The most essential element of a sustainably built home is a committed client. The building envelope, materials, and systems all hold vital importance, of course. But without a sincere desire from the homeowner for a high-performance residence, the green-building process can’t move forward. Luckily for Ernie Ruskey, AIA, of Tektonika Studio Architects, and builder Tim Frost, the owners of this Burlington, Vt., house specifically requested a low-impact, energy-efficient dwelling. “They wanted an environmentally friendly house, and to minimize the overall energy load,” Frost says.

Working with a local deconstruction company, Ruskey and Frost recycled and salvaged anything they could from the existing, dilapidated summer cottage on the property. The new 2,000-square-foot house follows the original footprint on its west side, which faces Lake Champlain. Away from the lake, on the east side, Ruskey added about 375 square feet. Most of the existing landscaping remained in place, partly to comply with local regulations. “Vermont is very strict about protecting trees,” explains Ruskey, principal of Tektonika Studio Architects. “The goal is to minimize the impact of buildings on views from the lake.”

Frost and Ruskey worked together to keep the home’s energy use as low as possible in the face of Vermont’s snowy, bitter-cold winters. The wood-framed walls and ceiling are insulated with closed-cell spray foam. “In a tight home, especially in a cold climate, your biggest expense is air leakage and condensation getting into the wall cavities,” Frost says. “I think foam works well to prevent that.” His company, Peregrine Design/Build, has remodeled many houses, and he’s noticed that when he takes apart walls containing foam insulation, they’ve typically stayed completely dry.

At the Burlington project, Frost caulked all of the framing joints. Before installing drywall, he and his crew ran a blower-door test to double-check that they hadn’t missed anything. “We do this on most of our projects,” he says. “It’s very worthwhile.” Double-pane Marvin windows with a low-E coating appear throughout the project, with glazing on the south and west elevations shaded by 3.5-foot overhangs. “A big thing is really the windows and making sure they’re the best windows the project can handle,” Ruskey says. An air-to-air heat exchanger controls moisture levels, and a 96-percent-efficient natural gas boiler manages heating loads. The clients splurged on hydronic in-floor heating for the home’s main level and used Runtal radiators upstairs. A 2.5-ton split air-conditioning system is only needed on the hottest days of the year. Ultimately, the house garnered a HERS score of 57 and a Five Star Plus Energy Star rating.

Smart lighting choices also helped the house attain its ambitious energy goals. All of the recessed and undercabinet lighting sources are either LED or compact fluorescent. Ruskey saved less-efficient incandescents for the places where their warm glow would have the most effect—above the kitchen island, for example. And the home’s large windows, open floor plan, and light-colored interior materials enable substantial daylighting.

Many materials, such as the maple floor planks and island counter, and the stone fireplace surround, come from the Burlington area. The slate tiles in the entry foyer were quarried in nearby New York State; the bluestone pavers outside are native to New England. Choosing local materials mitigates the project’s environmental impact, and it also connects the home to its peaceful lakefront setting. “The color palette is taken from the lake and the sky,” Ruskey says. “The design goal was to keep the house really clean and simple, and express the natural materials.”

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