On a brilliant autumn day in Grafton, afternoon sunlight streams into a timberframe home through expansive windows illuminating the hanging Boston ferns, the light green walls and the oak and pine floors. An earthen red brick hearth, the focal point of the house, extends up to the lofty ceiling, accented by white pine beams cut from the houselot and handmilled. Owner Paul Leveille nods approvingly as he relaxes.
In 2005 Paul, his wife Penny and their son Hunter began construction on this, their own “green” home: “We really wanted to create a spiritual, inspiring space — a home that was healthy and energy efficient and really pleasant to be in,” recalls Paul. The Leveilles have built one of the two New Hampshire houses applying for LEED-H (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes) certification; a comprehensive rating system piloted in 2006 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to assess a house’s building materials, water and waste management systems, proximity to public transportation, land conservation and energy consumption.
Leveille has worked to improve energy efficiency and healthy building practices since the late 1980s when he began a career at the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests, a statewide nonprofit land conservation organization. He recently accepted a position at the Jordan Institute in Concord, as the high-performance building coordinator, to promote their green projects. Through his years in the business, Paul has seen a great transformation: “The designs of the early ’80s resulted in very experimental, funky-looking homes, but today the green homes look more traditional. It’s exciting — they look like the home down the street and are more comfortable to live in with an emphasis on good structural design.”
In the age of McMansions, the Leveilles scaled down their design to create a 1,472-square-foot open-concept contemporary timber frame, ample space for a family of three. They use a passive solar system to provide an abundance of natural heat and daylight. The many windows on the south side of the house catch the low-sky sunlight during the winter months. In the summer, the deciduous trees outside provide shade. Although this technique has been widely practiced before, Paul credits improved window technology for renewed public interest: “Solar designs got a bad reputation because they would make homes very hot during the day and cold at night because it couldn’t retain heat. Now, better windows let the heat in and keep it in at night.”
In addition to passive solar, the Leveilles use a centrally located wood stove as their primary heat source and a propane-fired boiler provides hot water.
The family drastically reduced their energy bill by purchasing compact
florescent light bulbs, which use up to 75 percent less electricity than standard incandescent bulbs and last 10 times longer, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Their Energy Star-approved Frigidaire refrigerator and Bosch dishwasher and clothes washer require 10-50 percent less energy than standard appliances. By using these products, designing a passive solar system and adding extra insulation, they expect to minimize their expenses and carbon dioxide emissions. Paul used an REM Home Energy Analysis Software program to project annual savings; he will spend $1,568 less on heating and electricity and produce only 18,520 lbs. of carbon dioxide each year, 27,663 lbs. less than a similar home built to standard code.
“People can expect to spend a little more up front, but recoup that cost very quickly in energy savings,” Paul says. “They also end up with a home that’s more comfortable and leaves a smaller ecological footprint.”
In the U. S., the residential sector footprint is made with a very heavy shoe. Currently, there are nearly 116 million homes and 1.8 million more built each year. The Department of Energy reports that homes account for 21.5 percent of all energy consumption, 34.8 percent of all electricity consumption and 20.6 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions in the country. The Environmental Protection Agency determined that 43 percent of the 136 million tons of construction and demolition debris produced each year is generated by residential buildings.
Paul hopes that more attention to green building will reduce home energy consumption and waste: “The future of our planet is in the balance. If we build sustainably, then we can enjoy our place here in New Hampshire knowing we have contributed to the health of the planet.”
In addition to constructing his own home, Paul serves as a consultant and mentor for other New Hampshire residents interested in reducing their impact on the environment. Beth Smith and Ruth McGuinn sought his expertise when they purchased the land to construct their green home in 2004.
On a November day, as 40-mile-an-hour wind gusts snapped tree branches and whipped up a fury of twigs, dead leaves and rain, the warmth from the wood stove welcomed guests into Smith and McGuinn’s ultra-insulated Canterbury home. With all of the comforts and amenities of a typical New Hampshire home, this 1,900-square-foot modified saltbox incorporates an ingenious design and the latest technology for better energy efficiency.
