Energy Efficient: Vermont Five-Star Home
This brand-new house in Vermont has everything — a spacious kitchen with soapstone counters, a great room with mountain views, an attached three-story barn, and a basement gym.
Frieda Wimmelman and her husband, Alan Binnick, have built a dream house, but much of what makes this home stand out is actually hidden from the eye.
Materials like foam insulation and argon gas in the windows, ductwork placement, and a balanced ventilation system are “invisible” unique features. And they’re the ones that helped win this house a five-star rating from the federal government’s Energy Star program, which identifies energy-efficient products and systems for new and existing structures.
The home, a contemporary farmhouse design, fits the landscape. Dormers and varying rooflines resonate with the hills that surround the property. Atop the barn, a red cupola faces Haystack Mountain. In the dining room, large windows look out on Frieda’s favorite view– Mount Snow. In winter, she trains their telescope on the ski trails there. She is so delighted with the view that she and a friend once prearranged a time when he would wave his ski poles from the mountain so she could spot him through the scope.
Frieda’s connection to this land runs deep. She and Alan built on the site of the farmhouse where she and her brother were raised. “It was a hard decision to take down the old house,” says Frieda, “but we lived with drafts, poor insulation, and constant upkeep, and I felt I could never leave in the winter for fear the whole place would seize up.” Ironically, Frieda is so happy with her new hilltop haven, she seldom leaves the property. In summer, she tends a huge garden with hardy varieties of celery, eggplant, asparagus, tomatoes, and dozens of other vegetables. She saved extensive flowerbeds from the original house during excavation. In winter, she and Alan snowshoe and cross-country ski on trails that lace their property.
Before they built, Frieda says, she had a bad case of house envy. She clipped a photo of a beautiful home from a local real estate ad and tracked down the contractor. She and builder Art Carlucci worked with architect Dave Shaughnessy to design a building that uses state-of-the-art energy technology and captures the soul of her childhood home. They salvaged old beams, wide pine floorboards, cabinetry, and graceful wrought-iron balusters, adding to the “settled-in” feeling of this new home.
The process of going for an energy rating started with Art’s submitting the blueprints to Vermont Energy Star Homes, which made recommendations (at no charge) for windows, the heating system, insulation, and lighting. The house has Marvin windows with an aluminum-clad exterior and wood on the interior, a wood-fired boiler with a hot-water storage system made by HS Tarm, many fluorescent fixtures, and Energy Star-rated appliances. Throughout construction, a certified home-energy rater evaluated (at a $300 charge) everything from duct leakage and R-factors of ceilings, walls, and floors to the efficiency of lights and appliances and air infiltration from the outside (requiring a blower door test). The home-energy rating came in at 89.6; for five stars, a house must score 86 or above.
Having an energy-efficient house does more than help save the planet’s resources. In addition to the money homeowners save on utilities, there are federal tax credits and state energy partner rebates available for participating in the program. Art received a $2,000 rebate, and Frieda, $1,025.
Frieda, like many Vermonters, is practical and independent. Frieda and Alan have just had a test tower for a wind turbine installed. “There’s no reason not to build for energy efficiency,” she says. “I saw this house as my only chance to do it right.”