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The High-Performance House, Part 8: Almost There

Rona Easton and Lonn Combs of EASTON+COMBS, the award-winning architectural office based in New Marlborough, Mass. have allowed Rural Intelligence to look over their shoulders (and those of their client) throughout the construction process of a high-performance home going up right now. This is the eighth installment in a series that is giving us a lens into the building of an energy efficient house in Egremont, Mass.

View from the north

To recap: Last fall we broke ground on a house commissioned by a homeowner who requested a “house that would not use fossil fuels, and would be resilient in a variety of scenarios.” We’ve shared our process with Rural Intelligence readers throughout the year and now, finally, the house is nearing completion, both on the exterior and interior. The exterior metal is almost completely installed, and the bridge between the two buildings is in fabrication, to be delivered and installed within the next month.

View of the south.

View of the west facade.

The west facade.

 

The entrance canopy, waiting for the deck that will soon be installed.

The entrance canopies, fabricated by digifabshop in Hudson look fantastic. Our design priority was to provide shelter at the entrance doors, and to do it with subtlety, which we achieved by a straightforward design attached to the house wall. We kept it in metal, painted to match the building finish.

Light floods the house.

We continue to see and wonder at the full effect of the skylights and large windows, which flood the interior with sun and light all day. It’s hard to imagine that lighting would ever be used before dark. These hot days give us our first taste of the environmental impact of the high-performing building envelope. The house is cool and comfortable — without any air conditioning; it’s quite a shock when you step outside to the heat.

The skylight in the master bathroom, an interior space with no window, brings warmth to the space not possible with artificial light. The sky is visible from the shower, and you never lose your connection to the outside.

 

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/12/17 at 11:51 AM • Permalink

The High-Performance House, Part 7: Here Comes The Light

Rona Easton and Lonn Combs of EASTON+COMBS, the award-winning architectural office based in New Marlborough, Mass. have allowed Rural Intelligence to look over their shoulders (and those of their client) throughout the construction process of a high-performance home going up right now. This is the seventh installment of eight (or so — this is construction, after all) in a series that is giving us a lens into the building of an energy efficient house in Egremont, Mass.

The exterior metal finish moves towards completion.

The installation of the robust, maintenance-free metal finish is moving ahead. It’s a surprisingly economical solution, offering “serious bang for your buck” according to Jim Cervone of Little Deer Construction, the General Contractor. It’s amazing to watch the installers from Wooliver, the metal fabricators, fold the steel like master origamists folding paper.


The windows are surrounded by a folded metal edge and sill that sheds water and provides a visual frame around the openings.

On the interior, all the infrastructure we don’t see in a finished home is steadily finding its place — heating, cooling and ventilation ducts, electrical cables. More notably, the skylights are in, flooding the interior with natural light and its well-documented psychological benefits (as well as decreasing the need to turn on the lights).



We have strategically located the skylights against walls, reflecting the light and maximizing its presence in the space. Designed to appear frameless, they provide direct and uninterrupted connection to the sky.

The house is filed with natural light, even on a cloudy day.

The skylight in the kitchen.

Coming up: Interior finishes and the bridge connection between the buildings.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/05/17 at 08:32 PM • Permalink

The High-Performance House, Part 6: The Facade Takes Shape

Rona Easton and Lonn Combs of EASTON+COMBS, the award-winning architectural office based in New Marlborough, Mass. have allowed Rural Intelligence to look over their shoulders (and those of their client) throughout the construction process of a high-performance home going up right now. This is the sixth installment of eight (or so — this is construction, after all) in a series that is giving us a lens into the building of an energy efficient house in Egremont, Mass.

If you read our previous installment in this series on the Smart Wall, you will remember how the so-called rain screen, or ventilated facade, plays a critical role in the environmental performance of the house.

As we said, controlling moisture and preventing mold build up is the fundamental challenge of our new, high performance walls. An exterior rain screen — a ventilation space between the wall sheathing and exterior finish — is one of the keys.

Mock-up built to study wall assembly. This diagram illustrates how the ventilated facade supports the successful performance of the wall.

Now we can begin to see the the outermost layer of the rain screen, and the building, take shape. The metal is being installed on the wood battens on both the roof and the walls, and looks stunning. In addition to playing a vital environmental role, the metal also provides a maintenance-free finish; no need to stress over a significant repainting bill in 10 years.

Garage/studio building with metal roof and facade.









