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Connecticut Builders at the Forefront of Zero Energy Home Construction

Posted by Amber Schilberg, on behalf of Energize Connecticut on August 24, 2017
Connecticut Builders at the Forefront of Zero Energy Home Construction
Heinrichs Waystone Farm house.

Since 2009, Connecticut utilities Eversource and United Illuminating have provided a stage for builders to compete and showcase their newly-constructed super energy-efficient homes through Energize Connecticut’s Zero Energy Challenge (ZEC).

The Challenge has kick-started a new era of home building in Connecticut. Builders across the state have embraced the U.S. Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready standards and employed various building strategies such as Passive House building principals to meet these standards. Their devotion to transforming the state’s housing market has helped Connecticut earn a spot on Net-Zero Energy Coalition’s “Top 10 Zero Energy States and Provinces in the United States and Canada” list. Additionally, small Connecticut towns outrank major cities like Los Angeles for number of zero-energy homes.

These accomplishments have helped increase zero-energy construction awareness, and allowed Connecticut builders, such as Celebration Green Design & Build, Lehto Design/Build, Brookside Development and many others to flourish and continue to push the boundaries of energy-efficient residential construction, demonstrated by their award-winning 2016 ZEC entries.

Achieving Sustainable Living with Zero-Energy Construction

The Challenge’s 2016 overall winner, the Heinrich’s Waystone Farm, aimed to meet some specific goals, including:

  • Self-sustainability
  • Leaving a small carbon footprint
  • Being “off the grid” (once energy storage becomes more practical)
  • Improving the health and function of the family’s farm
  • Avoiding use of fossil fuels

To achieve these goals, Celebration Green Design & Build utilized the Passive Home building principals to maximize the home’s energy efficiency and gave special considerations to the home’s function as the farm’s homestead during the design process. The result was a home with:

  • A -8 HERS index rating saving the homeowners approximately 70 to 90 percent in annual energy costs
  • An extremely airtight envelope to prevent thermal bridging and minimize conditioned air loss with continuous insulation, even in the home’s cupola – a first for the builder
  • A balanced heat- and moisture-recovery ventilation (HRV) system and a minimal space conditioning system
  • Renewable energy sources – photovoltaic (PV) array and geothermal heat pump
  • A basement root cellar for cold food storage

Creatively Incorporating Zero-Energy on a Budget

Nick Lehto of Lehto Design/Build, a yearly ZEC contestant and experienced zero energy home builder, had specific budget parameters to consider when designing and developing Jeff and Sandy Alexander’s modern farmhouse. Together, they explored ways to creatively incorporate energy-efficiency and sustainable solutions into the home’s design, such as: 

  • Developing a streamlined design with the home’s kitchen, dining and great room as the focal point resulting in better air circulation and natural light
  • Constructing 12-inch thick walls for better insulation
  • Incorporating reclaimed airport and farm lighting fixtures, cabinets, countertop and pantry shelving fashioned from reclaimed barn wood
  • Weatherizing the home to withstand the Connecticut climate including a light-colored, standing seam metal roof, snow guards, galvanized steel gutters and a French drain system

Their combined innovative efforts helped achieve a 31 HERS rating before renewables, a 4 HERS rating with renewables, and win the Challenge’s Lowest HERS Index without Renewables category.

Transforming Connecticut’s Housing Market

While most Connecticut zero energy builders focus on custom-home design and building, Brookside Development is tackling the general housing market and creating demand for zero-energy residential construction with its Singer Village development – Connecticut’s first zero energy ready subdivision.

Their challenge: design and construct homes that are affordable enough to compete with the local housing market. Once again, Brookside met that challenge with its most recent home winning the ZEC’s “Most Affordable” category. The developer incorporated into the home:

  • A SunTegra Solar roof system, which operates as both a roof and solar product
  • A high-performance building envelope
  • A domestic water system designed to WaterSense standards
  • Super-efficient HVAC system, hot water, appliances and lights
  • Rain gardens providing storm water management

Additionally with energy-efficiency building information more accessible and an increase in awareness, homeowners are educating themselves on zero-energy construction and overseeing their home’s construction. While ZEC has occasionally had homeowners or novice contractors win in the past, the 2016 Challenge had two amateur general contractors enter the contest and win! Check out our next article for information on their builds.

 

This article is part of a series on Energize Connecticut's Zero Energy Challenge. To read the first blog and to learn more about this challenge, click here.

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