The entry side of the house faces east, saving dramatic western views for decks on the other side of the house. Solar hot water and photovoltaic panels are located on the south-facing garage rooftop at left.
Dave and Jean Walters had more than a casual interest in building green. Their new mountain timber retreat, designed using reclaimed and local materials to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, would not only be a comfortable gathering place for family and friends, but a showroom for their green consulting business and, ultimately, a way of demonstrating that the added costs of sustainable building could pay off financially.
They built their 5,800-square-foot, five-bedroom timber frame at Balsam Mountain Preserve, a 4,400-acre private community in Sylva, N.C. with a team that included New Energy Works and general contractor Clark & Leatherwood Inc. The Walters first became interested in the LEED for Homes program when it was in its infancy, and their early appreciation for it paid off — their home was one of the first in western North Carolina to be certified as LEED Gold, while also winning gold accreditation in the NC HealthyBuilt Home program.
An Emphasis on Local Materials
Using reclaimed, recycled and locally sourced materials is one of the cornerstones of green building. To the Walters, this meant fabricating the structural timber frame from reclaimed heart pine that had originally come from the Blue Ridge Mountains. With the help of architectural firm New Energy Works, they also gathered reclaimed building materials from a 19th-century International Harvester factory near Chicago, river bottoms in Florida, salvaged bleachers from a high school and other sources. Where new wood was used, the Walters made sure it was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, meaning it had been produced with sustainable harvesting practices.
The dining room table, built by G. Keener & Co. of New Carlisle, Ohio, was built to the Walters’ design with walnut and an inlay of heart pine.
“The amount of handcrafted work in this house is high, even for a timber-frame home,” says Jonathan Orpin, president and founder of New Energy Works. Green-building guidelines also promote the use of locally produced and recycled products, and the Walters have some of each. Stone came from two sites within 30 miles of the building site, and the wood-plastic composite Eco-Shake roof shingles are made with recycled plastic sourced from the disposable diaper industry.
Energy-Saving Mechanical Systems
Although much of North Carolina has a relatively mild climate, the Walters' house is at an elevation of about 4,300 feet. A tight, well-insulated building envelope and an efficient heating system were important considerations, so the couple decided to start with structural insulated panels (SIPs) for air-tightness and effective insulation.
Although the roof looks like wood, it’s actually a wood/plastic composite made by Eco-Shake, which comes with a 50-year warranty and is made with 100 percent recycled content.
They also settled on a ground-source heat pump, which collects latent heat in the earth and distributes it throughout the home. “The forced air that we have gives us a little kick start when we get up there and it’s 10 degrees and the wind is blowing 50 miles an hour,” Dave says. In keeping with energy conservation goals, hot water is provided by roof-mounted solar thermal collectors, which can be augmented with the geothermal system in the winter. Photovoltaic panels on the south-facing garage roof provide electricity, and the home's grid-tied system feeds surplus energy back into the utility grid and ensures the home still has power when demand outstrips supply.
Calculating the Payback
Dave Walters estimates that adding all of the green features to the house added about 20 percent to the cost of the building. But he expects to earn that back through savings that the energy conservation measures will deliver. “This is not a small home,” Orpin says, “yet the owners were really striving to minimize their ecological impact. They went to great extremes to do that.” As the house ages, the Walters are collecting data on its performance, and in time hope to be able to show their investments have paid off. In the meantime, they have the other benefits of a green home: healthy indoor air, the satisfaction of seeing indigenous materials all around them and lower maintenance costs.