Conclusion of a 2-part story
By M.E. Jones
SHIRLEY -- Everything in David Posluszny's newly-built house is electric-powered, with no direct use of fossil fuels such as coal, gas or wood. There's no fireplace, wood stove or central heating system. Traditional systems -- even new -- tend to be as inefficient as they are expensive, he said. "Most furnaces or boilers are oversized, most of the heat escapes."
His heating "system" will be self-regulated. Rooftop solar panels provide hot water, collected and kept warm in an insulated unit upstairs, with indoor warmth from passive solar (windows) and super insulation. The house is "at least twice as well-insulated" as the state's stretch energy code requires, he said.
Even on the coldest day, he figures the indoor temperature should be about 65, versus a "perfect 70-degrees." Well within his comfort zone. But it won't get stuffy or toxic. The air circulates, drawing in fresh air via a small vent on the back wall of the house.
Cost benefit analysis
Posluszny said that excluding the land, he spent about $100,000 for building materials, solar panels and subcontractors.
Favoring American-made products and area companies, he used domestic wood, grown and processed in the United States and bought materials from Wilmington Building and Supply and Sudbury Lumber.
Windows were "the biggest compromise," he said.
There are only eight windows in the house. "Even the most energy-efficient windows are not as good as insulated walls," Posluszny said, so a lot of the architectural plan went into getting the equation right: maximum light, minimum windows.
Posluszny didn't build this house for profit. He built it to live in. But he aims to come out ahead thanks to his zero-net-energy plans and a low-maintenance, weather-tight structure built to last longer than most, he said, positing a life span of at least 200 years.
Rough and almost ready
The house was nearly complete and Posluszny and his wife were close to moving in when an Oracle reporter visited in late August.
Completely covered in water and ice sheathing, usually used under roof shingles, the framing was "conventional," he said, with half-inch plywood. But the sheathing was an extra, creating a virtually impregnable barrier. "It's sealed," he said. Places of penetration -- dormers, garages, wing additions, are all potential sources of penetration, he said, so his house has none. The idea was to create an airtight shell, he said.
The roof was done. Built with long-lasting asphalt shingles and an overhang outside the air barrier, "it can be re-roofed without damaging the barrier," Posluszny said.
Pallets of fiber-cement board siding for the exterior walls were stacked in the yard, with the back and one side of the house already covered. Cutting those long, hefty slabs was hard, and he had some help putting them up, he said.
Inside, electricians from MacLeod Electric in Littleton were installing a central light fixture above the living room. Although Posluszny had the know-how to do the wiring, town building codes did not allow it, he said, so he hired out for that job. But he did almost everything else himself.
Posluszny proudly showed a visitor the features and fixtures geared to the house's energy-efficient blueprint, noting several items still on his to-do list.
Ceilings and plaster-finished walls were up; sub floors were down, awaiting gleaming, factory-cut hardwood flooring he would soon install. The floor boards, still boxed, were stacked in the bedroom, a minimalist space whose form follows its function.
Posluszny sketched it out. A wall-to-wall closet would enclose the rear wall, with built-in drawers. Space between two windows on one side of the room fits a queen-sized bed, with wall-mounted lights at arm's reach. Calculated for walk-around area but with no furniture besides the bed, the room is sized just right. He ruled out chests or bureaus because they take up too much wall space, he said.
No master bath, either. The one-bedroom house has one bathroom.
Both exterior doors were installed and in use. Light streamed through strategically placed windows, including two small ones in the eaves, with lofts overlooking the living room.
With wood floors downstairs, tile in the bathroom, mudroom and kitchen, both loft floors will be carpeted, "for acoustics" he said. He chose eco-friendly carpet made of recycled pop bottles.
One loft will be an office area and the circuit breaker panel is up there, too.
The opposite loft houses the water heater, with a custom-made copper pan beneath, in case it ever leaks. Asked if he'd wall in the device to conceal it, Posluszny said no. As an essential element in the working structure of the house, it should be seen, he said.
The galley kitchen will be modern and fully equipped. A group of new, energy-rated appliances stood in the room-to-be, draped in plastic and awaiting installation.
Paint was picked for reflecting qualities; lighting angled just so. Ceilings behind a low-watt, high-efficiency LED light ribbon, for example, were sanded and painted high-gloss white. From materials to placement and other details, he made careful choices based on best practices and his own theories. But this is relatively new terrain, so he's prepared for surprises and ready to make changes as he goes along, Posluszny said.
None of the choices Posluszny made when he built this house were to enhance re-sale value. "I just didn't care about that," he said. "This is my home, not a spec house."
He saved assiduously to fund this visionary project, he said, divesting himself of all but the basics and salting away a good chunk of his pay for the better part of a decade.
The last stop on the house tour and the heart of the one and a half story structure, pre-completion, was the basement. Technically a crawl space, access is through an interior trap door. Clean, spacious, high enough to crouch or sit in and floored in concrete, the crawl space contains apparatus aimed at keeping this home comfortable year round.
With its open floor plan, the house was built to provide cozy quarters in winter, without a traditional heating system, Posluszny said. If not, he can add piping down here, he said, noting places where he'd made just in case accommodations.
Apparently, cooling won't be a problem. On a bright, sticky-hot late summer day, a small air conditioner mounted high on a wall upstairs kept the interior comfortable.
With about 900 square feet of living space within a 740 square foot outline, the concrete foundation has a foam board V-barrier, Posluszny said, ratting off a list of e-rated materials by the numbers.
Doubtless another builder would recognize value-added perks in this energy-centric litany, but absent the savvy or the space to do it justice, let's just say he used the right stuff in the right places. The bells and whistles may not show, but it's all in there.
For example, the two-by-four walls of the house are filled with cellulose insulation all the way to the rim joists. Even the plumbing is special. "I used PEX pipes," he said.
Posluszny also tapped his aesthetic instincts. "I like symmetry, balance" he said.
Although "not a trained architect," he aimed to build a house that was attractive as well as energy-efficient and cost-effective. "I wanted to have a comfortable home people would want to duplicate and keep," he said.
Asked if he'd gone grant hunting or entered his design in green building contests, he said no, not this time. Other than consumer discounts and tax incentives offered by "Solarize" programs, Posluszny didn't seek outside funding for his project.
But he had heard of local "green" builder Carter Scott and his prize-winning projects.
Posluszny, who is working on a green building design degree at UMass, Amherst, said he's familiar with Scott's work and his innovative housing development in Townsend.
When a Nashoba Publishing reporter visited some time ago, the development was a prototype for "green building" technology in the area, from geothermal and solar-powered HVAC systems designed to be self-sustaining to waste water recycling for lawns. Recently, Scott's firm built a small enclave of "green" townhouses in Devens.
Posluszny said it would be tough to compete on the same level as a professional builder, given that big money contests a firm could enter might not be open to an individual.
Still, he seemed confident that success would follow. "I'll beat him yet," he said of Scott. The challenge was only made in jest, but his green goals were clearly serious.
(As a side note: We said last week that his lot has 150 feet of frontage. It does not, he said, it has less.)