‘The amount of handcrafted work in this house is high’

A pair of former real estate developers turned semi-retired green consultants have taken their spare time and turned it into a showcase of sustainability. 

Dave and Jean Walters have built their new mountain retreat in North Carolina as a place to share with family and friends, but they also built it to highlight what they’ve learned about green building, as Timber Home Living reports. 

Their keen focus on locally sourced materials and energy-efficient technologies led them to receive a gold rating from the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building program, which was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. 

To achieve this gold rating, a project must earn a certain number of points which are either prerequisites or credits that address “carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health and indoor environment quality.” The only higher certification is platinum.  

This honor is a first of its kind in the area and was bolstered by yet another gold accreditation, this time from the NC HealthyBuilt Home program. 

The couple were joined by a team including architects from New Energy Works and general contractor Clark & Leatherwood Inc. to help build their new 5,800-square-foot, timber-framed home.

“Our semi-retirement gave us enough time to become students of green building, take what we had learned from commercial building science, and get involved in this project in a pretty big way,” Dave said in the report.

To start, they aimed to use as many reclaimed, recycled, and locally sourced materials as possible. The structural frame was made from reclaimed heart pine from the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. Wood for the interior came from a 19th-century factory in Chicago, and the baseboards were once high school bleachers. 

“The amount of handcrafted work in this house is high, even for a timber-frame home,” said Jonathan Orpin, president and Founder of New Energy Works.

The climate in western North Carolina is relatively mild, so they didn’t feel the need to focus on air conditioning. Instead, they built a well-insulated home with a ground-source heat pump that uses the Earth’s natural warmth stored below our feet to keep the building comfortable in cooler months. 

Rooftop solar thermal collectors provide hot water that can be bolstered by the heat pumps when needed. In addition, they have a set of photovoltaic solar panels on the south-facing garage, which provides a surplus of electricity that can feed the utility grid, if necessary.  

Part of the Walters’ big plan was to highlight the financial benefits of green building methods and materials. Although they estimate that energy conservation upgrades added about 20% to the total expenditure, they hope to earn that back through savings. 

“There are many shades of green,” Dave Walters said. “Once a consumer gets involved in thinking green, then one has to think, ‘To what level do I want to take this?'”

They’re still gathering their own data to confirm what they’ll have saved overall. So that part of the project remains unfinished, at least for now. 

As the TCD Guide notes, installing solar panels can save you an estimated $3,600 over 10 years, while heat pumps can save $5,500 over that same period. So even if you don’t have the financial flexibility to source sustainable materials as the Walters did, you can still reap some of the benefits with some thoughtful changes.

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