saying Michelango dabbled in sculpture. Chris and his team have a deep and thorough understanding of their trade and the vast array of products on the market. But as with anything, a system is only as good as its weakest link. Too many contractors fool people into thinking they have a top notch system just because they have fancy appliances. We get fooled because we just don't know how to evaluate the ductwork beyond "hm, looks shiny and has insulation around it". Chris and his team made sure that we have a comprehensive "system", not just a collection of parts taped together. The installation team was great, and I still feel bad that they got stuck working on the house on all those sub-zero degree days.
Windows and Entry Doors: John Horoho, Sanford and Hawley, Manchester, CT
I've been working with John for over a decade and he is an invaluable resource. John and the S&H team have an outstanding relationship with Kohltech. The plant is in Nova Scotia, and I actually got to visit and tour the plant a few years ago, which was a huge thrill for me. It was like being IN an episode of "How It's Made". Kohltech is one of our "secret weapons". I say "secret" because if you ask most builders or homeowners about windows, they will only be able to name the big names that we see in all the advertising and at the big box stores. Kohltech is a big player in Canada, and has been increasing its foothold in the US market for many years, at least since the 1990s. I say "weapon" because the Kohltech Estate windows are just so much better than all the other windows out there, and they are significantly less expensive than most other windows, certainly the big name brands. I use a spreadsheet to objectively evaluate every aspect of a window design- the miters, the balance hardware, the tilt latches, the locks, the grilles and how they intersect, etc. Whenever I evaluate new windows, I always find myself saying "why did they use THIS tilt latch or THAT balance". Usually the answer is to save on cost, but those savings just are not worth having an inferior design. The Kohltech Estate wins out on aesthetics, features, function, energy performance, and the ever-important price factor.
Garage Door Contractor/Designer: Paul Blanchard, Overhead Door of Norwich, Norwich, CT
The garage doors are Overhead Door series 494, which have an insulation value of R-17. We also fully insulated the walls and ceilings of the garage. Since the master bathroom is over the garage, it was particularly important to pay attention to the insulation and air sealing in that area. The series 494 is a fairly basic, classic look, but it bumps the insulation up to R-17 so the thermal envelope of the garage is basically the same as the rest of the house. We've been working with Overhead Door of Norwich for as far back as I can remember. The name-brand product is going to be the same wherever you get it, but it is the service that really distinguishes Paul and his company. Whatever we need, whenever we need it, they take care of it. I recently had a call from a customer that we built for a few years back. One of the parts wore out and broke on them, which they were a bit bummed about, but a few days later the client emailed me again saying "Now I see why you have been working with them for so many years! They came right out and replaced the part with a better quality part than what came from the factory." Again, I like working with companies that make me look smart, and service like that makes me look smart.
Electrical Contractor: Mark Jeffers, Jeffers Electric, Griswold, CT
Despite the size of the house, there really is no