Real Estate

A green legacy

Portrait of homeowners Susan Preston Gunn and husband Dee Gunn outside of their sustainable/green built home in the Walnut Cove community off of New Hope Rd., Orange county,  by the late local builder John Hartley.PHOTO BY HARRY LYNCH
Portrait of homeowners Susan Preston Gunn and husband Dee Gunn outside of their sustainable/green built home in the Walnut Cove community off of New Hope Rd., Orange county, by the late local builder John Hartley.PHOTO BY HARRY LYNCH hlynch@newsobserver.com

At 4,100 square feet, Dee Gunn and Susan Preston Gunn’s Orange County home manages to display an elegance that is both casual and cozy — and green.The house in the Walnut Cove development, surrounded by Triangle Land Conservancy property, is the last house to be designed and built by local architect John Hartley, who died in June.“John designed and built beautiful homes,” Preston Gunn says. “From almost every room of the house you feel as if you’re surrounded by the natural elements.”Built on a sloped, wooded lot, the house features a walkout basement and first and second floors that seem perched in the treetops. The feeling is even more apparent when standing on the portion of the wraparound deck that pushes out into a V over the woodland. The deck, with plate glass instead of ballisters under the railing, is just one of the many design features that bear Hartley’s mark and his desire to blend structures with their natural environment.“He was an unbelievably spectacular builder,” Gunn says.The couple, who married two years ago, moved into their home in March. They seem to love every inch of it — from the see-through gas fireplaces to the wood ceilings, stone mantle and extraordinary, colorful mosaic (complete with a small bud vase and glass shelves) on the sunroom fireplace outside their bedroom. But what they love most may be the home’s sustainable features.“There are a lot of things you can do that are just remarkably easy,” Gunn says.Check out some of the many green features in the couple’s home.

Easy Ways to Be Green

Reflective Roof — The roof is reflective aluminum, which is guaranteed for 50 years and helps keep the home’s radiant heating low by reflecting the sun’s rays outward. Light or reflective colors that do not absorb heat well are best, with white roofs estimated to cut energy use by 10 percent. Design and Layout of Windows — The house is positioned for southern exposure from the sun, with the home’s most lived-in areas on the south side where the majority of light comes in.“You want to maximize the amount of light you have coming in on the south side,” Gunn says. “That’s why everything’s open, because you don’t want to be far away from a good light source.”The home’s north-side rooms lack walls to take advantage of sunlight from the great room and kitchen.Because the house has no west-facing window and just a few east-facing windows to catch morning light, there is little radiant heating of the house. As few trees as possible were removed from the property, and the windows on the south side were designed with overhangs specifically calculated for this region to take advantage of the less-intense sunlight in the winter and to deflect the more intense sunlight in the summer.Gunn determined the size of the south-facing windows and overhang by using a tool on the Web site of the Seattle-based consulting firm Sustainable By Design, www.susdesign.com.“It lets you put in your region and calculates your longitude and latitude and where the sun’s rays are going to be throughout the year,” Preston Gunn says. Recessed LED Lights — The house features about 50 to 60 6-inch recessed LED lights, which are available now in a soft light that can be dimmed down to 5 percent. Cree’s EcoSmart LED Downlight uses 10.5 watts and takes the place of 65-watt canister lights. It uses about 85 percent less energy than a comparable incandescent light and 50 percent less than a fluorescent. The LED is designed to last about 32 years with three hours of daily use. The lights also come in their own casing, saving the cost of a reflector unit.“And they don’t produce the same heat as traditional bulbs so your rooms stay cooler,” Preston Gunn says. Cork Flooring — Half of the house’s flooring is cork, a sustainable building material that is soft on the joints. Pricewise, the flooring is about the same as tile, the couple notes. Landscape Choices — The couple chose to have no lawn, eliminating use of fertilizers that would end up in the groundwater. They also chose not to have an irrigation system. Instead they are hand-watering plants for the first few years, then will leave the plants on their own.With the help of Alan Johnson Landscaping, they have chosen plants that are as deer resistant and adaptable to the native environment as possible as deer make it difficult to have more native plants on site. Deer-resistant Gardenia radicans was used around the front porch. Native river oats will hide the septic tanks. They also selected shrubs that give an informal natural look and that require little pruning when mature, reducing energy input. Native shrubs used are American beautyberry, Summersweet Clethra and the evergreen Illicium parviflorum. These shrubs and native and nonnative perennials that the couple will plant will provide habitat and food for native pollinators.

Other Sustainable Features

Photovoltaic Cells — The two-car garage, which is on the northernmost part of the lot and receives the most sun, has a slanted roof with photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into energy. Such systems often are set up on brackets to take in as much light as possible. The slant of the couple’s roof achieves the same goal and gives a look they both like. In addition to tax incentives for the solar panels, the couple receives monthly credits from Piedmont Electric Membership Corp. as well as rebates from the state incentive program N.C. GreenPower based on the amount of power produced. Gunn estimates they will have recouped the cost of the cells within seven years. They plan to install the second half of the cells, to cover the entire roof, next year. High Level of Insulation — Making use of the slope of the land, the house is partially subterranean, with bedrooms and a recreation area in the basement. That floor stayed 72 degrees all summer, even when the outdoor temperature was 103.“I suppose that if you want a truly energy-efficient house, you should build it underground!” Preston Gunn says.The house also features double-glass windows and blown foam insulation in the roof, ceilings and walls. Geothermal System — This heating and cooling system uses water, circulated from three wells underground, to transfer heat. The water, which comes out of the ground at 55 degrees, is a better conductor of heat than air, as evidenced by the couple’s low utility bills. Until July, their power bills were $30. Their highest bill, during the heat of summer, was $150.As a byproduct of the system, the couple has a supply of preheated water, which cuts down on the work their water heater has to do. Alternative Septic System — The two-tank treatment system uses ultraviolet light to treat effluent before it is released through drip irrigation into the soil. Unlike traditional systems that require leach fields, no trees had to be sacrificed. Besides being environmentally friendly, the alternative system allowed the couple to build on a lot that wouldn’t perk.

Got a remodeling story to suggest? Or would you like to see a particular aspect of remodeling featured? Contact Catherine Wright at catherine.wright@gmail.com.
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