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Our Historic Solar & Green Home Project

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House 1

Note: This house is on the 2013 Solar & Green Building Tour.
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Photos by Randall Perry.

After Paul’s retirement in 2009 we were looking for a project.  The vacant dilapidated 1830’s Peter’s Lockrow farm house was brought to our attention.  Even though we found animals living in the house and the roof had holes in it we could see that the house had good bones. (We are saps for sad looking historic houses)  We set down three priority goals. First, keep the historic, integrity of the house. The home was deemed historic by the Town of Clifton Park, based on the historic significance of the person who originally built the house thus it could not be destroyed.  So we needed to keep the home’s historic character.  Secondly, build with green or sustainable and environmentally friendly products.  We feel strongly that we should tread as light on our Earth as possible.   Lastly we wanted to make enough energy for our living needs or in other words, have a net zero energy home.

We had heard about LEEDS and NAHB guidelines so we read and researched about them as a basis for our rehabilitation decision making process.  The more we read the more we were excited about the possibilities the home had to offer.Panels in back

What made this house appeal to us was its siting and location.  There is a bike path that leads to our town center adjacent to our back yard and the park and ride lot for commuting to the tri-city area, is less than 4 miles away, both within bike riding distance.  On a sunny day the shadow cast by the noon sun lies directly in the cracks between the living room floor boards indicating a perfect southern exposure alignment. 

We started the planning process with Trudeau Architects pllc. and PlumbExcel Engineering to quantify the design and budget.  Existing conditions were drawn to establish a baseline and plan our project.  We tried to implement the ideas we researched and read about to obtain our goals.   We drew on knowledge from the Building Science Corporation, Builders Guide to Cold Climates by Joseph Lstiburek, A Healthy House by Paula Baker-Laporte, Erica Elliott, and John Banta , as well as other resources.  Throughout the project, we utilized local sustainable products as best we could.

Next we arranged financing and obtained permits.  As we started the process, NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) announced a program to assist with compliance with green home building.  This assistance applied to our solar installation and adherence with green home building practices.  This provided encouragement for us that we were going in the right direction.  To comply with NYSERDA’s documentation requirement, we hired Steven Winters Associates and worked with Carla Donnelly their Senior Sustainability Consultant, as our rating agency for LEED for Homes, NGBS, and HERS Rater.   Also at this time, we researched appropriate barn styles to replace the 1960’s era garage and found one designed by Donald J. Berg, AIA that fit the style and period of the home.  Throughout this process we consulted with the Town of Clifton Park Historic Preservation Commission for advice and support in design features such as the barn, fenestrations, trim and landscaping. 

Demolition began in early 2010.  As usual, for a project that was unoccupied for 10 years, we had major bumps in the road.  These hidden problems included structural column damage, inadequate roof structures, missing and compromised foundation, rotted sill plates and structural members. To correct past architectural error and to stay in the Greek revival style we had to correct previous 1960’s renovation work.   Additionally we had to deal with overgrown trees and shrubs that had inundated the property.

BedroomAn attempt was made to recycle or reuse as much of the demolition material as possible to minimize waste.  The old kitchen cabinets are being reused in the barn as tool and material storage, concrete was recycled, all nails were pulled from wood and both were recycled or reused, trees were chipped and used as grown cover, excess construction material was donated to Albany Historic Foundation or Habitat for Humanity.  Metals, plastics, paper, glass were all recycled at our town’s recycling center. 

Construction started by replacing structural elements with similarly sized materials from the local lumber mills. We had to repoint and rebuild many parts of the foundation. The exterior of the new foundation was covered with Platon, by Certain Teed, for waterproofing, in lieu of using a petroleum based product. The basement crawl spaces and basement walls were encapsulated with a 24 gauge plastic liner to prevent moisture migration.  FSC wood was used throughout the rehabilitation and new construction. The design required that we inset the interior walls a minimum of three inches to establish a double off set stud wall to increase depth to accommodate R-52 soy based closed cell foam insulation.  A conscience effort was made to not use any product containing formaldehyde. The home has a HERS rating of 7, with 2.5 air changes /hr. @ 50 Pascals.  The roof design, because of increased snow loading with the extra closed cell foam insulation (R-86), required us to replace the structural members or otherwise augment the structure to accommodate the additional snow load.  Standing seam metal roofing was determined to be historically correct for that period and we chose an EPA rated “cool roof” made of recycled metal. We used a Strong Seal recycled rubber tire roof underlayment by CETCO on all roofs.  The entire fascia needed to be rebuilt due to increased insulation on top of the roof decking.

