Laser Contracting LLC.

Family's Home Will Receive Highest Energy Star Rating

By Gail Braccidiferro , Special To The Day Published on 12/14/2007

photos By Dana Jensen
The solar panels on the roof.
A workman smoothes out the joints in what will be the family room in this Preston home.
Scott Weston holds a sample of the insulated panels used in the exterior walls.
Above is the icynene spray insulation in the roof, along with a ventilation unit. At right, solar panels have already been placed on this home currently under construction.
An energy-efficient home under construction in Preston.
View of the icynene spray insulation on the roof and a ventilation unit in the attic of an energy-efficient home under construction in Preston. The ventilation unit will circulate fresh air into the house.

Scott and Audrey Weston said facing the financial commitment of homeownership was daunting enough. To also worry about ever-increasing monthly electric and home heating oil bills was just not an option.

"Our concern is that a house is such a drain on the wallet and oil prices are going through the roof," Audrey Weston said. "We'd always been thinking of a high-efficiency, well-insulated home anyway."

After Scott Weston spent many hours researching energy efficient building, heating and cooling systems, however, they decided the home they planned would go above and beyond the typical efficiency standards.

"A lot of what we are doing here is probably overkill," Scott Weston said about the house that is under construction. The couple and their two children, Max, 2, and Ginger, 7 months, expects to move into the Preston home in January.

The Westons are building a super energy-efficient house that not only incorporates some of the latest innovations in building systems, but also relies on the power of the sun for heat and hot water and promises to help generate power for the over-taxed electric grid.

When it is complete, the house will receive the highest Energy Star efficiency rating from the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection, Audrey Weston said.

According to the EPA, Energy Star homes are generally 20 percent to 30 percent more energy efficient than other types of houses. The program provides guidelines for insulation, high performance windows, tight construction techniques and heating and cooling systems.

With the Weston's house situated on its 4-acre lot in a manner that optimizes a southern exposure, the rooftop solar panels will likely generate enough power to return a considerable amount to the grid, Scott Weston said. The basement meter is designed to track both when the house is drawing power and when it is generating it. The Westons will receive credit for what they generate.

"We are trying to conserve energy, not just use it all up," Scott Weston said of the system in the home with some 3,200 square feet of living space perched atop a hill overlooking the city of Norwich.

He said he hopes to incorporate many of the features, such as solar-powered radiant floor heating and structural insulated panel building systems, into the houses he builds for others. He has been a builder for about a decade, currently operating Laser Contracting of Groton.

The couple began planning the home about a year ago and started construction in July.

There is no furnace in the house. Instead, the solar system heats water that is piped through tubes in the floors. Tubing runs through both the concrete basement flooring and between an insulation layer and the wooden flooring of the main living space.

The water is heated to about 110 degrees for the main floor and the lines of tubing are spaced about a foot apart, Scott Weston said. The maximum length of any one heat tubing run is 300 feet to minimize heat loss in the water as it travels through the tube, he said.

This type of heating system keeps heat nearer the floor and makes it possible to have taller than traditional ceilings without fearing heat loss, he said. The house has 9-foot ceilings in the bedrooms and 12-foot ceilings in the kitchen and living room area, which is designed with an open floor plan.

Should it be needed, backup heat would be provided by propane, which will also power the highly efficient kitchen appliances, he said. Because the solar panels generate energy through ultraviolet light, however, they will be generating power even on cloudy days, he said.

As for insulation, the exterior walls are constructed of structural insulated panels: a thick layer of foam insulation between plywood panels. Wall joints and window and door frames are sealed with foam insulation and a layer of sprayed-in foam provides added insulation in the attic.

The foundation also is constructed with a panelized system that includes polystyrene insulation.

Because the house is tightly constructed, Scott Weston said a fresh air system in the attic will operate as an air exchanger, allowing the house to breath.

When designing the electrical system, Scott Weston said in addition to using energy-efficient light fixtures and bulbs, he ensured that on-off switches were positioned in several convenient locations in rooms. That way, those walking through rooms would find it easier to switch lights on and off as they passed through, he said.

Instead of copper pipes for plumbing, the Westons are using less costly flexible plastic tubing. They also will install water-saving plumbing fixtures.

Because the house is located on a breezy hill, the Westons considered installing wind power, but current technology does not yet make it cost-efficient enough. Scott Weston said that could be a future project, however.

While Scott Weston estimated the extra energy efficient systems in the house have added about 5 percent to the up-front costs, the family will realize the benefits immediately because they will have no monthly electric or heating bills. While the house is costing between $420,000 and $450,000 to build, Scott Weston estimated it would sell for about $650,000 in the current market.

Although much of the technology the Westons are incorporating into their home has been available for about 25 years, Scott Weston said it is still not commonplace.

"A lot of people are not aware of it and people don't necessarily like change," he said. Seeing his home, however, should help convince others. "This house is going to be a model."


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Laser Contracting LLC
56 Miller Rd, Preston, CT 06365

860-984-9009 office

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