Green-built, inside and out, using the most accepted energy-saving materials and methods on the market today, the house that Chris Senior built for himself and his wife Leigh Ann is actually green and blue. The 8,850-square-foot, three-story dwelling on Bald Eagle Lane in Porters Neck is not your typical low-impact, green-built house. With 50 solar panels divided between the main house and the 1,800 square foot carriage house, the Senior residence generates 9.95 kilowatts of power.
What is more, the home is intended as a lifelong residence for the extended family, supporting several generations of Seniors, with a first-floor apartment for Chris’ 76-year-old mother Gwen; a wing on the second floor for his sister Anne and her husband Gerard, a deployed Marine, and their three children, Avery, 15, Coburn, 12, and Paxton, 7. The top floor, with a combined living room, dining room, open kitchen, sunroom, reading room and master bedroom suite, is reserved for Chris and Leigh Ann.
Chris, owner of Anchorage Building Corp., is not new to the neighborhood. He and Leigh Ann lived across the street in an energy-efficient home he built 10 years ago, and his portfolio includes houses in Wrightsville Beach, Landfall, Porters Neck, Blue Point, Figure Eight Island, in nearby Brunswick County and as far inland as Pittsboro. The Chapel Hill native has been using green-building techniques since the 1970s. For his own home, he recruited mechanical engineer Craig Gammarino, who designed the photovoltaic solar system, architect Blair Goodrich, who drew the house plans, and Lara Berkley of B+O Design Studio, who developed the site plan. “We’re kind of like pioneers; we’re just discovering how to do it,” Chris says.
Chris, who studied archeology in college, reveres the time-honored sensibility of indigenous cultures to orient their homes in relation to the elements. He also believes in longevity. A house made with time-honored sensibility, love and durable, earth-friendly resources will age with integrity. He poured a lot of love into his new house, starting with 80 cubic feet of concrete on April 7, 2006. When this solar-powered home came online this past Jan. 30, the family’s collection of artifacts, hand-built North Carolina furniture, pottery and folk art, was illuminated by the sun, literally and figuratively.
Sheathed in genuine plywood, instead of oriented strand board (OSB), the house was wrapped, first with 30-pound construction felt (tar paper), then with Pactiv GreenGuard RainDrop Housewrap (a cross-woven material that channels water away from the exterior), then covered with cement bond HardieShake shingles. Inside, the 6 to 8-inch thick walls were also clad in plywood before drywall was applied and icynene insulation was sprayed into cavities. Icynene insulation starts as a liquid that, when dry, resembles dense foam. Chris also insulated the roof with icynene.
“There’s no air infiltration whatsoever,” he says. “With the icynene barrier, there isn’t five degrees difference in temperature from the attic to the rest of the house. There’s no radiation coming through the roof into the attic that the air conditioning has to fight. From what we’ve read, it’s the best insulation on the market.”
There are 33 solar panels on the roof of the main portion of the big house and another seven above the center gable. Ten more power the carriage house.
“This is an interconnected system,” Gammarino says, “not a stand-alone system.” The solar panels make direct current, converted into AC power. “If we’re not using it, it goes to the street,” Chris says, where the home is hooked up to utility power.
The system generates more energy than it uses and the excess is fed to Progress Energy. Chris will be credited back the amount of power he uses. Jeff Brooks, marketing and communications coordinator for NC GreenPower explains how the energy flows from the house to the grid and how the surplus supports Chris’ investment in solar panels.
“Chris will be selling his power to Progress Energy and will be paid a wholesale rate for that power,” Brooks says. “As a supplier to NC GreenPower, Chris will be eligible to receive a second payment that we provide from the voluntary, tax-deductible contributions of our members. The two payments will help accelerate the payback on his investment and, hopefully, help him reach a break-even point on his kilowatt hours.”
To participate, Chris must have two meters, one to record kilowatt hours used, for which he will be billed at the retail rate, and another to record excess power that is sold to the grid at a wholesale rate.
“The paperwork and hoop-jumping to become a provider is not nearly as easy as it sounds in the seminars,” Chris says. Gammarino concurs. “It takes persistence,” he says.
Permits were filed with the federal and state governments, the state utility commission, Progress Energy and NC GreenPower.
“If there’s something left over, they keep it,” Chris says. “Zero is the best that you can do.”
