Loving the land with a low-impact home
John Post decided on a Cape design, with a metal (and solar) roof and prominent overhangs, and green aspects inside.
Photo by John Post and CK-Architects
As Gerald O’Hara advised his daughter Scarlett: “Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything.” And it was the land that brought John Post to Litchfield and Old Mount Tom Road to build his dream house. “I was drawn to this property by several key features,” Post explains. “The open space and rolling topography and the interplay of meadow and forest. Also, the light afforded by the significant solar exposure grabbed me big time. For me, it’s always about the light.”
Post, who worked in pharmaceuticals for most of his career, has always been interested in the environment and climate advocacy. “I’ve studied the whole business of climate change and feel we are largely responsible for it. My plan was to build an energy-efficient house that would not affect the environment at all.”
Post was referred to Campaigne Kestner Architects, a small design firm in Guilford. Since Litchfield is a historic town, traditional in its architecture, they settled on a classic Cape design featuring a metal roof and prominent overhangs. “John was very specific about what he had in mind,” says Russ Campaigne. “The property was designed as a working farm with a compact main house, a detached garage, and a separate barn. We clustered the buildings on the west side of the site, leaving much of the existing meadow area available for farming. Due to high ledge conditions and our interest in avoiding the environmental impacts of blasting, we designed the homeon a super-insulated slab-on-grade foundation that was pinned to the ledge.
This made for an extremely tight and well-insulated foundation, minimizing the heat loss and air infiltration challenges associated with a traditional basement system.”
CK-Architects specialize in designing houses that push the envelope with new technologies. In 2003 they received the first gold-certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) house. On the first floor, Post wanted an indoor/outdoor feeling with an open floor plan. The public rooms offer an expanse of windows that play up the extraordinary views. The master bedroom and bath are also on the first floor. “Upstairs there are two bedrooms and a bath,” says Post, “as well as the mechanical room. Because there is no basement, we had to find a place to put everything.”
Everything includes the mechanical system responsible for the energy-efficient running of the house. It resembles something out of a science-fiction movie, stainless steel and immaculate: an on-demand hot-water heater, inverters for the solar panels that indicate how much electricity is generated; an energy recovery ventilator that automatically exchanges interior and exterior air to ensure a healthy environment. The geothermal system monitors both the heating and cooling systems.
The orientation and envelope, which encompasses the windows, insulation, and framing, were crucial for an energy-efficient, almost self-sustaining structure. The new home was placed at the high point of the site, which allows for sweeping views as well as a natural breeze that helps with cooling.
Post’s 2,400-square-foot house is a prime example of a net-zero home: so air-tight, well-insulated, and energy-efficient that it produces as much renewable energy as itconsumes, leaving the occupant with a net-zero energy bill and a carbon-free environment. Much of that is due to the impressive insulation that was used. “What we installed is 60 percent above code,” says Campaigne. “We employed a technique called strapping, in which the interior walls, the exterior walls, and the space between the two all contain insulation.”
Post estimates his total energy costs to be about $18 a year. He can actually look forward to a rebate from his utility supplier.