The original south facing windows were reused since they were in good condition.  Interior magnetic storms windows were added.  The exterior storm windows were repaired and rebuilt giving us 3 layers of glazing. The original wood front door was weather stripped and reused keeping the southern front façade in historic style.  The remaining windows and doors were not reusable and were replaced with Energy Star rated Marvin casement windows and Energy Star rated doors.

The porches needed to be replaced and was done so with period looking columns, Miritec composite trim and composite decking were used.  Siding was replaced on three sides of the building with local pine siding from a local lumber yard. 

Interior trim was reused or replaced with reproduced copies from local lumber mill.  A tin ceiling was found under a drop ceiling in the living room and was restored.  American Clay which is a green natural product was applied to either newly installed wall board or existing plaster walls and low VOC paint was used on interior trim and the ceilings.  Existing pine floors were hand sanded and left in place.  Reclaimed pine floor boards were used in the kitchen and dining area because of excessive damage to the original floor.  All wood floors were covered with Vermont Coatings Polywhey, a latex and non VOC product.  Linoleum was used to cover the floor in all bathrooms, and local Vermont slate flooring was used in entryways.  New kitchen and bath cabinets were crafted by a local Amish carpenter using local oak.  All cabinets were coated with Vermont Coatings Polywhey.  All countertops were made of Paper Stone, a green product made using recycled paper and resin.  All interior doors were either reused or found at the local Historic Albany Foundation Architectural Parts Warehouse as well as used period hinges and door knobs.  An office desk and shelving were built out of flooring and roof boards from the original structure.  Insulated Comfortex shades were added to all but the south facing windows to increase energy efficiency.

As a part of the major renovation, all of the utility systems were replaced.  PEX tubing was used with a manifold to supply water to all Water Sense (EPA program) fixtures throughout the home including dual flush water closets in the two and a half bathrooms.  ABS piping was used for all drains as an alternative to PVC piping.  A Velux SRCC certified solar hot water system provides domestic hot water.  Excess heat produced by this system is funneled into the ground source heat pump well.  Back at dusk

The building’s new grid tied electric system is supplied by an 8.4 KW photovoltaic pole mounted system (40, 210 watt Evergreen panels from Massachusetts).  We produce more electricity than needed to run our entire house.  One reason we obtained excess electricity is that all light fixtures are either Energy Star or otherwise supplied with CFL bulbs.  Several fixtures use LED bulbs.   Energy Star appliances are used throughout except for the magnetic induction/convection range which uses less energy than standard electric ranges.  Ceiling fans and the kitchen range exhaust are also Energy Star rated.  For clothes drying we use either interior drying racks in the winter or exterior solar clothes lines for the rest of the year.

The Climate Master Energy Star rated ground source heat pump provides all heating and air conditioning for the 2100 square foot house.   A Life Breath heat recovery ventilator runs continuously to provide adequate ventilation.  A whole house Energy Star dehumidifier provides comfortable humidity levels. Excess electricity is being utilized to provide fuel for our 2012 Nissan LEAF.

The exterior landscaping is minimal in order to efficiently use energy, water, and be organic.  Grade was sloped away from the foundation of the house with a water barrier and stones.  Trees were removed that were either too close to house or blocked the PV panels.  The trees were chipped and used as ground cover around perimeter of house to reduce grass cutting and water use.  A majority of the lot is left natural.  Vegetable gardens were built to help provide organic food, using natural compost as a fertilizer. Pesticides and other synthetic herbicides or not used anywhere in or around the house. Two bee hives provide pollination for the organic gardens as well as honey and wax for our use.  Two rain barrels were installed off the rear of the barn to provide water to the gardens.  A new driveway and turn around were provided using natural stone in lieu of asphalt and to minimize runoff and erosion.  Local Vermont slate was used for sidewalks and a patio area.  

Based on our restoration, green and energy efforts we were awarded LEED’s Platinum, NAHB Emerald level green building, New York Energy Star, and EPA indoor Air Plus certificates and the 2011 Clifton Park Historic Preservation Award.

We have been living in our healthy, comfortably and energy efficient home since January 2011.  The first year we had a surplus of 2500 KWH of electricity which we sold back to our utility.

Because of our restoration efforts, the Town of Clifton Park, through their Historic Conservation Easement Program, has awarded us a 95% tax easement on all town, county and school taxes for the next 25 years.  In exchange for this benefit we agree to care and maintain the historic nature of our home for its protection.

We have produced an educational program outlining our project and have presented it to several organizations. We have opened our house for a number of local and national tours viewed by individuals and groups throughout the year.

So to date, we have met all three of our goals for this wonderful home.

View 2007 video of home project, courtsey of Christian Grieco and Optimus One LLC.

Joanne Coons is a Clifton Park Central Schools science teacher and a solar advocate. She can be reached by comments to this blog or through member email.

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