In Union with Nature Green Choices add up to a Healthy Home

By+Susan E. Miller

By June 15, Heather Reser hopes to have the keys to her new green home. The project, which started in November, 2008, has been challenging and rewarding to Reser in ways she hadn’t expected.

She has reached out to local craftsmen and designers to build a home she hopes will be as good for her family as it is for the natural world it inhabits.

In the 2008 summer/fall issue of Life + Spaces, the Reser home was introduced. With the home plans only on paper at that time, Reser said, “I have been an environmentalist for a long time. I never wanted to build a home.”

However, through reading about green building, Reser became interested in passive solar design, which ultimately made the decision to build rather than repurpose an existing home.

Now, about six months into the project, she said, “I still grapple with the fact we’re building a new home and one this large. I still would have liked to have remodeled.”

Mixed emotions aside, she is thrilled with the opportunity to make a difference through her choices. “I’m excited to have people interested and know that we’re inspiring them,” she said.

In the Beginning

The first step of the project was to clear the lot of a small number of sassafras, maple, and walnut trees. The hardwoods were logged and a carpenter in Syracuse, Indiana, is making a fireplace mantel and milling lumber to be used in the house. The remaining trees on the north side of the house serve as a wind block.

Framing got underway in February, and the Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) were put in place. A 6.5- inch thick SIP has an R-value of R-42. Standard 2-inch x 6-inch walls have R-19.

Since March, Reser has been busy with lighting selections, floor finishes, and countertops. Choosing green materials is somewhat easier, she said, because you have fewer choices. At a certain point, she said, “It got overwhelming.”

For the builder, the early part of the process was a bit more involved than anticipated. “The exploration process for all options has taken longer than I expected,” said Blake Taelman, vice president of Signature Homes.

Budget Creep

Before the project ever began, Reser knew the biggest challenge would be to stay on budget and anticipated it would cost 5-10 percent more than a conventional home. Adjusting for personal taste has had an unexpected impact on their budget. “Everything changed,” she said. On the positive side of the balance sheet, the heating and air conditioning system was resized. So, instead of needing two heating units, they only need one.

Lighting choices have been more costly than expected to ensure LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System™) certification. A certain number of Energy Star bulbs are required (the easy part), but the fixtures choices are limited and expensive. “They do tend to be more expensive options, but they (manufacturers) are working to close the gap,” Taelman said.

The Details

The home is heated by active solar panels and geothermal heating. One addition – and cost savings – to the original plan is a solar hot water heater. With the new 30 percent federal tax credit (raised from 10 percent) that is part of the new Stimulus bill signed on Feb. 17, 2009, Reser decided to install this appliance.

For flooring, their carpenter located 200-year-old pine boards from a Studebaker manufacturing building. They are researching whether or not they were contaminated and can be used.
LEED Certification

Reser was initially concerned the size of their home might not meet LEED requirements. However, they will obtain Silver level and possibly gold if they add a few more features like an exhaust vent in the garage.

With every decision she makes and every item checked off the list, the home is becoming more than just an idea on paper. “It feels more real and it is exciting. But, it is pretty stressful,” she said.