LEED-ing the way


Thursday, July 10
HALIFAX -- Houses are built to be lived in, the English philosopher Francis Bacon once said. But home buyers are now looking for houses that both their wallets and the planet can also live with.

Homes that cut down on energy costs and are built "green" are becoming more and more popular.

One such home is being built in Halifax.

Homeowners Mark Gunkel and Laura Philipps are building what may be the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified house in southern Vermont.

"We started off trying to build a simple house that is low in energy, we had been shooting around ideas, toying with different housing configurations. I was doing research online and stumbled across the new LEED configurations," Gunkel said. "Energy Star was a given for us, but we decided that it really wasn't going to cost us that much more to make it LEED-certified and in the end it'll make the house much more efficient. It's a win-win situation."

LEED, a third-party certification program, rates homes on eight criteria: The innovation and design process, location and linkages, sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and awareness and education.

Architect Robert Swinburne also hoped to make the 2,600-square-foot, energy-efficient home for less than $180,000, excluding the purchase of the land itself.

"There's sort of a conception that LEED homes are expensive. I'm trying to show they don't have to be," he said.

Gunkel agreed with this. "There's no reason why anyone building a house today, if they just took a moment to take a step back and look at the certification process, they will save money in the long run. For us, it was a no-brainer to do this."

Also, Swinburne said, he hopes to show that the homes don't need to be tiny to be green, a common belief among many builders.

"If you make it work on a small scale and bump it up, there's not really an increase," he said.

Swinburne plans to have tours through the house as it is being built this summer to help people get better acquainted with the technique.

"We're moving rapidly toward a climate where third party verification of energy use is going to become more required. We're seeing more and more municipalities require it," he said.

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"I think a lot of builders and homeowners around here are going to be dealing with this and I don't think they know what's coming. The house is a good chance to introduce them to that."

Showing people the house as it is being built will help people see outside of the box, he said. "There's sort of a societal expectation of what's in a house. A lot of what I do is help people rethink these things."

The home will incorporate a structural insulated panel wall and roof system installed by Foard Panel of West Chesterfield, N.H., to create a tighter seal. This will provide a support for the house rather than building a separate frame. There will also be solar hot water system and fiberglass framed windows.

Because of these, the house will be heated primarily with a small wood stove and an electric backup. There is also lots of room around the wood stove for the homeowners to dry clothing.

A large pantry will reduce kitchen costs. A cold cellar will provide storage for food from the garden.

Gunkel said he loved the way the house used the basement as a living space, even putting the master bedroom there.

"We're gaining square feet. We're building into the hillside so you can walk out of the basement and there's going to be a ton of windows," he said.

Also, LEED looks for architects to use local products when certifying a home, Swinburne said. Wood used on the project will be milled and dried on site, never leaving the location.

"We live in an area where there's so much available locally," he said. Site workers have been setting aside stones, he said, to incorporate into the landscape or the home as needed.

Swinburne said the project was exciting for him professionally. "I've been pushing these ideas and principles for years now and now all of a sudden it's become mainstream. I don't feel like I'm alone anymore. Now, with fuel prices, is there a better way? Yes, we're ready for you."

One thing in this house that contrasts with norms is the bedroom spaces, Gunkel said, which will all be relatively small.

"The idea is you don't have to have huge bedrooms for everyone and just utilize the common space," he said. "We're not trying to avoid each other, we live together."

Nicole Orne can be reached at norne@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.


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