Rhode Island Rock Star
This New England home is low-impact, no-maintenance, and zero-energy, but it also has big views from its rocky shoreline site.
Every custom home begins with a wish list, and these homeowners made some bold strokes with their list of priorities: to make as little impact on the site as possible, to have a low-maintenance exterior, to achieve net-zero energy use, and to reveal every possible view of the shoreline property. Designed by Garth Schwellenbach of C&H Architects and built by Caldwell & Johnson, the house is surprising and delightful and meets all of the homeowner’s goals.
Read more about the design and build process of this home in the full article, “High Priorities,” in FHB #274.
Also check out Garth Schwellenbach’s 6 Tips for Net-Zero House Design.
Click the Launch Gallery button below to see six more incredible views of this home, with more information on the project.
Photos by Nat Rea.
The house was built on the foundation of an existing home. The poured concrete foundation walls and footings were in good shape, but the existing basement slab was removed to allow for new interior footings, below-slab insulation, and vapor and air barriers. Reusing the foundation reduced site impact on the environmentally sensitive shoreline lot, but required the new design to comply with the existing 42-ft.-square footprint. The north side of the house was extended with a 3-ft. cantilever, but otherwise held to the existing foundation plan and deck perimeter.
The exterior finishes include factory-coated aluminum siding and roofing, which are manufactured with recycled materials and can be completely recycled at the end of their life cycle. The standing-seam metal siding has a similar look to traditional board-and-batten siding, with a modern no-maintenance update. No exterior painting or staining is required, even in the harsh coastal environment. The installers helped to develop and bend custom aluminum trim profiles for windows, doors, roof overhangs, and other transitions.
Energy production was limited to a roof-mounted PV system, so the house was designed with maximum roof area on the south side. The steep roof pitch provides a large uninterrupted surface for a 13.1kw array. As of now, the project is net-positive, making more energy that it consumes, but it takes at least a year to know for sure that it is truly a net-zero-energy home. The panels are Sunpower 335W X-Series Signature Black modules.
Screened porches are a staple of coastal New England homes. Here, the traditional, light-blue beadboard ceiling has a couple of skylights to brighten the covered outdoor space. All framing and decking materials are naturally decay-resistant wood and are installed to stand up to the coastal environment. The deck railing is a stainless-steel cable-rail system with a superslim profile meant to be as invisible as possible and to preserve the views.
The house draws from a varied pallet of architectural styles, from midcentury modern details to traditional coastal textures and forms. The floor plan is oriented to maximize views in the most important rooms in the house. On the first floor, the open plan allows a clear view from nearly anywhere in the public areas, whether the homeowner's are cooking in the kitchen, eating at the dining room table, or lounging in the living room or sunroom.
Windows and doors are often the weak link in an otherwise efficient building envelope. To get to zero-energy use in a climate zone with cold winter months, and in a house that has lots of glazing, high-performing windows and doors were a must. The Schuco products used are triple-glazed with insulated aluminum frames. The windows are a tilt-turn design and the doors are either lift-and-slide or standard swinging. The frames have a rating of U-0.23, the glass is U-0.088, and they have a warm-edge spacer rated at U-0.018. The glass has a low-e coating as well.
The window layout was designed to allow enough operable sashes to provide a good cross-breeze throughout the house, with as few screens as possible to maintain the clear view. The 9-ft. ceiling heights throughout the house also play a role in maximizing the views, bringing them deeper into the rooms. But pushing the head of the window all the way to the ceiling in a house susceptible to extremely high wind gusts required a robust structural system—a steel moment frame was to reinforce the south and east walls, allowing the expanse of glazing.