2016 Challenge Participant:
Lehto Design/Build - Alexander Residence
Project Address: 716 Al Harvey Road, Stonington, CT 06378
Bdrms./Sq. Footage: TBD
Builder Website: www.lehtodesignbuild.com
General project overview:
When they originally met, Sandy and Jeff Alexander bonded over an appreciation of architecture and, in no small measure, a common dream of building a beautiful home that performed at a very high level of sustainability. A Philadelphia-raised designer, Sandy had remodeled and renovated two of her early homes – a 19th century house in southern New Jersey and a high-rise condominium in her hometown. At the time, Jeff also was spreading Philly roots with a modest rowhome in one of the city’s outlying neighborhoods – a residence with a flat, leaking roof that caused its fair share of nuisance and stress. Once married, the couple chose to live in a wooded, hilly area of the suburbs. Their house, a late-Seventies bi-level with generous windows and sleek lines, while stylish, tapped further into the challenges that had plagued Jeff earlier. The property leaked, storms (including Hurricane Sandy) took out power for days, and the windows seeped air with abandon. The aggressively sloped, shaded property was far from ideal for their infant son and was susceptible to erosion, falling tree limbs and high humidity. It ultimately left them feeling vulnerable and yearning for a fresh – and renewable – start.
In early 2015, when Jeff was offered an opportunity to relocate through work, the couple began to set their sights on New England, and specifically southeast Connecticut near Jeff’s hometown of Norwich. Narrowing their search to the I-95 corridor between Clinton and the Rhode Island border, they honed in on Stonington for the quality of its schools as well as the rural setting, proximity to the shoreline, and overall beauty. They found a 2.7-acre lot located within a short drive to the water and Mystic, a former orchard with abundant stone walls and a gently sloping terrain. Importantly, the site presented all-day sun exposure and was clear of large, utility-damaging trees. Here they could build the home they had planned for years and, equally significant, raise their son in an environment that instilled the value of energy conservation and respect for the earth’s resources.
As the couple embarked on their build, the intent was clear: create an efficient home that is respectful – and complimentary – to the farmland heritage of the surrounding area while maintaining a timeless aesthetic. With the plan in place, the Alexanders embarked on a review of local architects and builders specializing in green/net zero construction. Nick Lehto, principal of Lehto Design/Build, was chosen based on the merit of recommendations from previous clients and professionals in the engineering and construction fields. Nick’s steady and even demeanor, backed by a proven history of delivering award-winning, high efficiency homes, was superbly suited to the Stonington project.
In an effort to channel the vast majority of funding to construction and resources over creating a blueprint from scratch, Sandy found online drawings in the style they aspired to – a modern farmhouse with an open floorplan that accentuated simpler communal living – and an in-town architect was enlisted to customize the plans. By streamlining the overall design and dedicating the central space– kitchen, dining and great rooms – as the home’s focal point, there was an effort to promote a more “unplugged” lifestyle that favored entertaining, family gatherings, and simpler pastimes like reading. To respect the agreed-upon square footage limits of the dwelling, smaller bedrooms offset the more generous common spaces.
Additionally, the layout of the house and property emphasizes exterior living to compliment the 2,800 square-foot interior space, boasting an outdoor shower, workshop adjoining the garage, 600 square-foot wraparound front porch, 215 square-foot screen-enclosed back porch and fire pit that can accommodate more than 20 people. A large vegetable garden will occupy a specially-excavated tier of the backyard in the coming year, and more apple and pear trees will augment those planted in the fall of 2016. A duck and chicken coop, water collection system and root cellar are in the planning stages.
Budget - Throughout the project, the Alexanders played a highly actively role. Sandy served in a co-general contractor capacity and sourced more cost-effective materials while maintaining high aesthetic design elements.
Ready for the Elements - The house is outfitted with a standing seam metal roof, snow guards, galvanized steel gutters and a French drain system to capture and direct rain and other moisture away from the structure. A lighter-colored (silver-gray) roof was selected for its summer sunlight reflecting qualities, durability, low maintenance and energy efficiency. A dedicated generator and 500-gallon propane tank are at the ready in the case of power outages.
Orientation and Envelope: (windows, insulation, framing):
South-Facing / Solar Orientation: Because the property is fairly narrow and necessitated careful planning to place the house within the required 25-foot property line setbacks, pains were taken to orient a large portion of the living space against the south-facing border. With no direct obstruction from trees, this takes advantage of passive solar heat gains, and the roofline was specifically sized to accept a 10 kW photovoltaic system, implemented to offset annual energy usage. Additional solar-friendly design features included roofline dormers and a custom-fabricated glass floor panel in the kitchen ceiling. These additions naturally boost interior illumination during the day and greatly limit needs for any electrical lighting.
Insulation: The home features double stud walls with 12" of dense pack cellulose, delivering an R-45. Beyond delivering high performance insulation, they are manufactured from recycled material and render a simple, clean wall design as well as cost efficiency. Due to the streamlined roof design and the desire to keep all ductwork within the conditioned space, insulation was placed at the roof plane rather than the ceiling, comprised of 2" of closed cell foam and 15" of open cell foam. Slab was constructed with 2" XPS insulation, with an R10 rating. Foundation walls are comprised of 2" closed cell spray foam and R13 fiberglass batts. By insulating the basement walls and slab, the basement is seamlessly blended into the overall conditioned living space, offering even and comfortable temperatures and excellent protection for all mechanical equipment.
Windows - In keeping with the design lines of a farmhouse, the project called for traditional double hung windows. While these windows can be considered leaky when compared to tilt/turn and casement windows, overall exceptional air-tightness was achieved.
Airtightness - The home achieved a blower door result of .45 air changes per hour at 50 pascals of pressure, about 1/10th the amount of air leakage/heat loss of a normal home.
Heating, Cooling, and Hot Water:
Geothermal Heat Pump - A key energy conservation feature of the home is a water furnace-ground source heat pump which extracts energy from wells and transfers it inside. A water furnace series 7 model, a variable capacity heat pump that allows for efficiency at different load levels, was installed in the basement.
Domestic Hot Water - Domestic hot water is supplied by two systems: a desuperheater that uses waste energy from the ground source heat pump to pre-heat water, backed up by an air source heat pump.
Ventilation - To regulate air quality, a high efficiency Venmar energy recovery ventilator was employed, with Panasonic bathroom fans and a range hood in the kitchen.
Resource Sustainability Features:
- Sustainability standards - Complies with DOE Zero Energy Ready, Energy Star Version 3, Water Sense, Indoor Air Plus standards.
- Smart materials - Budget-compliant yet durable and eco-friendly choices were made at every possible turn, including: FSC-certified hardwood flooring, James Hardie fiber cement siding for its durability, low-maintenance and fire-resistant qualities, decking that doesn't require stain or toxic chemicals to maintain, is resistant to rot, abrasion and weather, and carries a Class A fire rating, and brick was selected for hardscaping, being an all-natural material that allows for rainwater to filter into the ground.
- Reclaimed - It was a high priority to integrate high visibility, reclaimed hardware and finish elements in the home. Exhaustive research and sourcing went into acquiring one-of-a-kind windows, doors, wood materials and other flea market finds to elevate the intrinsic appeal of the interior design. This included repurposed airport and farm lighting fixtures, cabinets, countertop and pantry shelving fashioned from reclaimed barn wood.
- Act locally - Throughout the process, the team sought to tap local vendors and suppliers to limit the overall carbon footprint. From cabinetry/woodwork and reclaimed materials to the contractors and tradespeople who assisted, the majority of sources were found in the general southeast Connecticut area – and in some cases, a town or two away.