Glenn and Faith Parker built their dream summer home overlooking Ipswich Bay in Gloucester, MA, but it is far from a typical vacation getaway for the retired couple from Lexington. With the help of ReVision Energy and Treehouse Design, they designed their summer house to be a beautiful, highly-efficient and solar-powered home.
The Parkers bought their perfect property on the rocky shorefront, with an uninsulated 1920 Sears kit home already there. For the first couple of years, they would shut off the water in the winter to prevent it from freezing. With plans to rebuild more efficiently and heat and cool with electric, they knew they wanted to offset the electric load by producing their own energy on site. “Solar was on our list from the beginning,” says Faith. With many solar homes in the neighborhood as well as clean energy initiatives being promoted by City of Gloucester itself, it felt like a normal expectation that any new home built would be solar-powered.
The Parkers found a local design-build firm with the right expertise to bring their new home into being – Treehouse Design of Rockport, MA. Building homes exclusively in Cape Ann, Treehouse Design follows the master builder concept, working with client from initial architectural drawings to the finished home, to custom cabinetry and furniture. What Treehouse also does that made them particularly suited to Parkers’ project is design energy efficient homes, powered by renewable energy. “The Parker house is a good example of what we’re trying to do,” says owner Tim Thurman, who says their goal is for every house they design and build to be net zero.
Treehouse Design has been collaborating with ReVision Energy on solar home projects for close to 10 years now, so they reached out early on in the design process for the Parkers’ rebuild. Working with a ReVision system design specialist allowed them to optimize roof orientation and pitch for best output from the solar array that would eventually be installed.
Construction + Solar Install
The Sears kit home was taken down all but the original granite foundation, and the new house was assembled on that same foundation from prefabricated roof and wall panels crafted by NH-based sustainable building company Bensonwood Homes. The prefabricated panels, while also a nice parallel to the kit house that once stood there, offer more than a few benefits both for the final product and the building process. Constructing the walls within a controlled workshop environment, Bensonwood was able to ensure the packing of blown-in cellulose insulation was done to exactly the right pressure to create a very tight building envelope, boosting the energy efficiency of the home. “You can keep the house at a reasonable temperature without using much energy,” notes Glenn, a stark contrast to the uninsulated house that was there before.
The prefabricated home also provides ease of construction for a challenging job site. Situated on exposed coastline, the Parkers’ house can be subjected to wind gusts up to 80 miles per hour, with often typical wind speeds around 30 mph. “Rather than trying to build a high-performance building on the ocean in the winter, prefabricating that house allowed us to ensure the craft was at the highest level,” says Tim. It also took less than two weeks to assemble onsite. The solar installation was incorporated smoothly into the building schedule, so much so that Glenn says they didn’t even notice it happening. “One day we visited the construction site and the solar was there!” he says.
The Parkers’ sixteen 320-watt LG high-efficiency solar panels on the southern-facing rooftop provide energy for the all-electric home, powering heat pumps for heating and hot water, and electric vehicle charging. The solar keeps their bills low and the house close to net zero. The modern, efficient technology matches the aesthetic of the interior and layout – with bedrooms downstairs, and the main entrance and living area on the upper level, accessible by a bridge from the garage – while the exterior still fits the surrounding oceanfront aesthetic, with weathered wood shingle siding. “The Parker house has a little bit of a contemporary feel on the inside and a traditional exterior,” says Tim. “We find that happens quite a lot and solar blends into that just fine.”
The Parkers’ solar array provides charging for their Tesla through a Level 2 charger installed in their garage, so that traveling to and from their summer house can be emission-free as well. With a 240-mile range, they could drive from Lexington to Gloucester and back before the charging station, but needed to be sparing with any trips while they were there to make sure they could make it home. “We’d kind of go up there and hold our breath and cross our fingers,” says Glenn. “Having a charge port for the Tesla made a big difference in the way we use the house.”
While they kept one gas-powered vehicle for longer trips with more charging stations cropping up everywhere, just a little planning makes it possible to take longer trips without it. “We might be able to dispense with the gas-powered car and go all electric,” says Faith. They have figured out how to incorporate charging time into their travel, and even take it on longer distance trips in the winter. It helps that when they are at their summer home, they can essentially charge the car on sunlight.
In the future, the Parkers hope to put solar on their home in Lexington as well to reap the same benefits they are happy to be gaining at their summer home. “The solar has been working very well. It’s extremely reliable,” says Glenn. In Gloucester, they are debating whether to create a rooftop garden on the flat roof of their garage – or simply add more solar. Regardless, their efficient home and solar array fit perfectly into the sustainability-minded neighborhood, working alongside one another to preserve the planet and the surrounding beauty of nature that they go to enjoy. “It was great having the combination of Revision Energy and Treehouse Design working together,” says Glenn. “We’re really satisfied.”
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