The home’s orientation also permits passive solar benefits. “We’re well oriented, we’re just a touch west of south,” Chris says. “I highly recommend that bedrooms, used at night, be on the north side and that active living areas and kitchens be on the sunny south side of the homesite, with proper overhangs. Every early beach house on Wrightsville Beach always had huge sunshade porches on the south and west sides. Their strong backs are to the northeast, where the bad winds originate.”
A continuous row of low emission (Low-E), double-paned windows and doors face east, overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. Casement windows open on a southwest axis, so that, when closed, the hard northeast wind actually helps seal them tighter. “We have pre-set stainless screws all on the north side of this house for hurricane panels,” Chris says.
Covered porches wrap around the house, softening the mass with triple-decker window walls and triple-decker overhangs.
Interior walls are painted with low volatile organic compound (VOC) paint, in shades that reflect the natural environment — marsh green, sky blue and earthy brown. When pairing floors with cabinets, Chris followed a historical cue drawn from his furniture collection, selecting walnut for the primary wood and pine as the secondary wood. The Virginia black walnut kitchen cabinets were hand-built by a Brunswick County husband-and-wife team. The yellow pine floors came from three counties away, limiting the shipping costs, conserving transportation fuel and supporting local economies.
The house is equipped with Energy Star-rated appliances, including front-loading washers and dryers, on-demand water heaters, compact fluorescent lighting, a hydraulic 8-foot elevator, dock lights and boat lift.
Across the pervious crushed shell marl driveway, the two-story carriage house has an enclosed ground-level garage that Chris uses as a home office and a place to refinish antique furniture. Upstairs is a guest suite, with living room, kitchenette, baths, bedroom and open deck.
It took nine months to complete this beautifully efficient home and Chris compares it, as best he can, to giving birth. From gestation to delivery, the Senior house is the consummation of a career of building green, and a true labor of love for Chris Senior. “On the first morning we woke up in the house, there was a rainbow, a horizontal rainbow, distinct red, yellow, orange, green and blue,” he recalls. “We said, ‘It’s Christmas, wow!’” After a lifetime of thinking green, it’s a present the whole family will treasure and a gift that will keep on giving.
Creating a Green House
These contractors helped make it happen
Florez + Florez
Blair Goodrich AIA
Chris and Leigh Ann Senior
AEI and Universal Forest Products
Air by Design
SOLAR ELECTRIC INSTALLATION
Full Service Electric
Renewable Energy consultant
Big Woods Energy Engineering
B & O Design Studio, pllc
North State Gardens
Carolina Custom Exteriors, Inc.
James C. Hardie Corp.
Horizon Forest Products
Coastal Exterior Accents
Pella Window and Door Co.
Elevator Sales & Service
Advanced Air & Water
Clay Smith Plumbing
Full Service Electric
T.C. & Sons Cabinets
Sellers Tile Co. and Custom Countertops
Healthy Home Insulation
North Carolina Solar Center
Cape Fear Biofuels
The first diesel engine ran off peanut oil,” says Matt Collogan, board member and recent environmental studies grad from UNCW.
“Biodiesel can go into any diesel engine. You can mix biodiesel and regular diesel in any ratio.”
There are a few hitches to watch out for when switching over, however. Biodiesel is a better solvent than petrodiesel. Any carbon buildup in your vehicle’s fuel lines is going to bust loose and clog the filter, which will initially need to be replaced frequently. Once the system is clean, the interval between changes will level off. Vehicles built after 1994 should be tolerant. “You want to check your warranty,” Collogan says
Cape Fear Biofuels sells fuel to its members, who pay $50 dues per year, at $3.50 per gallon for 100 percent biodiesel imported from Iowa. The group is building its own community bioreactor in Currie (Pender County). “We have all the main hardware and a 150-gallon vessel,” Collogan says.
The biodiesel formula is 90 percent oil, peanut, canola or soybean, and 10 percent alcohol. “It’s usually methanol, but it can be ethanol. When you use ethanol, your reaction is not as complete,” Collogan warns. “You also need a catalyst, sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, like the Red Devil lye found in hardware stores.”
“It costs about $400 to build your biodiesel reactor; after that, if you can get your oil free from a restaurant, the bottom line is 80 cents a gallon,” Collogan says.
Right now restaurants pay to have their waste vegetable oil (WVO) hauled away, but Collogan predicts that there will soon come a time when consumers are paying the restaurants for their oil.
“You can use straight vegetable oil in your engine but you have to modify the car,” Collogan says. “What we’re doing is modifying the fuel.”
Even though methanol is explosive and lye is caustic, Collogan says that once the biodiesel reaction is complete, the fuel is less harmful than table salt when accidentally spilled.
