Boston Home Spring 2010: Blueprint: Going Greener: Hillary Geronemus

How one couple rebuilt their summer home while reducing its environmental impact.

The Project
Tessa and Dan English’s 980-square-foot Cape Cod vacation home needed a major renovation to accommodate year-round living. Because Tessa’s parents had built the house in 1954 to be as green as possible, finding the right designer was important. Tessa knew when she met with Boston’s Zero Energy Design in 2006 that she’d found a firm that could continue her family’s low-impact tradition. After much deliberation, she and Dan decided to raze the original house and create a completely winterized home.

The Construction
North Eastham–based contractor Cape Associates, which had recently completed an eco-friendly house nearby, worked with Zero Energy to salvage as much of the original house’s material as possible, including the decking, landscape pavers, and interior doors. Other pieces of the first house were recovered by friends for use in their own homes. From start to finish, construction took only eight months. “I was so surprised at how smooth the whole process was,” says Tessa.

The Details
Because of the house’s location—on blustery Pilgrim Lake in Orleans—it had to meet stringent wind-load codes. This meant installing impact-resistant windows and a firmer wall structure than usual. Zero Energy wrapped the home’s bulked-up exterior in rigid insulation board and used spray-foam insulation to seal wall cavities. Before the house was finished, the family decided to create one more window in the living room; the last-minute change added much-needed light (and a great view).

The Result

The new 2,000-square-foot, two-story house—which added a bedroom, bathroom, office, roof deck, porch, and insulated basement to the original house’s plan—only took up an additional 225 square feet on the site. The second-story deck, made from Forest Stewardship Council–certified garapa wood, affords better views of the lake than the original one-story house did, and provides outdoor space for entertaining. Together, the solar panels, radiant heating, high-efficiency boiler, and Energy Star appliances save the family an estimated $3,500 per year in energy costs compared with a conventional house of the same size.

The Bottom Line
While Zero Energy had a hand in just about everything—from the home’s layout to the kitchen cabinets—the green roof design was Tessa’s idea. Paying homage to her mother, a botanist, she chose native plants, such as sedum neon and green spruce, that will bloom at different times of the year. When Zero Energy architect Stephanie Horowitz suggested bright red, low-VOC exterior paint, the family was a little skeptical. But after a well-timed trip to Mexico, where boldly colored houses are the norm, Tessa came around. “Because our ancestors came from Scotland, my parents named the house Suleskerry, which means ‘go island,'” says Tessa. “Now we joke that it’s Suleskerry La Hacienda. And we couldn’t be happier here.”