By John Clayton
February 17, 2009
Back in 1904 when he published his signature novel Green Mansions, it’s unlikely that author William Henry Hudson knew he was giving name to a coming environmental movement.
Green mansions—in fact, green homes of every size and dimension—are all the rage these days, as ecologically aware homeowners connect with specially trained and certified architects and builders to create living spaces that use less energy, water and natural resources, all in homes that are healthier and more comfortable for the occupants.
This once novel concept—Frank Lloyd Wright could be considered an early practitioner—is quickly becoming the industry norm. Here in New Hampshire, a gold-standard example is in Moultonborough Neck on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.
John Ferreira’s family’s getaway home is a five-thousand-square-foot rustic residence that is evocative of a traditional lake camp, even while incorporating contemporary elements of design and energy efficiency.
“When the Ferreiras first came to us,” says Chris Williams of Christopher P. Williams Architects of Meredith, “we knew they wanted a timber frame, we knew they wanted lots of natural stone, we knew they wanted really nice views of the lake. But they also wanted a degree of sophistication that we don’t see in all clients, and some of their sophisticated thinking was to approach the project in a way that embraced a newer, natural environment.”
Since Williams built his own passive solar house in the ’70s—“and it’s still functioning quite well,” he says—he’s long had an appreciation for energy efficiencies. In Phil Bennett, Williams had just the right architect on his staff to connect with the Ferreiras.
Bennett is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), but more germane here are the other letters that follow his name: LEED AP. This means Bennett has been accredited under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program run by the U.S. Green Building Council, which establishes the standards for environmentally sustainable construction. That expertise set well with the Ferreiras.
“When people ask why we wanted to build an energy-efficient home,” John says, “it’s because, one, we were concerned about the environment and felt we should do our part; two, we were concerned about rising oil prices; and, three, we realized that, although it required an upfront investment, it will pay huge dividends long term.”
And the Ferreiras are thinking long term. Although their primary residence is in Connecticut, the home on Moultonborough Neck is more than a summer place.
“We spend a majority of our free time and weekends together at the lake house,” John says of his wife Jennifer; their children, Allison and Alex; and—to use his term—their “very extended family.”
“In addition to hiking, skiing, boating and fishing in New Hampshire,” he adds, “as a family we greatly enjoy the more laid-back, down-to-earth atmosphere here. We were married here, and our kids have been coming to the lake since they were born, and we hope to someday retire at the house.”
Among other things, thinking green means year-round efficiencies in heating and cooling systems. Toward that end, the Ferreiras, in conjunction with Bennett and builder Bill Cargill from Cargill Construction in Campton, opted for a geothermal heating and cooling system. (Because of the firm’s expertise, Ultra Geothermal in Barrington was chosen to install all geothermal components.)
“To have a true geothermal system, you’d have to live near a geyser or in a place like Iceland where geothermal hot water is close to the surface,” Bennett explains, “so this system works with a heat pump.
“You heat the water to a useful temperature—somewhere in the 100- to 120-degree range—and then you circulate that water through a heat-delivery system in the house.”
Because the Ferreiras did not opt for a traditional heatdelivery system, such as a forced hot-air system, you won’t find any radiators, baseboards or convectors cluttering the interior living space.
“We chose to use radiant heat in all the floors throughout the house,” John says. “The advantage of radiant heat from the perspective of energy efficiency is that heat rises—that’s a law of physics, and you can’t change that. We have a lot of cathedral ceilings, so it takes a lot of heat using a traditional heat-delivery system before your body—only four feet off the floor—will feel any warmth.
“With a traditional system, that means you’re needlessly heating a tremendous amount of space, where, with radiant heat, the heat is right underneath the floor boards. Yes, it still rises, but it’s warmest just three-and-a-half to four feet off the floor, so it takes less energy and less heat to feel just as warm.”
By the same token, during the summer, cool water pushes cool air into the system, thereby maintaining comfort.
Bottom line? The Ferreiras estimate they will save more than 30 percent on bills that would have arisen from more traditional heating and cooling systems. By the Ferreiras’ calculations, the geothermal system will have paid for itself in six years.
Proper insulation helps throughout the year as well, and both John and Jennifer Ferreira can’t say enough about the work done by Cargill and lead project manager Eric Rubin. “The Cargill organization does fantastic work and was a pleasure to work with,” Jennifer says.
“The insulation we used was a product called Nu-Wool®,” Cargill says. “It’s a very tight, very efficient insulation. It’s wet, blown-in cellulose—100 percent recycled paper. The New Hampshire Electric Co-op said this house is one of the tightest homes they’ve ever tested.”
For the record, the insulation values at the Ferreira home are high—R-50 in all ceilings and R-21 in all walls. (The R-value measures the thermal resistance of a material to heat transfer. R-values are used to rate insulation products; the higher the R-value, the greater the insulation’s effectiveness.) These figures helped the house pass the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star rating with a grade of 5-Plus Stars, the highest energy-efficiency rating currently measured.
Other LEED-approved measures included the use of “natural materials with low-embodied energy,” according to Bennett.
“That requirement applies to the production of any material to be used in the building of the home and also to the transportation energy to get the material to the location,” he says, “so, for instance, we used wood that was locally sourced and much of the work was done with small power tools.”
The same thinking went into the use of local pine and fir for framing and finish work; native stone for archways and fireplaces; granite sink and countertops from Rumford Stone in Pembroke; and floor and bathroom tiles from Eden Tile of Moultonborough, according to Cargill’s wife, interior designer Therese Cargill.
Given all this care and attention, the Ferreiras have a home that is environmentally sound. But the equal care given to its aesthetics—both inside and out—make the home warm and welcoming.
The wavy green clapboards and green cedar shakes of the exterior hearken to an old-fashioned lake house. Gracefully muscular stone archways remind visitors of the nearness of the White Mountains, and the soaring expanse of the great room—where vast picture windows look out over Winnipesaukee—brings to mind a cathedral for the worship of nature.
Touches of whimsy also abound. In the loft railing, alternating vertical slats are carved with silhouettes of pine trees and canoe paddles. Also worth noting is the practical use of small nooks and crannies.
“Obviously,” Cargill says, “I think the initial thing that will strike people when they first walk in the house is the stonework. There’s the fieldstone fireplace and the arch that separates the kitchen foyer from the great room. And the great room is pretty spectacular, too, with the hammer-beam timber framing and the size of the timbers we used, but those are grand-scale things.
“One of the things I like—and we did a lot of it in the house—is little niches, cubbies and open little shelves all over the interior, which adds a lot of warmth and character to the house,” Cargill continues. “Instead of a blank wall or empty corner, here are shelves for books and photographs and personal mementoes that help bring that house together in comfortable way.”
So when the Ferreiras are in residence, they are warm and comfortable. They are also happy that they are doing their part to sustain the planet.
“Everyone needs a place to unwind and decompress,” John says. “We have a very, very large extended family, and want to be able to have a place where people can come and take advantage of all the things New Hampshire has to offer. And according to the final Energy Star test results on the house, we’ve reduced carbon dioxide emissions by more than thirteen tons per year. That’s a tremendous reduction in the carbon footprint.”
And another step closer to a cleaner, greener New Hampshire.
Original story appeared in New Hampshire Home, March/April 2009.