The two completed the house last fall. The simple eloquence of their home, which is minutes away from Canterbury’s Shaker Village, matches the style of this picturesque community with a subliminal nod to its inhabitants. The ingenious and frugal Shakers would surely be enamored of a home that uses less energy and emits fewer pollutants detrimental to both the ecosystem and human health.
Among the most striking features of this home is how the rich array of timber is incorporated in the structure. “Our house is a much nicer, warmer house because we were able to use our own trees to build with — it is a different house because of it,” says Ruth.
The red oak floors, the yellow birch counters and the red maple, ash and yellow birch trim were cut from trees on their own property. A layered wood panel wainscoting of cherry, white oak, white birch, yellow birch and aspen integrates the timber into the interior decoration. “As a forester, the wood in the house and the wood that came off the land was very important to me. Also, when you bring in materials from far away, the embodied energy or energy used for transportation goes way up,” says Beth.
In addition to using these resources, a major objective for Ruth and Beth was to cut down on energy use. And they needed to do this without breaking the bank. “We both work for non-profits and don’t have large salaries. We had to really pick and choose the best ways to spend our money,” says Ruth. “There’s a romance with the high tech, but the reality is that you can build a house like this without a lot of extra expense.”
“We started by making sure that we don’t waste energy,” says Beth. Their home uses an ultra-tight insulation system to prevent the heat from escaping through air leaks in the building. Blown-in recycled newspaper cellulose, an alternative to fiberglass, and polyisocyanurate foam eliminate drafts and cold air infiltration. “We can walk barefoot in our house on the coldest of days,” boasts Beth.
The couple purchased an energy recovery ventilation system from RenewAire to circulate fresh air throughout the house. The system channels outside air through vents that simultaneously release the warmer air from inside without losing heat.
Bill Bartlett of Bartlett Builders in Hopkinton, contractor for the Canterbury home, marvels at the success of the project: “When I graduated from college there were a lot more energy efficient buildings going up. But when oil seemed to drop in price in the ’80s, people became less interested. I am happy to see it coming back. Their house was a reminder that it can be done as long as you have the proper air exchange system.”
To reduce indoor pollutants, they chose paint and finishing products with little or no toxicity, like Eco Spec paints from Benjamin Moore, a product free of volatile organic compounds (VOC) typically found in paints, paint strippers, wood preservatives and aerosol sprays. Instead of finishing the kitchen with vinyl flooring, the couple used cork, a renewable resource, from Duro-design. The bathroom floors were built with Marmoleum, a natural product made from linseed oil, wood flour, rosin, jute and limestone, from Forbo Flooring.
As more people like Ruth, Beth and Paul express an interest in green building, the market will follow suit, says Richard Faesy, a resource economist and senior project manager at the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation. “Ultimately it will be the homebuyers that push this market. If they are talking about green building, then the builders will need to listen or they will lose business.”
Faesy adds, “What we notice is that green building is really quality building. The people already incorporating aspects of green in their projects are the cutting-edge builders.”
This past October Ruth and Beth opened their home to potential green builders through the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association’s Green Building Open House Tour. The tour included around 25 homes and businesses and introduced visitors to a variety of healthier and more “sustainable” building practices. Says Ruth, “Ultimately, we hope to educate people through the example of our lives. We love when people visit our home, look around and say, ‘Oh, I could do that!’” NH
Ready to start your own project?
Here’s what to do and where to go:
Tool Base Services
This Web site provides a wealth of information and resources on everything green.
To learn about Energy Star homes and appliances or find new Home Energy Star partners in New Hampshire, visit www.energystar.gov.
United States Green Building Council is the current authority on green building. Learn more about their LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for homes pilot program at www.usgbc.org.
What’s in your home?
Concerned about the chemicals in your home? Learn more about these products and healthier alternatives at www.epa.gov.
Local Green Building
The Jordan Institute, Concord
New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association, Concord
The Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, Burlington Vt.
Green Homes Northeast,