Sustainability Report

We had many goals at the outset of our project with regard to sustainability. Many, like utilizing local wood, had to be dropped due to either the expense or the challenge for me as a first time builder, but many more were also seen through. Below, I have compiled a list of accomplishments on the topic of sustainability organized by operational use of the home and energy input into construction, followed by areas that we could’ve improved upon.

  • Operational energy use lowered by:
    • Super-insulation and super air tight
    • Passive solar design to reduce energy use; all but one living spaces have southern exposure
    • Smaller design means the home will use less energy (1500 SF home)
    • Preserve the mature silver maple tree located on the west side of the house to provide summer time shade
    • Above ground root cellar cooled by winter air (not yet finished)
    • Indoor clothes drying
    • Decrease conditioned space by sealing off mudroom
    • Heat recovery ventilation; air intake located on southern face
    • White metal roof reflects summer heat and is recyclable
    • Solar hot water system
    • PV system produces more electricity than the home uses
  • Energy input into construction lowered by:
    • Used less concrete shallow frost protected foundation, no foundation
    • Used less drywall: wood ceilings in 50% of home, avoided using 5/8″ thick drywall on exterior walls
    • Reclaimed/recycled materials
      • granite counter top off cuts and remnants for the first floor floor
      • second market windows, doors, and siding
      • recycled kitchen cabinets
      • cellulose insulation for walls and roof comes from recycled newspapers
      • foam board for foundation insulation is now in its second life
      • sinks are all in second life
      • stove and refrigerator are in their second life
      • bathroom tile: mostly left-overs from other jobs
      • bathroom slate floor: discarded show-room examples
      • ceiling fan and some light fixtures from Renew Salvage
    • Local wood for porch and entryway; black locust
  • Site-work related sustainability
    • Infill development
    • Trees from site milled into lumber, inoculated with mushroom spore, and given away as cordwood
    • Local landscapers and arborists dropped off free leaves and wood chips to keep dust down and remediate soils
  • Areas for improvement
    • Opposing argument to new construction: Renovation is a lower carbon footprint, but current economics make it much more expensive than new construction
    • Gray water use is regulated under building codes and was a challenge and expense that I wasn’t up for
    • Due to mis-communication with the contractor, excess soils were removed from the site
    • We used kiln dried wood from the lumber yard. As a first time builder I wasn’t up for the challenge of using green wood. Also, it was going to add 10% to the cost of lumber. Furthermore, Massachusetts requires all lumber to be graded. There are exceptions for “certified” local mills, but there aren’t many sawyers who have the certification.
    • Strawbale was considered, but was ruled out for a variety of reasons:
      • Research shows that it doesn”t provide a high enough R-value
      • As a first time builder, it would’ve posed a larger than acceptable challenge
      • Building codes do not provide for strawbale construction
    • New kinds of drywall are being developed that do not require heat curing, none were available
    • Rain water collection needs to be added
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