The complications, and maintenance, of gutters and roof overhangs are avoided because the system passively manages water rather than trying at all costs to repel it, much to our client’s liking “I’ve found the experience of maintaining a house extremely frustrating, and wanted my new house to be very low-maintenance,” she said. “I don’t want to have to find someone to clean my gutters ever again!”

All of the details, including at the roof eaves and around the windows, have been carefully developed to allow air flow into the ventilation space and at the same time shed water.

 

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/12/17 at 02:18 PM • Permalink

The RuraList Sings The Blues (On Trend For Spring)

If you follow color trends, you know that “Greenery” is Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2017. It’s “a refreshing and revitalizing shade, symbolic of new beginnings,” says the color forecasting institute.

But perhaps we’re not quite at the “new beginnings” just yet, because that leafy hue hasn’t quite hit the market (at least not around here). And while Pantone’s Greenery might be an interesting yellow-green, the trend forecast is all about the blues — all shades from sapphire to teals and soft baby blues that can range from the dramatic to the beachy.

“Next to neutrals, there’s no easier hue to work with than blue,” says Lori Thorpe Rasmus, an interior designer at Paul Rich & Sons in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, Mass. Since spring can’t come soon enough, we asked Rasmus to tell us why we should be planning to put some blue (the color, not the feeling) in our homes now.

1. Famously calming and peaceful, blue can have very different effects on a room depending on its temperature.

2. Blue removes pretension from formal living area. There are formal aspects to the room vignette here, from the crisp chrome tables to the clean lines of the sofa, yet it still feels inviting.

Room setting from Paul Rich & Sons.

3. Various shades of blue work well together and don’t overwhelm the space. When treating lighter blues as neutrals, you still have the flexibility to accent with bold pillows, accessories and rugs in shades of blue or warmer colors like yellows and anything in the red family.

4. Shades known as cool blues – like cobalt, turquoise and ice blue – have yellow in them and tend to recede, which can help a small space look bigger.

“In my mind, there’s no such thing as too much blue,” Rasmus says. “You can’t be stressed out in a blue room; it invites a sense of tranquility. Blue-on-blue can feel right as rain, as well as remind us of a gorgeous summer sky.”

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/13/17 at 09:51 PM • Permalink

The High-Performance House, Part 5: Revelations

Rona Easton and Lonn Combs of EASTON+COMBS, the award-winning architectural office based in New Marlborough, Mass. have allowed Rural Intelligence to look over their shoulders (and those of their client) throughout the construction process of a high-performance home going up right now. This is the fifth installment of eight (or so — this is construction, after all) in a series that is giving us a lens into the building of an energy efficient house in Egremont, Mass.

One of our priorities as we developed the design of this house was to carefully locate and size windows to frame the views of the beautiful wooded site and its dramatic rock outcrops, and to allow in an abundance of natural light and solar gain. These visual connections to the outside connect the occupant at all times with the landscape, and the bright and spacious interior is being seen now that the windows are installed. We’re pleased that this has become evident to our client, who wrote to us that she is thrilled with “things that you were able to imagine in the initial design.”


All of the triple-glazed windows have been installed and the metal exterior finish has started. The finish on the roof will also be installed on the walls.


The orientation of the house prevents excessive heat gain in summer and maximizes it in winter.


The main living space looking towards the entrance to the left of the entrance vestibule core, and the kitchen to the right.


Left: the rear entrance to the right and the kitchen ahead. Right: Looking past the bathroom core to the master bedroom. Once drywall is attached to the frame on the walls and ceiling, it will form a service cavity for all electrical wiring, avoiding puncturing the interior moisture control wrap (Intello).

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/06/17 at 10:01 AM • Permalink

The High-Performance Home, Part 4: Windows And Wraps

Rona Easton and Lonn Combs of EASTON+COMBS, the award-winning architectural office based in New Marlborough, Mass. have allowed Rural Intelligence to look over their shoulders (and those of their client) throughout the construction process of a high-performance home going up right now. This is the second installment of eight (or so — this is construction, after all) in a series that is giving us a lens into the building of an energy efficient house in Egremont, Mass.

Most of the triple-glazed, European-style windows have been installed.

Some days on site this last month, it truly felt like the depths of winter, reminding us of the advantages of triple-glazed windows. It doesn’t matter how high the wall performance is; windows just have a lower insulating capacity. In fact, an average double-glazed window insulates to about 1/13th the level of our wall assembly, and even well installed windows will feel cold (although this is actually convection, not a draft). Triple-glazed windows perform about twice as well as double, enough so that you can sit comfortably in front of them in winter.

