A High-Performance Spec House
A team approach creates an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly house for a growing market.
Synopsis: Architect Christopher Briley believes the spec-house market is ready for a change, especially now that energy prices are on the rise. This 2200-sq.-ft. spec house in Maine, called Harmony House, is energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Its detached garage could be placed almost anywhere without altering the plan dramatically, so the house could be built on a variety of sites and still have the best possible orientation toward the sun. A south-facing solarium helps to heat and cool the house year round, and a solar system provides almost all the domestic hot water. Other features include radiant concrete floors, an energy-recovery ventilator, a 60,000-Btu fireplace, a high-performance exterior envelope, and building materials that don’t outgas formaldehyde.
It’s easy to blame builders for being too conservative and too cautious, for using only materials and techniques they already know. But that simply isn’t true. Builders, like architects, are constrained by the marketplace.
For many people, the first step in buying a house is to check real-estate listings. Few people build new houses, and even fewer hire an architect to help them. It takes a courageous client to be the first to sign up for a new type of construction, and a courageous builder to put a price on a technique that he or she has never tried. As a result, builders build what sells, and buyers buy what’s offered.
Having experienced this phenomenon as an architect, I was delighted to be introduced to Josh Fedorka of Symphony Construction, who with real-estate broker Mony Hang had formed Green Quality Homes. They were jumping into an aggressive market for single-family housing in the Portland, Maine, area, with plans for a healthful and efficient house that could compete with conventionally built spec houses. Together, we built our first house,…