Efficiency Done Right the First Time

Home control and energy monitoring systems, plus thorough planning, play key roles in making this green home energy-efficient.

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Credit: Michael Sculco

You never hear the saying, “The first time’s a charm.” That’s because doing something new invites all sorts of unwelcome obstacles and surprises. But when you’re building a house—or more specifically, a very green and energy-efficient house, you have to get it right the first time—despite the many hurdles.

That’s what developer Anthony Lauto encountered in the five years he took to plan and build his family’s vacation home in Montauk, N.Y., on the southeastern tip of Long Island. Lauto proceeded methodically, as this was his first foray into green home design. The now-finished summer haven is constructed to the highest green home standards, utilizes cutting-edge home technologies to help boost its energy efficiency—and thanks to Lauto’s careful planning represents very few regrets for the homeowner/builder.

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“I wanted to build a home that gives back to the land and is environmentally conscious,” says Lauto. “I also wanted to make sure it was affordable to maintain and low-maintenance.”

The 7,800-square-foot home is built to Energy Star for Home energy-efficiency standards and uses just 25 percent of the electricity of a comparably sized home. It is projected to achieve an annual energy cost savings of more than $7,200 per year, or more than $600 per month. The home is also the ninth in the state of New York to achieve Gold Certification through the National Association of Home Builders’ Green Building Program, and it is being considered for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification through the U.S. Green Building Council.

Electronics play a significant role in the home’s energy savings, with a whole-house control and lighting system, high-end energy monitoring, energy-efficient LEDs (light emitting diodes) and CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps), as well as automated heating, cooling, ventilation and humidity control. And along with all that energy efficiency, the homeowners are still able to have fun. A Crestron distribution system pipes audio to 22 zones and Full HD 1080p video to nine rooms. A home theater is also in the works.

Helping power all the electronics is a 10-kilowatt solar system, while three separate geothermal heat pumps take care of the heating and cooling. (Geothermal systems use the heat from below ground.) But this home’s high efficiency really starts with the use of green building materials, specifically the home’s ICF (insulated concrete forms) construction, in which concrete is poured between two insulating forms, and Marvin’s Integrity thermal windows. Recycled steel, mold-resistant drywall, FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified woods, 300-year-old reclaimed timbers, an anthrax-rated air filtering system and a carbon filtration and reverse osmosis water system are just a few of the green and healthy add-ons.

Wouldn’t it be Great If …
The property on which the home sits had been owned off and on by Lauto’s extended family since the 1950s. Even back then, the Lauto family was green, having built a 1,900-square-foot bungalow from leftovers from other construction sites. It was only fitting that new, bigger house planned for the property would carry through the green tradition. Before the old structure was removed, Lauto and his building team took a closer look at the land, which included shadow studies to track the movement of the sun. Lauto wanted to make sure that his planned location for the new house would allow it to take advantage of the available sunlight for supplementary lighting and heating.

“Planning started in 2005 and got a little more aggressive in 2006. It was a different world then in green building. People thought it meant having a bamboo floor,” Lauto says.

“One of the biggest challenges was waiting for technology to catch up,” the builder adds. “We started a lot of sentences with ‘Wouldn’t it be great if …’ and while looking for a solution we would discover the ‘if’ finally came true.” That sometimes required redesigns.

“All along we knew what we wanted to do and planned accordingly, even though the technology was not always available,” echoes Joe Calise of electronics installation firm Sights-N-Sounds in Seaford, N.Y., which played a critical role in the home’s energy-efficient design.

Layers of Light
One area where Lauto concentrated much of his effort was in energy-efficient lighting. When he began planning back in 2005 and 2006, CFLs weren’t capable of dimming and high-output LEDs weren’t even available. “So I designed the lighting with layers of light,” he says. “There are 129 lighting loads in the home that are all individually controllable, and instead of dimming we created scenes that can produce any mood, ambiance or feel.”

For example, a dozen different lights in the kitchen work in various combinations to create scenes for cooking, getting snacks or having a party. Task lights illuminate areas for cooking. Most of the fixtures come on when the PARTY mode in engage, and Lauto reports that “everyone loves the simplicity of pressing a button marked MIDNIGHT SNACK and having just enough lights come on to get you to the kitchen without feeling your way or squinting.”

In addition to being practical and efficient light sources, the LEDs add to the home’s visual appeal. Small fixtures are embedded into the side panels of staircases to shed light on the steps. LEDs embedded into the tops of door jambs cast beautiful cones of light. And LEDs mounted in the reclaimed, exposed ceiling timbers make the whole ceiling glow.

Some LEDs, like those used above a window seat in the dining room, do dim. And all of the outdoor lighting is provided by LEDs.

Although many scenes with energy-efficient LEDs could have been created, the trick was keeping the operation of them and the home’s other electronics simple and intuitive—and this is where Calise and his electronics integration company, Sights-N-Sounds, contributed to the project in a big way.

“The whole key to this house was making it simple,” Calise says. All the controls for the lighting and home control system had to be consistent from room to room, because the homeowners’ parents are there, and a brother stays for the summer.

The Home Control Key
To enable the Lautos to be more efficient in the use of the LEDs, as well as the heating and cooling system, security system, and audio and video equipment, Sights-N-Sounds installed a Crestron home control system. A combination of wireless had wired 6-inch touchpanels put the family in charge of everything.

For example, when someone presses the away button on the Napco security keypad, the Crestron system sweeps through the house, shutting off lights and cutting power to amplifiers, surround-sound receivers, TVs and an other devices. The home’s five TiVos and Crestron ADMS media server remain on, though, so they can continue to record programs.

Being able to control the home’s heating and cooling systems has made the biggest difference in the home’s energy efficiency, though. Via the touchpanels the family can adjust the heating and cooling settings of 18 different zones, although most of the changes happen automatically based on parameters that were programmed into the system via Sights-N-Sounds.

Meaningful Energy Monitoring
With a combination of solar panels, geothermal heat pumps, as well as lighting and HVAC control, how are the homeowners able to figure exactly how much electricity the systems are helping them save? An Agilewaves energy monitoring system provides them with all the data they could ever want. This system is able to measure electricity consumption at the circuit level, as well as consumption of gas and water and the production of electricity from the solar panels. Even better, the savings can be displayed on the Crestron touchpanels.

“I can get data from solar inverters [that convert the DC energy from the solar panels to AC] for the home’s electricity use,” Lauto says, “but the inverters give me data per hour and per day, and I want something that can take that data and give me the value of it and how much we saved, how much we’re spending, how much the geothermal system is heating in the home and how much is going to domestic hot water–and how much savings is going to accrue [to defray] the cost of putting these things in the home.”

There’s even more that Lauto would like to know, “I need know how many of these four racks of equipment can be shut down, because things are drawing power,” he says.

It looks like part of this home’s high-tech systems will stay in a state of redesign—perhaps constant redesign. But one thing is for sure: For this newly initiated green home builder, the first time proved to be a charm.

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