High-Priority Energy Efficiency
This home is headed to net-zero energy, with very little impact on its site.
Synopsis: Architect Garth Schwellenbach outlines the considerations made when building this house on the rocky Rhode Island shore. The house is designed with minimal site impact in mind, including advanced wastewater treatment, permeable paving, rainwater harvesting, and native plantings. It is also build for net-zero energy use with a full-perimeter air barrier, dense-pack cellulose and open-cell and closed-cell spray-foam insulation, high-performing windows and doors, efficient mechanicals, and a PV solar array. The article includes a detailed drawing of the wall framing as well as floor plans that show how the house and it’s interior rooms were sited to highlight surrounding views of the water.
Our clients always have some ideas for what they want in their home, but rarely do they have the clarity and determination of the homeowners who came to us with this stunning site on the coast of Rhode Island. They wanted a new home with little environmental impact, without sacrificing style, comfort, or livability. They wanted a home that would celebrate the views, and would stand up to the harsh coastal environment without endless maintenance demands. On the site was a house from the 1970s of questionable value beyond being well-sited to capture views and solar gain. The structure of the existing house wouldn’t support our new design, but we could reuse the foundation, which allowed us to avoid excavation and capture the embodied energy of the existing concrete. Working closely with the owners, who had refined aesthetic preferences from midcentury modern to traditional coastal style, we began designing the house, staying keenly focused on creating a super-insulated and airtight building assembly with high-performance windows and doors. We specified energy-efficient systems, including heating, cooling, and hot water; an ERV for ventilation; and LED lighting. At every turn, we kept four priorities in mind: low site…