“The great thing about biodiesel is the emissions. You have a 78 percent reduction in CO2 because the biodiesel comes from an organic crop,” he says.
Cape Fear Biofuels meets the second Thursday of every month in the Tidal Creek Community Center Room. Visit www.capefearbiofuels.com.
Scott Ogden, secretary for the Cape Fear Green Building Alliance (CFGBA), appeared at a recent Alternative Energy and Green Building Forum at Brunswick Community College.
“We’re about advocacy. Green building encompasses five tenets about the way we inhabit and use the earth: air quality, site planning and development, energy, water use and recyclable and renewable materials.”
The CFGBA meets every third Tuesday at the Old Firehouse in historic Wilmington at the corner of Fifth and Castle streets. After a brief progress report about ongoing projects, such as the greening of Toomer Alley or the proposed Riverwalk solar fountain, the group leads forums for discussing local issues and hosts a guest speaker who presents a pertinent topic such as photovoltaic solar panels, low-impact development, indigenous plants, wetlands ecology, best stormwater management practices, sealed crawl spaces, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), Healthy Built Homes, or the Lower Cape Fear Home Builders Association Stewardship Awards. In April, a PowerPoint presentation illustrates green building projects in honor of Earth Day and in October the group hosts a local Green Building and Solar Tour in conjunction with state and national solar tours.
Ogden says green building is an umbrella term for a systemic approach to design and construction. “Forty percent of the world’s energy is buildings, between the trucking, materials, globalization; we’re not doing little old country houses using wood that comes from a three-county region. We’re pulling in stuff from all over the place that has gases tied into it. Buildings are becoming ever more complex,” Ogden says.
One of the hurdles the green building movement faces is convincing consumers of the economic benefits. “People think it’s expensive,” Odgen says. “The key term to think about, that nobody wants to talk about, are life cycle costs. Architects used to design for 100 years, now we’re designing for 30 to 50 years. There’s a planned obsolescence, just like our laptops need to be replaced every three years.”
Ogden cites a California study on the costs and financial benefits of green building. “While the environmental and human health benefits have been widely recognized, minimal increases in upfront costs, on average, to support green design, would result in a life cycle savings of 20 percent of the construction cost, a 10-time return on initial investment.”
Ogden suggests simple things can be done around the house to replace materials, renew energy and mitigate water use and management. One example: bamboo flooring, a renewable resource available locally at Lowe’s and the Home Depot. “Linoleum is so much better than VCT (Vinyl Composition Tile), typical grid flooring. That’s what you see everywhere. It’s about a buck a square foot installed. Linoleum is anywhere from $3 to $4 a square foot but you save it over the lifetime, up to 50 percent or more.”
He also recommends homing in on wind power, photovoltaic solar panels, passive solar methods, switching to solar hot water heaters, planting native species and watering with drip irrigation.
“We get 56 inches or more of rain a year,” Ogden says. “Rain barrels and cisterns are ways to reuse water. Everybody should be using Energy Star appliances. Front-loading washers may be $100, $200 more, but your energy savings is a third down. Low-flow toilets, big in Europe. We’re not doing it.” For more news from this active organization, visit www.cfgba.org.
Did you Know?
Working Films, Wilmington, premiered Everything’s Cool, directed by Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Gold, at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. The documentary tails a group of self-appointed global warming messengers on a high-stakes quest to find the iconic image, proper language and points of leverage to propel the public’s attention toward the urgency of the problem and create the political will necessary to move to an alternative-energy economy. Working Films also produced Kilowatt Hours and Blue Vinyl also directed by Helfand and Gold. Visit www.workingfilms.org.
April 21 — Earth Day at Hugh MacRae Park, Noon to 6 p.m.
Forty-five conservation groups with booths, organic food and beverages, bands and kids’ stuff, sponsored by Lower Cape Fear Earth Day Alliance.
Tidal Creek Co-op sells locally grown produce from Black River Organic Farm, a USDA-certified organic grower. Their soil is built with natural compost. Seeds, plants and harvested produce are treated only with approved organic fertilizers and organic pesticides. Crops in season include arugula, basil, bell peppers, broccoli, chard, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, collards, cucumbers, dill, eggplant, elephant garlic, English peas, garlic, green beans, greens, hot peppers, Irish potatoes, kale, leeks, lettuce, okra, parsley, radishes, romaine lettuce, scallions, snow peas, spring mix, squash, sugar snap peas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, wax beans and zucchini. Yum! Visit: www.tidalcreek.coop