We’re a couple of city folks who moved to the country with dreams of pursuing a more sustainable lifestyle. This site documents the building of our net positive house (we hope to generate a bit more power than we consume each year). We were net positive for 2012, our first year in the house.

General Specs and Team

Location: Cambridge, NY
Bedrooms: 2
Bathrooms: 1
Living Space : 1,200 sqf conditioned space / 2,112 sqf enclosed space, including insulated but unheated basement
Estimated Cost (USD/sq. ft.): $142/sqf (estimated* = projected budget / enclosed space) *Not including significant site work.
Actual Cost (USD/sq. ft.): $142/sqf (actual* = $300,000 / 2,112 sq. ft.) *Not including significant site work or mortgage related expenses.

View the construction documents (1.7 Mb PDF). Updated 6 March 2011.

Completion Date: May 2011 November 2011 December 2011

Designers: Larry and Jill Burks (homeowners)
Builder/Contractor: Warren R. Coolidge
Energy consultants: DEAP Energy Group (Mike Duclos, Paul Eldrenkamp, Paul Panish)

Construction

Foundation: walkout basement
Under-slab insulation: R-30 (3 layers of 2″ XPS)
Foundation wall insulation: R-41 (2″ EPS + 9″ dense pack cellulose)
Walls: R-44 (12″ of dense pack cellulose)
Roof: R-75 (24″ of loose blown cellulose)
Windows: Accurate Dorwin triple-glazed fiberglass windows (Casements U-0.24/SHGC 0.47 south, U-0.20/SHGC 0.44 north, east & west) (Fixed U-0.22/SHGC 0.55 south)
Doors: ThermaTru fiberglass doors U-0.24
Air tightness: Shell test: 159 CFM (0.56 ACH) Final: 131 CFM (0.46 ACH or 0.03275 ELR) (see post, Shell blower door test results.)

Energy

Space heating: Mini-split Air source heat pump (Mitsubishi MSZ/MUZ-FE18NA), electric resistance backup
Domestic hot water: 50 gallon Marathon electric water heater
Air conditioning: Open the windows or Mini-split ASHP
Energy Star appliances and LED/CFL lighting.
Solar PV: 30 – 230-watt Solar photovoltaic modules, totaling 6900 watts of peak DC power. Fronius IG Plus 7.5-1 UNI Inverter. This system will provide approximately 682 kWh per month on average. (We produced 719 kWh on average per month for the first year.) See solar related posts.

HERS Index: 22 (see post, It’s official, we earned our 5+ Energy Star rating. But the result was not what we expected.)
Energy Star Score: 5+
Est. Space Heat Demand: 12,416 kBTU/yr.
Est. Total Source Energy: 55,231 kBTU/yr.
Est. Total Site Energy:  20,456 kBTU/yr. (5,995 kWh/yr.), Actual for 2012: 5,601 kWh.
Est. Hot Water Energy: 8,326 kBTU/yr. (2,440 kWh/yr.), Actual for 2012: 1,528 kWh.

Indoor Air Quality

Mechanical ventilation: UltimateAir RecoupAerator ERV

Green Materials and Resource Efficiency

  • Trees removed from site were milled for future barn framing, house stairs and trim. The remaining hardwoods were bartered as firewood.
  • Zero VOC paints (interior)
  • 1000 gallon rain water storage tank
  • Low-flow plumbing fixtures
  • Energy efficient appliances
  • LED & CFL lighting
  • Locally harvested and milled Brown Maple interior floors

19 Responses to “About”


  1. 1 Dan Gibson 2-September-2011 at 2:51 pm

    Hi Larry and Jill, I just discovered your blog when I was looking to see who had signed up for this year’s solar tour. The blog and your house are very impressive and neat. I am writing to introduce our new energy independence commuinity (opening late September), and to see if you might be interested in participating. You can learn a little about me and the house I’m building on my website. Let me know what you think. Cheers, Dan

    • 2 Larry 3-September-2011 at 7:07 am

      Hi Dan, thanks for your comments. I think we met last year. We visited your house as part of the NESEA Green House Tour, which we’re participating in this year in addition to the Solar Tour. I’ll email you to find out more about the energy independence community. Thanks again.

  2. 3 Dan Gibson 3-September-2011 at 7:19 am

    Oh, it is a smaller world than I thought. It is funny how our houses look the same. Unfortunately I have not been able to make as much progress as I had hoped. We have added the garage and PV (soon to connect to the grid) and a root cellar but little else this last year, so from the outside it still looks about the same. Yes please email me and I can send some details on the comming community. Cheers, Dan

  3. 4 Richard Lachance 15-November-2011 at 12:18 pm

    Larry and Jill, very impressive site. I began my own blog due to the absence of actual details for super insulated construction. One can find websites that discuss super insulation and passivHaus concepts, but few sites that are willing to share their plans or details and even fewer sites willing to share their actual building experiences. I feel your site will become one of the true landmark sites. Thank you. Richard

    • 5 Larry 16-November-2011 at 1:44 pm

      Thank you very much Richard. We spent some time pouring over your blog (nbsuperinsulatedhouse.blogspot.com) when were still in the early phase of construction. We enjoy documenting our thoughts and progress, and hope it helps more people contemplating building a new house to invest in a super insulated tight envelope. Thanks for reading!
      Larry & Jill

