OneDegreeTV: Building Net Zero Homes

We had the chance to spend some time at a remarkable new development in Hinesburg, Vermont, where contractor Chuck Reiss (Reiss Building & Renovation) and architect Rolf Kielman (Truex Cullins & Partners) are leading the way in building tomorrow’s homes today. Set on 24 acres of prime agricultural land on the outskirts of town (not far from Burlington), the South Farm homes have been designed and built to be “net zero,” meaning they will produce all the energy they need on site.

The land was bought in partnership by Vermont Building Resources (which Reiss formed along with a limited pool of like-minded investors) and the Russell Family Farm, and the goal was to ensure a modest but responsible development of this 24 acre parcel. Fourteen acres were set aside for continued farming, while a cluster of six passive/active solar homes was built on a portion of the land’s southern facing slope.

As Kielman points out, the principle of orienting a home on a piece of land to maximize efficiency is not a new concept. “You can go back to some of the basic principles involved in Greek town planning,” Kielman says, “you go to Delphi for example…all these Greek communities sit in these south facing bowls…and this was a perfect south facing bowl,…we could shelve all of these houses into the hillside, put most of the glass to the southside,…it’s a little like a tree, the way it sort of searches for the sunlight to sustain itself.”

Beyond positioning, Reiss and Kielman had to consider a range of factors to help reduce the homes’ overall energy load, including tightening the envelopes (limiting the homes to 1500-2000 square feet), using locally sourced materials where possible and introducing triple pane windows. Other environmental features include geo-thermal heating, radiant concrete floors, super insulated walls and roofs, active PV solar panels and significant south facing glass, which provides solar gain and great views down the valley.

The homes have been certified by the Vermont Builds Green program, which recognized the development’s conservation of agricultural soils and wetlands, location within 3 miles of a school and food store, building design (built into the hillside and with a roof oriented for maximum solar exposure) and its energy rating.

The homes will actually produce more energy than they use, making them each a little utility company.
“Green Mountain Power charges 13 cents per kilowatt hour,” Reiss explains. “It buys back electricity at 6 cents above that rate,…and when rates go up, the house earns more.”

“One of our goals was to say, ‘look, you can do this. This is not something that’s happening in the future.” I personally feel if we can demonstrate that with a subdivision of six homes, I don’t see why we’re building any other way.”

For more, check out the project’s brochure.

View the video on youtube or vimeo.

  • Tags: Carbon Footprint, Friends of LTT, Green Initiatives, One Degree TV, Places, Simple Change, Technology, Waste

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