Custom Houses: Sustainable Second Homes

Designed as getaways for their eco-conscious owners, these homes are built to last for generations. 

May 09, 2014

When the client works side-by-side with the builder and architect from beginning to end, satisfaction is practically assured. These two vacation homes were a true collaborative effort, making the most of their idyllic settings while fulfilling design objectives and reaching high levels of sustainability. 

Skier’s paradise

Greg and Beth Bookwalter have been fans of timber frame construction since they built their primary residence in Ohio. “I watched an OakBridge timber frame going up and thought it was just the coolest thing ever,” Greg says.
 
OakBridge Timber Framing maximized views from this home in Crested Butte, Colo., by putting the garage on the lower level. White-oak framing and structural insulated panels make timber frame construction well suited to the high elevation and cold temperatures. Photos: Roger Wade Photography/OakBridge Timber Framing
 
When the Bookwalters decided to build a vacation home in Crested Butte, Colo., they turned once again to OakBridge Timber Framing of Howard, Ohio. Beth had been injured in a 1999 horseback-riding accident and needed the home to be fully accessible. The OakBridge design team incorporated such features as an elevator, roll-in showers, custom-height countertops and 3-foot doorways. “There are no steps to the garage or the porches,” Greg says. “Everything [is designed] to make life easy for her.”
 
The 2,740-square-foot home has a ski-lodge look in keeping with the location, and can accommodate up to 10 overnight guests. The floor plan includes 3.5 baths and a loft area with a full bath that sleeps six. The master suite is on the main level along with a large, open kitchen, dining room, and great room. “My wife hates garage doors on the front of the house, so we put the garage on the lower level,” Greg says. The couple can drive into their garage and take the elevator upstairs without being exposed to cold, snow, and ice.
 
A dark floor tile was used in the kitchen to absorb the sun’s heat during the day and release it at night, and thermal window blinds are closed in the evening. These features help keep the house warm without turning up the thermostat.
 
OakBridge surveyed the 90-by-150-foot corner lot and sited the home to capture a sublime view of Crested Butte Mountain from the great room. By putting the garage on the lower level, designers were also able to capture views from other parts of the house, says OakBridge’s Johnny Miller.
 
There are significant benefits to timber frame construction in Crested Butte, with its base elevation of 9,375 feet. “Structural insulated panels (SIPs) offer great stability at high elevations where it gets very cold,” Miller says. The Bookwalter home can sustain 70-pound snow loads—the highest snow-load OakBridge has ever encountered—and the white-oak framing and other building materials are very weather resistant. “If you keep a timber frame home dry, it will last for hundreds of years,” he says.
 
Accessible features such as an elevator and wider doorways and hallways make it easier for Beth, who is physically challenged, to get around.
 
The home has 14-inch SIPs in the ceilings and 10-inch panels in the walls. Miller notes that SIPs eliminate the problem of cold corners. “In a conventionally built home, from the floor to the peak there’s typically a variation of 15 to 20 degrees in temperature. In timber frame homes, the variation is only 3 degrees, so they’re very comfortable.”
 
Greg adds that his heating bills are, at the most, $100 per month. Dark tile in the kitchen soaks up heat from the windows during the day and releases it at night. Thermal window blinds can be closed at night for heat retention. 
 
Here’s what it’s all about: views of pristine mountains and valleys from the deck off the kitchen.
 
OakBridge prefabricates the wall panels in its Ohio wood shop. Once the frame is done, says Miller, it takes about two weeks to get the walls up and completely insulated. That’s a savings in construction time of approximately 25 percent.
 
Greg and Beth had a substantial amount of wood shipped from Ohio because there are so few hardwood trees west of the Mississippi. Recycled barn timbers were used on the second floor. “They’re 100-year-old maple beams that were pulled out of barns and re-sawn into 2-by-6 pine planks, finished on both sides,” Greg says. “They make the home feel rustic.”
 
The floor plan is keyed to a large, open kitchen, dining room, and great room. The loft area has a full bath and sleeps six people. 
 
