Others have used the term “house for life” and we couldn’t agree more with that concept. This house was built with the best, most cost effective list of sustainable/durable materials we could find in 2011-2012 after countless hours (years) of product research and three consecutive years of consultations with manufacturers at the annual International Builders Show (IBS).
The concept for creating the ROSE Cottage Project started many years prior to actually procuring the site, as it took almost 2-1/2 years to close on the purchase of the property. Once the closing took place in September of 2010, we immediately engaged a logger and a site contractor in October to clear trees, rough in a 700' long access drive, and rough prep the building site. Work was shut down in December 2010. The next 6 months were used to complete the final design, select and specify materials, engage contractors, and prepare to commence with construction. During that time period, the owner, architect, engineers, and builders worked closely together to refine and finalize the design of the project. Site work resumed in July, 2011 and the house was occupied in August, 2012 .......roughly a year later. The first structure to be erected was the detached carriage style garage/barn, which allowed us to install the 13.8kw PV installation and go on-line with Unitil on December 10, 2011 ........and from that point forward we were building using our own solar power!
Design for Adaptability:
Our commitment to creating a flexible design that can fit the needs of several types of multi-generational occupants is a perfect match to the investment in a zero net energy home that generates as much energy from renewable sources, as it uses. Not everything needs to be built day one, but the ability to easily add or change a building needs to be well understood in advance. Grab bars, shower seats, and automatic door openers (the list goes on) may never be needed, but they do need to be planned for. Sometimes planning means blocking, sometimes it means pre-wiring, but mostly it requires spatially thinking ahead.
One story aging-in-place living is accomplished on the upper at-grade level. Given the extraordinary expense of assisted care and/or nursing home living, a modest investment in making a new home suitable for people to grow old in adds significant value to the home. A stacked washer-dryer laundry area across from the first floor powder room is sufficient to serve an older couple if/when the larger, lower level laundry room is no longer an option due to physical limitations. The garage has an extended depth and houses a dry cold storage room, as well as a 4′ wide ramp up the three steps to the entry area. The garage width is also enlarged for easier car egress and mobility. Groceries can be “wheeled” in using a simple 2-wheel, lightweight, aluminum cart. The outdoor spa is sunken into the deck with an inclined grab bar to facilitate an older person’s easy entry, and the deck is roofed over to facilitate year round, all-weather use.
All of the passage doors on both levels are 36″ wide (34″ for pocket doors). The large NanaWall folding/sliding door to the 3-season room has an ADA threshold, and there is no step down from the interior space to the 3-season room. Space has been allocated in the home for wheelchair mobility and access. Simple ramps can be easily added later (if required) to transition the 8″ differential height from the home’s interior to the outside elevated rear deck. Pre-wiring and blocking has been included to allow for automatic door operator systems to be installed later (if required) on the entry door from the garage which already incorporates an ADA threshold.
Since we are already focusing on an aging-in-place design, the lower level can be immediately used as a one level, two bedroom, in-law suite or caregiver suite by using all the lower level finished space as a “two family” style, two bedroom apartment. It can also transform into a one bedroom caregiver suite by adding one simple straight partition wall to divide the large “gathering” space area in half; thereby splitting up the lower level space for dual use between upper and lower occupants, each side having one bedroom. The multi-purpose gathering space already has a compact, fully functioning kitchen along one wall, along with a combination of carpeting and porcelain floor tile for mixed use. Laundry, bathroom, and storage space all exist on the same lower level. Direct access and parking for the lower level is also provided at the rear of the home. Alternatively, the same space could be used immediately for a younger extended family. There is ample outdoor living space at each level (deck or patio).
On the energy front, a concrete foundation was built with 4 embedded threaded anchor bolts, next to the detached garage to allow the addition of a wind turbine in the future, if desired. The electrical interconnection would occur immediately at that location as well. There is a dedicated circuit in the attached 2-car garage for EV charging, if desired. Additionally, there is an outside circuit panel located in the rear of the building at the lower grade level, if someone wanted to expand the development of the outdoor living spaces in some manner.
General modeling information:
REM/Rate software for Energy Star Rating
Outcome of project goals:
The project, known as the ROSE Cottage Project, was the first to be undertaken using the “ROSE Construction Method” plan for developing zero net energy homes. It is featured on the RCMZeroEnergy.com website www.RCMZeroEnergy.com and Facebook page www.Facebook.com/RCMZeroEnergy to share the knowledge and explain reasons behind the approach. The purpose of both are to educate owners, designers, builders, and developers to the how’s and why’s of undertaking high performance residential construction that starts with high performance enclosure design and ends with renewable energy technologies. If anything is certain, it is the uncertainty of the energy markets over the past 40+ years, and that is likely to continue. Assumptions inevitably prove to be wrong on energy pricing. There has to be reasons to design and build high performance projects like this other than the pure economics of energy pricing, because you have to assume too much. The recent advances in natural gas and crude oil fracking in the United States may change the energy landscape once again, as it relates the commodity pricing of fuel and electricity. We could be on the cusp of a prolonged period of relatively “cheap” energy again for some markets, or maybe not. So, unless you are automatically stuck with using propane, oil or grid electricity, we all have to discover the inherit benefits of sustainable, energy efficient living that go past the simple return on investment (ROI), because the economic benefits alone can change as fast as the stock market.
The owner developed this project to demonstrate that there are in fact many aspects of a zero net energy or near zero net energy project approach that have far reaching benefits beyond ROI. Our experience shows that without ever reaching into our renewable power bag of tricks, or double wall construction, to get to net zero; below 60 on the HERS index is readily achievable on just about any site with just about any style home with the right approach to enclosure design regarding air tightness, thermal performance, and efficient use of energy. Sixty (60) is really the starting point that any homeowner should ask for and any builder should strive for; however, getting there will take a great deal of education to the how’s and why’s of enclosure construction. Most renewable energy options that we currently have at our disposal can be planned for later inclusion into a project and can be economically added to a project at a later date based upon the cost of energy, or the owner’s ability to fund the extra costs of eliminating their fuel supply. Saying it another way, do it for the ROI when energy prices rise, or do it when you can afford it, or both. For these reasons, and many more that we hope to continue to demonstrate on the website: do it now if you can afford to, and hopefully do it later if you can’t.
We don’t have all the answers and there is no ONE way to accomplish the end goals. But the more high performance projects that are designed and built; the greater the knowledge base; the easier it will be; and the lower it will cost for everyone. The market will change. Construction practices will change. Owners will purchase a better product if it is available. We will be more efficient and we will use fewer resources.
Actual performance has exceeded predicted performance to date, requiring no changes to the project. The project has banked electrical energy (below zero net) for each of the first three full years of operation (2013, 2014, 2015), and we see nothing midway through 2016 to change that course.