Hudson Valley Home Fall 2011: First Green, Passive House in New York State Constructed in Claverack (Columbia County), NY
An architect committed to sustainable living designs an extremely green home that almost heats itself
(page 2 of 2)
A bedroom (above) and dressing room/den (right) in the loft have roof windows, both for light and as a way out in case of an emergency. The architects added cheerful colors to the walls for fun
When the house was finished, Wedlick arranged to have it inspected for certification. “The NYSERDA people came with their piece of machinery — it’s like a giant fan that measures how much air is escaping — and they were like, ‘Oh damn, it’s broken,’ ” Wedlick says with delight. “They kicked it a few times. It wasn’t broken. The house is actually four times tighter than required.” In fact, it set a new record for air tightness.
“Photovoltaics, wind, and geothermal technologies are touted as the answer, but green energy alone is not the solution,” Wedlick says. “With thermal dynamics, you’re not relying on technology that can break down. If you adopt passive techniques, you’re investing in the science, which is forever, as opposed to the toys, which have moving parts that break. A solar panel is only as efficient as the pristine-ness of its surface. When it gets dirty, it loses efficiency.”
You don’t have to sacrifice looks, either. “I’m just as proud of its aesthetics,” Wedlick notes. “I designed it so that people would feel good inside.” At 1,650 square feet, the house is compact but feels roomy. From outside, it resembles one of the Valley’s old stone barns — a Wedlick hallmark is design that suits the landscape. Inside, bow-arch beams frame a soaring ceiling that peaks at 22 feet; a dramatic south-facing wall of thermal windows adds a sense of spaciousness as well as takes advantage of the sun’s heat. The main living space, with its open kitchen, incorporates organic materials: a satiny poured-concrete floor, lots of wood, glass tiles, marble countertops, stainless steel appliances.
For efficiency, the kitchen and two bathrooms are back to back, with a master bedroom and a large, stroll-in closet in the rear. Not an inch of potential storage space goes to waste; there’s even a nifty shallow drawer above the fridge. A study and two bedrooms occupy the second floor loft. It’s such an appealing layout that, rather than sell the house, Bill Stratton and his wife are considering moving in.
Both bathrooms use a mix of marble and recycled glass tiles. Low-flow faucets and fittings are by Waterworks. Designing the kitchen and bathrooms back-to-back so that they could share a single hot water tank was another key component of energy efficiency
It costs about the same to construct a passive house as it does any custom-built house — and there’s the problem. “Most families don’t have the resources to pay for an architect and engineering,” Wedlick remarks. But, he says, if you buy a conventional home, “you might spend $4,000 a year in energy consumption. This house costs $400 a year. If you can invest in the long term, the passive house is such a big return,” both financially and in conserving our dwindling resources.
Wedlick’s goal is to get developers interested. “We want to take what we learned and demonstrate how the technology can be applied to new designs with hardly any cost increase,” he says. “You’re rarely given an opportunity to talk about the art of building, so I’m bragging about what buildings can be.”
Award-winning architect Dennis Wedlick, who worked for many years with Philip Johnson, is known for his high-quality, Earth-friendly designs. He is the author of several books, including Designing the Good Home, and Good House Parts. His master plan for Claverack Homesteads, sited not far from the passive house in Columbia County, reflects his commitment to creating homes that blend modern ideas about sustainability with classic good looks that suit the setting. Wedlick has a house in Kinderhook.
Dennis Wedlick Architect LLC
85 Worth St., New York, NY
Hudson River Studio
17 N. Fourth St., Ste. 1N, Hudson, NY
Bill Stratton Building Company
630 Highland Rd., Old Chatham, NY