NESEA Pro Tour with the EcoFellows

EcoFellows in front of passive house on NESEA your

By Morgan O’Connor, Marketing and High Performance Building EcoFellow

Recently the EcoFellows toured two very different, yet highly efficient, building projects in Western Massachusetts. The tour was put on by our friends at the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) as part of their Pro Tour Series. Both projects were the work of local contractors Kent Hicks Construction, one of them being his own home and office.

Kent lives in a former grist mill that was built in 1850. In order to convert it into a home residence and office space he completed a deep energy retrofit. A deep energy retrofit is a way of renovating a space to address all energy loads and increase efficiency.

However, what made this project exceptional was Kent’s dedication to maintaining the integrity and aesthetic of the old mill building. Throughout the project, deconstruction and repurposing of original materials was a priority. This allowed for unique design features, like wainscoting made from their original metal roofing, and a dining room table made from the mill’s machinery. The flooring downstairs is also original and shows the indentations of former mill employees’ work stations. This project is a testament to how style  and energy efficiency can work together to create a beautiful and sustainable home, without compromising historical authenticity.

Tour in front of grist mill renovation

After the first tour, we were then bussed over to Plainfield to look at a newly finished net-zero home. A net-zero energy building (NZEB) is one that produces and consumes a roughly equal amount of energy on a yearly basis. This house was remarkably different in style and construction than the home we had just toured, but that speaks to the versatility of sustainable design, and that it can work with one’s own sense of style. This building was nearly passive house certified, so it incorporated many of the common design elements seen in passive houses, like southward facing windows and tinted concrete flooring to trap heat from the sun. The homeowner’s primary concerns were to focus on keeping volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and CO2 emissions low – for both personal health and environmental reasons. The projectaccomplished this through passive energy-saving design and efficient technologies like solar panels, 8 inch thick insulation, and air source heat pumps, for heating and cooling needs. The homeowners have not been living in the house for very long, but have already started to collect money back from their solar panels, and have thought about investing in a shade awning because their house can sometimes be too hot on its own!

NESEA Tour Sugar Shack

This was an eye-opening experience to see such innovative designs happening in our own backyard. NESEA’s last two Pro Tours are located in Waterbury, VT and Fall River, MA. I hope you have the opportunity to attend! Thank you NESEA for creating such an educational and empowering tool for sustainable designers!

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