View of the house from the south.

View of the house from the north.




The interior is beginning to take shape while the installation of the windows proceeds. The interior wrap has been attached to the building frame and taped, and the cellulose insulation will be installed soon. (Cellulose is one of the oldest types of insulation — a fill that is blown into the wall, rather than laid in like a blanket. Modern cellulose is made from recycled newspaper, treated with a fire retardant and a non-toxic chemical that repels insects.)

The European-style “tilt and turn” triple-glazed windows provide further value in their engineered, thermally broken frames. On the left is the tilt position and on the right is the turn.

The interior wrap has been installed. As part of the wall assembly the wrap will control moisture movement through the wall — in both directions — making sure none is trapped in the wall.



Next, installation of the standing seam metal roof and façade will begin, forming the exterior face of the rainscreen.

Windows in the kitchen provide south and west light and views.

 

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/09/17 at 07:23 PM • Permalink

The High-Performance Home, Part 3: The Rainscreen

Rona Easton and Lonn Combs of EASTON+COMBS, the award-winning architectural office based in New Marlborough, Mass. have allowed Rural Intelligence to look over their shoulders (and those of their client) throughout the construction process of a high-performance home going up right now. This is the second installment of eight (or so — this is construction, after all) in a series that is giving us a lens into the building of an energy efficient house in Egremont, Mass.

The exterior wrap is on and the house is closed in.

By Rona Easton and Lonn Combs

The site has been quiet this month, but the exterior plywood and the smart building membrane, or wrap, are in place (holes in the wrap to be cut later for windows), closing in the building and allowing interior framing to proceed.  We are looking forward to the upcoming delivery and installation of the triple-glazed windows.

Interior work can begin.

The exterior metal wall finish will be attached to the battens (the long strips of wood on the roof and soon the walls) which create a gap, or cavity, between the smart membrane and the finish, creating what is known as a rainscreen system — a key, passive environmental system that mediates between the exterior climatic conditions and the exterior wall.

Mockup built to study wall assembly.

The image at left shows a full-scale mockup we built to study the roof eaves at the corner of the building. The continuous, horizontal ventilation gap where the wall meets the roof is small, only half of an inch, but it is enough to allow air movement and small enough to minimize bulk water entering the cavity.

The complications, and maintenance, of gutters and roof overhangs are avoided because the system passively manages water rather than trying at all costs to repel it, much to our client’s liking. “I’ve found the experience of maintaining a house extremely frustrating, and wanted my new house to be very low-maintenance,” she told us. “I don’t want to have to find someone to clean my gutters ever again!”

As with the entire exterior wall assembly, the rainscreen system is another example of what we like to call an essentialist approach to design, where simplicity and practicality align perfectly not only with a beautiful aesthetic but also a finely tuned and efficient functionality.

 

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/28/16 at 02:04 PM • Permalink

NWCT Kitchen Tour Expands To Include Food At Every Stop

By Shawn Hartley Hancock

The organizers of the popular kitchen tour in Northwest Connecticut have evolved their event, now in its 14th year, from an architectural OMG (who doesn’t like to walk through a gorgeous kitchen, or two, or six?), into a veritable moveable feast. Wise and down-to-earth tour organizers, by offering gourmet nibbles at every stop – think the snap of a radish or the rich aroma of a butternut squash soup – remind us of the original purpose of the kitchen, not as a place to gloat about fancy appliances or expensive cabinets, but as a place to prepare and enjoy food with family and friends. 

Upcoming on Saturday, Nov. 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the tour features a wonderfully diverse group of kitchens in the towns of Kent, Sharon and Lakeville, including a thoughtfully updated 1930s cottage kitchen, a restored 1810 Colonial with its original butler’s pantry, and even the grange kitchen of Hotchkiss School’s Fairfield Farm, complete with breathtaking views. The kitchen tour is a benefit for the Housatonic Musical Theatre Society, whose production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” is scheduled for next March.

Ticketholders will be greeted with delicious examples of great cooking, baking and preserving at every kitchen, as well as special demonstrations by local chefs and area food producers, thanks to the efforts of Deborah Nugent, the tour’s food chair for the last four years. “Deb networks with lots of area restaurants and caterers to arrange for donated gourmet nibbles at each kitchen,” says event co-chair Laurie Wadsworth. The group started adding food to the tour four years ago. “It was a pretty low-key effort initially, started by parent volunteers,” says Wadsworth. “But it’s Deb who has upped the ante.” It’s no joke that the nametag Wadsworth writes out for Nugent is “Foodie Extraordinaire.” 

