Build Small, Build Efficient – Boxford, MA Home and Workshop Powered by Solar
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Bruce Eaton and Terri Teleen had decided it was time for a change. Bruce, a former environmental engineer turned custom cabinet and furniture maker (Bruce Eaton Custom Furniture & Cabinetry), had built all the kitchen and bath cabinets for their home of 13 years in southern New Hampshire. All the improvements they could think to do on the house already completed, Bruce, Terri and their young son Jack went on the quest for a new project – one that would turn out to be energy efficient, solar-powered, and personally fulfilling.
Bruce and Terri determined to settle in Boxford, MA, a neighborhood where they already had close friends nearby. They bought a property with an old cottage and a separate garage outbuilding that would be perfect for a cabinet maker’s workshop. They were intending to renovate the home where it stood, but it was in such disrepair it turned out to not be worth fixing. Faced with building entirely new, they decided to use the opportunity to build as energy-efficiently as possible. They had long been interested in sustainability, and Bruce serves on the board of the local land trust. It was a long-standing aspiration and it seemed like the ideal time to make it happen.
As they looked around for an architect, Bruce and Terri kept coming back to a home they had seen in a magazine, from Maine-based architectural and construction company, GO Logic. They liked the contemporary farmhouse style and small footprint that would stay within the parameters of the previous building. Furthermore, GO Logic is focused on building energy efficient, Passive House Standard homes powered by renewables. “Once we knew we were going to do the house, it was pretty much designed to have solar on it,” says Bruce.
Their five acre property is heavily wooded, and apart from where the house and garage stood, is mostly marshland that would have prevented them from building on a different part of it. They were thinking of putting solar on the garage, the only part of the property that received significant sunlight behind all those trees. Then one day while mowing, Bruce had a revelation. Why not build the new home where the garage was instead? It would be a taller rooftop, with more sunlight access.
They got quotes from multiple solar companies but chose ReVision over another they felt was trying to upsell them. “Haley knew what she was talking about, and you guys seemed like you would be easy to work with,” says Bruce. In addition, they saw a mention of ReVision in GO Logic’s blog from a previous collaboration. It assured them that ReVision was the right company to take on their solar home project.
Their 24-panel solar array was installed in February of 2018, while the home was still being constructed. “ReVision was great about coordinating with the builders,” says Bruce. That collaboration allowed them to do things like hide the conduit underneath the finished siding for a very clean finished look.
In the build process, they recycled parts of the previous buildings for Bruce’s workshop, and built the new home brand new to near passive house standards. The outer walls are insulated with 8 inches of cellulose, with ZIP System sheathing around that for air sealing, and an additional 6 inches of insulative foam around the outside. The home is built on a rock bed and poured slab that acts as a heat sink, with a barrier underneath that slab that ties into the zip-sheathing for a very tight home envelope. Their heat recovery ventilator system cycles fresh air through their home constantly, while also minimizing heat loss. It is quiet, and reliable. “You barely notice it running,” says Bruce.
In addition, the southern facing wall of the house boasts four nearly floor-to-ceiling triple-pane windows for maximum passive solar heat gain in the wintertime. It does not present an overheating problem in the summer though because with the sun higher overhead and shading from the trees, the light is far less direct. “It’s actually darker in the house in the summertime than the winter,” says Bruce. They heat the home with a Mitsubishi mini-split air source heat pump with two indoor heads – one downstairs, and one in the hallway upstairs. The downstairs pump by itself is enough to heat the house in the winter, and they use the upstairs head for cooling in the summertime.
Their rooftop is perfectly oriented for maximum solar gain. The panels fill all the available southern-facing roof space of their small home, and currently supply about two thirds of their electricity needs. The house is all electric, including heating and appliances, and Bruce’s woodshop. “We do a lot of laundry, we have a lot of electric tools,” he says and notes that while their architect had originally thought they would only need a smaller system, they had been skeptical about that. “He doesn’t have kids,” jokes Bruce. “He must not do laundry.” Their home’s HERS (Home Energy Rating System) Index rating shows that they are making the most of all the solar energy they are using however. On a scale with zero being the most efficient, and the average new home coming in at 100, Bruce and Terri’s home rates only a 12.
Naturally, Bruce designed the custom cabinetry for their new home, built specifically to make the most of the space within the house. At just about 800 square feet on the ground floor, their small home footprint helps their energy efficiency, and it’s perfect for their family of three. They hope their story will help bring the idea of living in a smaller, energy efficient home more into the public consciousness. “It was all part of trying to be as energy efficient and environmentally conscious as we could,” says Bruce. “You don’t need a ton of space, you don’t need tons of square footage, you can still have a nice place to live and be efficient.”