  4. 6 GDTLu 10-August-2012 at 8:47 pm

    Larry, It’s really hard to believe the little patch of Texas that we came from and that we share the same vision still. The house is amazing and that you are opening up your secret sauce to share with the rest of the world is exactly what I would have expected of you. I do hope that more and more people take this approach to their dwelling and adopt the notion that our abodes are merely tiny specks on the bigger home called Earth. Congrats and I am proud of you, amigo… Luis

    • 7 Larry 12-August-2012 at 11:49 am

      Thank you Luis, very much appreciated. Congrats to you and Kate on your amazing rehab and good luck on your next abode. Let us know if you need any secret sauce…

      • 8 Fred Forgey 20-August-2012 at 6:41 pm

        Larry & Luis,

        Great to see that you are both pursuing sustainability focused projects in your own lives…It is fascinating to me that we all have ended up with similar ideals as they relate to the built environment…You can get a sense of my sustainable real estate focus from my website and the blogs of my students and our study tours…

        All the best,

        Fred F.

  5. 9 Eric Tyira 7-March-2013 at 12:46 pm

    Hi Guys,

    My girlfriend just found your blog and we’ve been researching almost identically what you have accomplished. The blog has been great. We are currently looking for property in that stretch of NY between Albany and Lake George. I spent many weekends of my childhood in the Catskills.

    If I may ask, what do you do for income? Do you have adequate savings you lean on until the farm is up and running (if you plan to make it a profitable venture)? It’s all like a puzzle to us and we’re trying to find and make pieces fit.

    Any info would be helpful.

    Thanks!

    Eric

    • 10 Larry 10-March-2013 at 6:35 pm

      Hi Eric,

      That’s a great area to search, especially up near Lake George.

      In answer to your question, we both have full time jobs. I work from home and Jill has a publishing job about a half hour away.

      Farming is a hobby and educational experience for us, but we’re always scheming ways to transition at least part time to farming.

      You’re welcome to stop by for a visit. Good luck on your puzzle pieces.

      • 11 eric tyira 11-March-2013 at 9:00 am

        Hi Larry,

        We would love to swing by for a visit. We may be in your very neck of the woods this coming weekend (3/16-3/17) if you are around. Sorry ’bout the short notice.

        Could you email me your contact info?

        Thanks!

  6. 12 blevac 2-August-2013 at 11:20 pm

    Great blog thank you! Getting some great info I can apply to our Earthship build. We’ve had a couple of “what have we gotten ourselves into” days lately. Seeing your success has helped.

  7. 13 spartannah 19-October-2013 at 7:53 pm

    Hi Larry,
    Thank you for checking out our blog (spartanandhannah.wordpress.com). I imagine you smiled, much like I am right now looking at your blog! It seems we have followed similar paths. I think it is awesome when folks put up all this great information including detailed plans and analysis. I am sure that you have influenced more than a few people with it.
    Take care,
    Spartan

    • 14 Larry 20-October-2013 at 8:36 am

      Hi Spartan,

      Yes, I very much enjoyed looking through your site. You have a wonderful home. Looking forward to your continued updates. Congrats on a job well done!

      Larry

  8. 15 Brian 22-October-2013 at 9:15 pm

    Hi Larry,

    My wife and I are building a house in New Hampshire with energy efficiency in mind. Your site has been great inspiration. One decision we are currently making is attic ventilation. Our air seal will be at our 2nd story drywall ceiling and there will be r70 of cellulose in the ceiling joists.

    It seems like the best practice that we read about is soffit venting up to a ridge vent, but it looks like you went with gable vents? Do you also have a ridge vent in your roof?

    Our roof trusses are already on, roof is sheathed, and blocking is in….so just doing gable vents or gable&ridge vent would be easier, it seems. How did you come to decide on that attic venting approach? Did you feel your attic wouldn’t need the standard soffit to ridge vent because it won’t suffer the issues of poorly insulated and drafty houses? And more importantly, is it working out?

    Thanks so much for any insight.

    Brian

    • 16 Larry 23-October-2013 at 6:05 pm

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for the excellent question. There are several factors that drove our decision to use gable vents. Primarily, because of the 12″ thick walls and 25″ of cellulose in the attic, there is no easy way for heat from the inside of the house to melt snow on the roof and cause ice damns. We also have a steep metal roof, so ice damns are not so much a concern there either. The house is also very tight, so we don’t have a lot of moisture vapor escaping into the attic. That’s not a big issue either because gable vents work just as well as soffit and ridge vents for ventilating moisture that may build up in the attic. We have nice big gables, a vent looks nice there in an otherwise empty space. And finally, I was doing a lot of the work myself and just thought a gable vent would be easier.

      I don’t know your particular wall/roof connection detail, but if your design is similar to ours, you might be well suited to a gable vent.

      Let me know what you decide. And congrats on building an energy efficient house!

      Larry

  9. 18 Maria 10-December-2013 at 11:32 pm

    Hi! My husband and I are planning a very energy efficient house in the region and would like to use the mini split air sourced heat pumps. We would very much like to talk to you about your experience with them.

    • 19 Larry 11-December-2013 at 7:22 am

      Hi Maria, congratulations on your decision to build an energy efficient home. I’d be happy to discuss our experience with our air source heat pump. I’ll email you directly.


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