Rainwater Collection Lowers the Impact on a Coastal Site
Traditional architecture, new building methods, and rainwater collection combine to lessen a home’s imprint on its sensitive coastal site.
Synopsis: When Laura Sewall decided to build a house on land in Maine where generations of family members had retreated in the summer, she was guided by a desire for the house to be graceful and energy efficient, and with as little disruption to the sensitive site as possible. In this article, architect Stephen Sullivan describes the house he built for Sewall. To the casual observer, the home isn’t necessarily distinguishable from many other New England homes. It’s basic form is a central cube with four cross gables, each of which faces one of the cardinal directions. But a closer look reveals subtle energy-saving details. Windows are maximized to the south, yielding lots of passive solar heat, and structural insulated panels were used to construct the house, with insulated concrete forms used to build the foundation. The house also has a rainwater collection system that allows Sewall to avoid having to draw water from the local ecosystem—and that fills her basement swimming pool.
I was honored when longtime friend Laura Sewall invited me to design her house at Small Point, Maine. Set at the mouth of the Sprague River as it spills into the Atlantic, the site witnesses the daily ebb and flow of the ocean’s tides in a vast estuary. Laura saw this dramatic site, the setting for generations of family summer retreats, as a precious gift from her ancestors.
During a frigid January weekend in 2004, Laura and I gathered with her builder, Christopher Hahn, at Small Point. Warmed by a small campfire, we talked about the complex feelings that often accompany an intention to build, particularly when it involves disturbing such a fragile landscape.
Christopher, an old friend of Laura’s who had recently moved to Maine, brought an extensive knowledge of building technologies and…