Green Tech In A Sustainable Home: Retaining The Human Touch

By Tracy Seelye, GreenTech Advocates

How do green and energy-efficient technologies fit into the whole concept of a sustainable home?

Among the green tech and energy-efficient features being built into a contemporary home under construction in Hingham, Mass., are solar photovoltaic and solar thermal systems, electronic lighting control, passive solar heating, staggered stud construction, ZIP System structural wall panels and roof sheathing for increased comfort and efficiency.

But for owner-architect Philip A. Smith, keeping the human touch will also ensure that while the house is chock-full of cool energy-efficient systems, it can still be attractive and comfortable for a growing family. Green tech and energy-efficiency technologies, from the solar panels to the wireless Lutron RadioRA lighting control system, operable through an  iPhone app, are just one part of a holistic green home design.

image via GreenTech Advocates

The contemporary home featured as part of the recent NESEA (Northeast Sustainable Energy Association) Green Building Open House tour is also the continuation of the owner-architect’s master’s thesis “Technology, Poetics and Place in Sustainable Architecture.”

“In order for architecture to be sustainable it needs to have a strong human element, a high quality for human life,” Smith said of his family’s dream home.  “If it doesn’t, people will change it and it won’t be sustainable. … It could be the most sustainable building there is, but if it’s an ugly home who cares?”

There is certainly sustainable technology in the home, which is still under construction. Smith aims to have his family moved in by December and will include the house on the GBOH tour next year as a follow-up report on the design.

The house is pre-piped for solar thermal, is air-tight and super insulated and features a graywater recycling system from showers to double-flush toilets.

The air-to-air Lenox heat pump will have 15 solar panels hooked up to it, and each solar panel is attached to a solar inverter. “One of the dirty little secrets of solar panels is that the solar panels that are on a string, if one is shaded it affects the efficiency of the whole lot,” he said. “When each has their own line and acts as an independent zone, basically they’re all at their highest capacity possible.”

He doesn’t see 15 panels as feasible for going off-grid. “If I went to 30 panels, potentially,” Smith said. “The house will be extremely efficient in both fall and spring.”

Form Meets Function

The home’s butterfly roof is one of its more striking features, providing a platform for photovoltaic and solar thermal panels.

The roof also allows for rainwater recycling directed by a second gable unseen from street level, which directs water three ways. One path is into a rain barrel, the other two lead to a cistern feeding a drip-irrigation system.

“It does a lot of things, and that’s key,” Smith said.

When completed, the house will include Energy Star appliances, heat recovery ventilation, radiant floor heating, daylighting and super-insulated walls. The staggered stud-construction walls are filled with spray-foam insulation.

The large number of windows are triple-glazed and will act as a passive solar component to the house. Trellis eyebrows on the upper-level windows shade summer sun, while allowing the lower-angled winter sun to warm the great room as air is circulated by two large ceiling fans in the living area’s vaulted ceiling.

The house also features Energy Star white TPO (thermopastic olefin) roofing with an 83 percent reflectance value, solar ready air-to-air heat pump by Lenox, pre-wired photovaltaic panels and triple-paned Fibertec fiberglass windows ands doors with a U value of .14.

Sustainable Materials

The Smiths used local and recycled materials and nontoxic products to build out the architect’s vision. But they could not do all they wanted.

The Smiths wanted to retain the first floor walls of the original house, Jennifer Smith said. “But when you start getting into it and see there’s no insulation you make those decisions to take it all down,” she said. “We had great maple floors that had been covered in carpet for so long the refinishing  [would have been] more costly than buying new wood.”

But the new “wood” on the exterior walls is not only sustainable and recycled cement fiberboard — it is also low-maintenance with a built-in wood grain stain carrying a 15-year guarantee.

What paint is being used contains low VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and all finish materials contain recycled content. The existing foundation and floor framing was reused in the project, technically considered a green home renovation despite the fact that the original single-story ranch was taken down to its foundation before the building phase began.

Editor’s Note: This news story comes to us as a cross post courtesy of GreenTech Advocates. Author credit for the story goes to Tracy Seelye.

I am the editor-in-chief and founder for EarthTechling. This site is my desire to bring the world of green technology to consumers in a timely and informative matter. Prior to this my previous ventures have included a strong freelance writing career and time spent at Silicon Valley start ups.