The variety and inventiveness of the gourmet offerings seems to improve every year, if that’s even possible. On Saturday, homeowner Bill Littauer, whose kitchen is on the tour, will bake various breads and croissant throughout the day (ahhh, the aroma!), pairing his fresh-from-the-oven samples with organic fruit jams from Adamah Organic Farms. (Adamah will also make its dilly beans and pickles available for sampling and purchase.) At the Hotchkiss Fairfield Farm kitchen, members of the Hotchkiss Apiery Society will demonstrate how to make lip-balm from noon to 2 p.m. 

In addition to gourmet cheeses from Bull’s Bridge Inn and sandwich wraps from La Bonne’s, the Falls Village Inn will offer its grilled saucy shrimp, chef Susan Wolfe-Hill will make her vegetarian nori rolls, and Gifford’s will feature a new dish: chili-seared filet of beef on crostini with horseradish sour cream.

Favorites like The Marketplace Café’s chicken satay and the Villager Restaurant’s chicken wrapped in bacon with sweet and sour sauce join new dishes from Jam Food Shop (chicken chili), and Fife ‘n Drum (roasted cauliflower and sunchoke bisque). Dressings and marinades will be available for sampling from Krazy for Kazu, and Kent Coffee & Chocolate Company will offer a selection of chocolates and chocolate-covered fruit. 

Door prizes include contributions from the Inn at 34 in Hudson, NY, Millbrook Winery, Salisbury Pharmacy, Harney & Sons Tea, Salisbury Wines, Stateline Liquors, artist Colleen McGuire, the Pink Cloud Gallery, Jolie Maison and North Elm Home.

Local businesses sponsoring the kitchen tour and the March musical production include Belter Builders, Best & Cavallaro Real Estate, Churchill Building Company, Elyse Harney Real Estate, Herrington’s, Lindell Fuels, Inc., Mountainside, Northeast Radiology, Salisbury Bank, Sharon Hospital, Torrington Savings Bank, and William Perotti & Sons, Inc.

So now, you can come as hungry for tasty nibbles as you are for ideas and inspiration.

2016 Kitchen Tour to benefit Housatonic Musical Theatre Society
Saturday, Nov. 5, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Tickets, $40, available online in advance, as well as on tour day, and at the Salisbury Pharmacy, Kent Apothecary, and the Sharon Pharmacy. Tickets are also available at any of the kitchens on the tour.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/01/16 at 10:11 AM • Permalink

The High-Performance Home, Part 2: The Smart Wall

Rona Easton and Lonn Combs of EASTON+COMBS, the award-winning architectural office based in New Marlborough, Mass. have allowed Rural Intelligence to look over their shoulders (and those of their client) throughout the construction process of a high-performance home going up right now. This is the second installment of eight (or so — this is construction, after all) in a series that is giving us a lens into the building of an energy efficient house in Egremont, Mass.

Framing is going up fast.

By Rona Easton and Lonn Combs

“As I get older, I’m trying to simplify things,” our client has said, and that sentiment informs everything we do as architects. As the house framing quickly goes up, our focus turns to walls and the challenge of this mantra of simplicity within the complexities of construction.

Walls are a lot more complicated than you may think. Of course, they provide shelter and enclosure, but now they do a whole lot more and so they’ve had to step up their game and get really smart. As mediators between the outside environment and our heavily controlled interiors, walls need to multitask like never before, while also being aware of what is required of them in different seasons and climates, and being able to behave accordingly.

The rules of the game changed even further with the advent of airtight, heavily insulated buildings designed to stop the escape of energy. With thicker insulation, moisture moves through more slowly and the air tightness closes down the escape routes. Controlling moisture and preventing mold buildup is the fundamental challenge of our new, high-performance walls.

Mockup built to study wall assembly.

In the Egremont house, the exterior walls are over 16” thick, comprised of several important layers. It is hygroscopic, meaning that any moisture that gets in will be controlled and dispelled. You can think of it as a modern hiking or skiing jacket — it insulates and protects from rain while also breathing and allowing moisture to escape. It does this through several well-considered layers: thick insulation between the 12” vertical joists, smart membranes (high-tech membranes that know which way the moisture wants to move and know when it should be blocked or allowed to pass), and a ventilation space between the wall sheathing and exterior finish.

