Thom Mills and his wife are turning their 170-year-old farmhouse into an energy-efficient home of the future.
The existing home plus a two-storey 2,000-square-foot addition feature several new green features and retrofits that, together, enable the house to achieve peak performance.
“When we started planning for the renovation, we knew that this was an opportunity to be environmentally conscious, which is how my family has always lived,” says Mills. “This is the home that I grew up in, and my parents live with us, so the house has a lot of history.”
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For an airtight envelope, the addition was constructed using insulated concrete forms (ICFs]. In the basement, three inches of insulation was laid prior to pouring the concrete slab, and the attic was insulated with a sprayed foam.
Improving the insulation of the existing part of the home proved more challenging. The house had undergone renovations in 1965, and the couple didn’t want to re-insulate the interior or insulate the exterior and lose the original brickwork. They decided to insulate the fieldstone walls in the basement and top up the insulation in the attic to an R-value of 15.
The better insulation, for both the addition and the existing home, reduced the home’s heating requirement by one-third.
“Once you’ve insulated well, then you can keep the heat in,” Mills says. “Next, you can consider some renewables for heating, such as passive solar energy.”
The existing home’s oil furnace was traded in for radiant floor heating for the three levels of the addition, a wall-hung propane boiler and fans that force air through the ductwork of the original house. Supplemental space heating comes in the form of two SolarSheat solar panels mounted on the homes’ exterior. Triple-pane low-E windows are framed not with vinyl but with fiberglass, a material that expands and contracts at the same rate as the glass so that there is no gaping.
Solar panels mounted on the ground supply 80 to 90% of the home’s hot water needs. This, combined with a grey-water system (for re-using laundry and dishwashing water) and a Power-Pipe drain-water heat recovery system (for capturing energy from heated hot water), has reduced both water consumption and energy use.
“The combination of all of these systems means that you can have a guilt-free shower,” Mills says. “Integrated mechanicals is an idea that you see more and more in the new-homes market.”
After three years of renovating, the structural and mechanical work for the home is complete, and work has begun on the interior. In keeping with the objective of conservation and country living, finishes will include flooring and beams made from wood that originated on the property. Low-VOC paint and other natural products will also be used.
Mills shares his research and experience in green building on his website: Green Home TV chronicles various stages of the renovation through articles and videos . Visitors can learn about the products and processes that were incorporated into the home.
“There are so many details to consider, and we wanted to provide this information to other homeowners,” Mills says. “Part of our message is that you want to insulate well, to heat less. Also, people should look at the products and techniques that can give them fairly immediate returns.”