A Construction Tour of a Net-Zero Energy House

6 04 2016

A couple of weeks ago, Noah Demarest was kind enough to give a tour of the new net-zero energy single-family house underway at 228 West Spencer Street in the South Hill neighborhood.

Most readers of the blog will be familiar with Noah Demarest’s name – he’s the head architect of STREAM Collaborative, which has been involved in projects like 902 Dryden Road, 201 College Avenue, State Street Triangle and the Franklin proposal for condos at the Old Library site.

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Noah’s a little more involved in this project than most – he’s in charge of the build-out, and the cost of construction is coming out of his own pocket. Local landlord Ed Cope is a silent partner in the project, having purchased the land from the previous owner for $15,000 last February. The sale came with a different set of house plans, and the unique topography and constraints of the site made it such that the BZA had to approve virtually any new construction proposed on the parcel – Noah drew up plans for a different design, and those were later accepted by the board.

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You can see how that unique site topography plays in here. The framing, sheathing (ZIP system), roofing and panelling of the house was done by local company Ironwood Builders. With much of the exterior work completed, activity has shifted largely to the interior spaces, which Noah is doing with his own construction team.

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My initial impression was that they were going for an exposed wood trim look similar to the framework of Tudor-style houses, but Noah says the trim will be painted the same color as the fiber cement siding. The shingles are a nice, Craftsman-style touch.

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First photo is looking down, second is looking up. The house, just under 1,000 SF, has living space on three levels – the kitchen and living room will be on the second floor, and a bedroom and bathroom are on the first and third floors. This will be put up on the market for sale once it is ready – not a rental. Noah envisions this being the type of house that would be great for a young couple or even a deep-pocketed grad student.

By the way, just mentioning for the sake of acknowledgement – I’m not a fan of ladders.

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As work moves closer to completion, a porch pergola will be built here.

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This will be a net-zero energy house, meaning zero net energy consumption – what gets taken from the grid also gets returned to the grid. In the case of this home, an off-site set of solar panels will offset the energy that is taken from the grid. The house will also achieve a very high degree of energy efficiency. One of the ways that’s being accomplished here is the use of an air source heat pump, which transfers heat from outside to inside a building (and vice versa) via a refrigeration compressor and condenser. The system can absorb heat from the outside air and transport it into the home, and can work in reverse during the summer, absorbing heat from inside the home and transporting it outside.

According to Noah, the system tends to be somewhat less efficient in extremely cold weather (-10 F or so; at that point it becomes difficult to extract usable heat energy), but is otherwise very capable for providing heating and cooling needs. Appliances will be all-electric, no gas.

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The house is also very heavily insulated – 2.5 inches of foam, with the fiber cement siding on top of that.

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These last couple shots are from the bottom level – bathroom plumbing is in the process of being installed in the basement bathroom unit. The plan is to have the house ready for sale later this year.

One of the things that I personally am looking forward to is that Noah plans on making the costs of construction available to the city, as an example of what construction costs tend to look like for infill on an inner-city parcel. Having more examples to rely on, and a clear description of cost per square foot, gives the city more information to help guide its approach to planning and development. Noah noted during the tour was that the zero net-energy aspect is a relatively minor component in the expenses of the project.

 


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2 responses

7 04 2016
Noah

Thanks for the nice write up! It might be more accurate to say Ed is a quiet partner. He’s been very generous to let us make most of the decisions in exchange for doing a lot of the heavy lifting. It really is meant to be a demonstration of best practices and serve as an education tool for our firm, PPM Homes, and the Ithaca community.

4 10 2016
Ithaka Terraces (215-221 West Spencer Street) Construction Update, 9/2016 | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] already been dug, formed and poured for Building A, and the first-floor walls have been erected. Like their little pioneer across the street, The buildings are designed to be net-zero energy capable. The slab foundations will be insulated […]

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