From the stained-glass front door made of recycled movie-set wood to the river stones set in a wavy pattern in the flooring around a downstairs toilet, an Efland couple’s home is both a work of art and an exercise in green building.
Nicole Librandi and Bill Brown built their passive-solar, Craftsman-style home five years ago on 10 acres in the Triple Creek Farms subdivision. In making the decision to move from Vermont to North Carolina to be closer to grandchildren, they also made the decision to build a more environmentally friendly house.
“We wanted to build an energy-efficient house. That was the main focus,” Librandi said. “We just thought that if we built a green house, it would have less of an impact on the environment. We’re using natural products. We’re not introducing more poisons into the air. We’re not drawing heavily from the energy grid. It just seemed to be a responsible way to go about building a house.”
Librandi estimates they spend about $50 a month for electricity for their 2,800-square-foot home, which features an oversized garage and detached 1,200-square-foot woodshop. Their stove and woodshop’s heating system rely on gas, which costs an estimated $30 extra per month.
In addition to Energy Star appliances, solar panels that heat their water and a wood stove in the living room, the following contribute to the home’s low power costs:
Siting: The couple shopped around to find a parcel of land that would allow them to position the house to take advantage of the sun’s rays, which largely heats the two-story home. In winter, the home’s southern exposure and roof angle allow a large amount of light to come through the lower level’s open living space. Insulated windows and an overhang help keep the house cool in the summertime.
“Where the house is located is critical,” Librandi said. “A lot of times, people don’t even think about that.”
On this particular winter morning, with a high temperature of 54 degrees later that day, Librandi had opened a few windows on both floors. The thermostat read 73 degrees. “We haven’t turned the heat on this winter,” she said. “And I think we may have turned the air conditioning on a couple of times last year.”
Insulation: The house, built on a concrete slab, holds heat well. Additionally, the tile floors and stone chimney absorb heat. Throughout the day, the mass of stone collects heat and radiates it in the evening. The use of spray foam insulation, Icynene, throughout the house also increases the home’s thermal resistance, giving it R-values of 30 in the walls and 50 in the roof versus the standard values of 19 and 30.
Circulation: The house is designed to move the sun’s heat throughout the home. Fans are sited to circulate heat, and a small door on the upper portion of a wall in the master bedroom can be opened to allow heat to circulate in from the living area and nearby chimney.
Wood and wheatboard
In addition to energy-efficient features and the use of low-VOC paints throughout the house, the house also features much wood, which adds to the beauty of the home. Brown, a cabinet maker, bought enough cherry while in Vermont to build the home’s baseboards, trim and window casements. The home’s railings also are made of cherry. Hickory is used for the flooring and stairs, and Brown built the home’s kitchen cabinets with birch.
“We wanted to do recycled, but it’s very expensive,” Librandi said of the flooring.
Interior Doors: The custom-made interior doors feature a cherry exterior and a wheatboard core. The wheatboard, made from recycled wheat stalks, has no added urea formaldehyde and requires less energy to create than wood particle board. It also is cheaper to transport and has better moisture resistance than wood particle board.
Recycled Front Door: The front door features a stained glass design that Librandi created to be a cross between the prairie and Frank Lloyd Wright styles. It also was made from wood recycled from the “Titanic” movie set.
“It turns out when you work on a film, a lot of stuff is left there or distributed to the crew,” said Librandi, whose brother-in-law led one of the building crews in Mexico that was building the ship for the film. Her husband built a dining room table for her brother-in-law with the wood and used leftovers for the door.
Green Mantelpiece: Although it had been easy to find a handhewn beam in Vermont for their former house, the builder for the couple’s current house had trouble finding such a beam locally. In the end, Vernon Little, a contractor for Anchorage Building Corp., made a beam to serve as the couple’s chimney mantle.
“This was from a tree that had fallen on the grounds around Bennett College,” Librandi said. “He and a friend pulled the wood out, cut it into that shape, and then they went at it with a saw and beat it up.”
The couple spent much time researching builders and finding materials for the house.
“It was not that we wanted to lowball everything, but we wanted to get everything that we could at the best price,” Librandi said.
They accomplished that in a number of areas:
Passive-solar house: The couple chose to save on upfront costs by not investing in a completely solar heated home.
“If we were much younger, we might have done that because there’s a turnaround over a certain number of years,” Librandi said.
Pre-drawn house plans: Having gone through an experience in Vermont of hiring an architect and then not going through with the building plans because of higher than expected costs, they chose not to hire an architect this time and instead buy pre-drawn plans that could be given to a builder.
They searched for plans by browsing the Internet for “architectural house plans” and “solar homes.” Then they researched the designers of the plans they liked. They ended up buying a plan called “Solstice” from architect Debra Rucker Coleman of Sun Plans for about $2,500.
“We made some small changes to the design, but we basically didn’t have to do much,” Librandi said. “It was great. We had tremendous savings. We’re getting the architect’s service and getting a home that’s what we’re looking for.”
Fiber cement siding: They chose CertainTeed fiber cement siding over wood siding because it requires little maintenance and is not susceptible to termites and rot.
“I did not want it,” Librandi recalled. “I wanted cedar shakes, and the builder and my husband said, ‘You really need to look at the cement board product.’ And so I couldn’t argue anymore.”