The stairs are also made from recycled barn beams—4-inch-thick, old virgin timber. After an ice storm damaged cherry trees on the Bookwalters’ Ohio property, Greg had them milled and sent to Colorado to be used as flooring on the main level.
 
When the Bookwalters are not in Colorado, they rent their home to physically challenged individuals. Eventually they plan to retire there. 

Staycation on the lake

Fiber-cement siding and fieldstone veneer were used to clad the exterior of the EarthCraft-certified home. Photos: Sarina Roth/Never The Rock Photography
 
Lew and Leslie Miller had always dreamed about building a home. In 2006, they bought a one-third-acre lot on Georgia’s Lake Lanier and finished the house seven years later. The 4,000-square-foot home has four bedrooms, four baths, a walk-out terrace offering unobstructed views of the lake, and an outdoor gathering area surrounding a fire ring. There are also such creature comforts as a sauna, steam room, and hot tub; an exercise room; a screened porch; and a gourmet kitchen. The Millers call it Ventanas al Cielo (Windows to Heaven).
 
But this home is anything but wasteful, says Lew. “Our goal at the outset was to build an EarthCraft-certified home,” he says. “We were determined to keep electricity usage to a minimum.”
 
The master bath has a tiled steam shower, a wood tub, and built-in shelving units. The frosted-glass picture window lets in sunlight without compromising privacy.
 
The lakefront site faces due south, making it ideal for solar-energy production via photovoltaic (PV) panels and a solar domestic hot-water system. The home consumes less energy than it feeds back to the power grid through net metering, and has a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index rating of 9. “It’s definitely the best HERS rating of any home I’ve built to date,” says Curtis Peart, principal of Atlanta-based Front Porch. 
 
The foyer has a dramatic, curved eyebrow dormer. An art-glass transom over the front door is yet another Craftsman detail.
 
Architect Steve Kemp, principal of Kemp Hall Studio, Atlanta, helped the Millers capture their vision for a Craftsman-style home with large, open living spaces flanked by bedrooms. “We wanted to use every single room,” Leslie says. The site slopes about 30 feet from the street to the property line and another 30 to 50 feet down to the water. Kemp and Peart made sure the house was oriented to capture the best lake views without having to build an overly steep driveway. 
 
The Millers designed the original plans on CAD, and Lew was one of the project managers. “We were deeply involved in every detail,” he says. Kemp says the design process was a true collaboration involving himself, the clients, Peart, and the trade contractors. “We discussed cost versus sustainability and where that magic meeting point was. Every discussion involved budget and aesthetics.”
 
A covered front porch welcomes visitors. The exposed rafter tails and the wood columns, on their stone pedestals, are signature elements of Craftsman style.
 
In 2013, Ventanas al Cielo won OBIE Awards from the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association for Best Green Home and Best EarthCraft House. It’s a reflection of the Millers’ commitment to help save the planet, but on a more personal level, it’s the perfect place for a “staycation.”  

Soaring to new heights of green

The great room is suffused with natural light from curved eyebrow dormers at each end of the home. The fireplace is fueled by propane.
 
Ventanas al Cielo (Windows to Heaven), Lew and Leslie Miller’s vacation home on Georgia’s Lake Lanier, is more than a place to get away. It’s practically a laboratory for the latest green-building techniques. Key features of the EarthCraft-certified home include:
 
Advanced framing using 2-by-6 studs and 2-by-10 rafters, allowing for 50-percent more insulation
Open-cell insulation in the main attic, which stays at a relatively constant 75 degrees
9 kW solar PV system
80-gallon, closed-loop solar domestic hot water system
Concrete/fly ash exterior siding 
High-grade reflective double-pane, argon-filled windows
Propane-fired fireplaces, gas stove, fire pit, and standby generator
State-of-the-art home management, utility management, and security systems
LED and CFL lighting
Low/no-VOC materials
Dual-flush toilets and low-flow water fixtures
Repurposed/reclaimed furniture CB
 

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