With such a thick wall, and so many layers performing different, essential functions, the I-joist structural system brings simplicity where there would otherwise be even more layers, most typically a double stud system which is essentially a typical timber framed exterior wall built twice, one outside the other.


Left: Garage/studio building. Right: Interior of the studio.

The I-joist system is also very builder and engineer friendly. Jason Smith of Frame to Finish, the sub-contractor to our GC, Little Deer Construction, loves this wall. With considerable expertise in traditional and advanced framing, he was thrilled with the ease and speed of erection, and the straightness and stability of the frame. There was no need for him to provide the usual temporary bracing to prevent the frame from buckling. Our structural engineer, Chad Lindberg of Taconic Engineering, loves the structural efficiency of the I-joists as wall studs, and the creative solutions this allows him. 


Framing is up in the main house and trusses were erected in less than two hours.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/24/16 at 09:40 AM • Permalink

The High-Performance Home, Step By Step, Part 1

Rendering of exterior view of house from the north, with the main house on the right and the garage/studio on the left.

Judging by the number of clicks we get on our Real Estate pages each week, it’s pretty obvious that many (do we dare say most?) of us in the Rural Intelligence region actively engage in what some call real estate porn. So when EASTON+COMBS, the award-winning architectural office based in New Marlborough, Mass. told us about a project they’ve started working on, we had a thought: Could we look over their shoulders (and those of their client) throughout the construction process? Rona Easton and Lonn Combs, with the permission of their client, said yes. This is the first installment of eight (or so — this is construction, after all) in a series that will give us a window — and door, and much more — into the building of a high-performance house in Egremont, Mass.

By Rona Easton and Lonn Combs

Lonn Combs and Rona Easton.

Our client, formerly of NYC and now living in Sheffield, desired a “house that would not use fossil fuels, and would be resilient in a variety of scenarios.” After extensively researching the housing market in the region, she made the decision to build rather than buy a home with those qualifications. There were few listings for high-performance homes that provide comfort, durability and low annual energy costs. The ones that exist don’t come on the market very often: for good reason, those homeowners don’t want to sell their prized properties.

So we’ve worked with the homeowner to design a resilient, low-impact and modest home that’s efficient in all aspects — spatial, materials, energy use — and at the same time responds to the natural beauty of our rural landscape with a simple aesthetic vision. In this first installment, we’re introducing the project and its performance goals; future articles will follow the house through construction to show how those goals are being met.

Floor plan: condensed interior cores of utility space and bathrooms allow a loft-like layout of main living spaces.

The site in Egremont has all of the quintessential qualities of the region — quiet and beautiful, wooded, with perennial streams and dramatic rock outcrops. We designed the house to work with the undulating terrain, locating the one-story main house at the highest part of the site, and connecting it by a bridge to a two-story building at a lower grade elevation, which houses a first-floor garage and a second-floor studio.  By working with the landscape, and following its lead, the house is at ease with the site, bridging the connection between the living spaces and natural environment. It also allowed us to avoid expensive and destructive site work.

Modestly sized at 1,800 square feet, the main house has two bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, a large living space and kitchen, and a small basement.

Over the last two years, our firm has focused on super energy efficiency and cost-effective construction approaches, and the exterior envelope of this house is a perfect example of that. We increased the insulation to levels far above building code requirements, and detailed the wall assembly so that air leaks are practically eliminated. This minimizes the heating and cooling loads to the extent that there’s no need for a furnace and large heating/cooling equipment. Thus, there’s no reliance on fossil fuels. (And much to our client’s delight, the basement space has been liberated for other uses.) The small air source heat pump heating and cooling system is electrically operated, and solar panels will further reduce electricity costs — potentially to zero. In fact, a small woodburning stove will easily heat the entire house, even during the winter’s coldest months!

Left: The condensed interior cores also keep electrical and plumbing infrastructure out of the exterior walls. Above: The main living space, with a high-performing exterior envelope, includes triple glazing to maintain comfort throughout the winter.



We are excited to take Rural Intelligence readers along with us as we shepherd the house through construction. To start, here is a brief look at the current construction status of the insulated foundation walls, and insulation below the slabs (the blue boards in the photos).

A view of the insulation on the interior face of the foundation walls.

The insulation around the exterior wall, projecting above the slab insulation, will provide a thermal break that will keep the slab warmer and further diminish heat loss.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/22/16 at 04:35 PM • Permalink