A Passive Solar Home in Stone Ridge | House Profiles | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Page 2 of 2

Not your Grandfather's Passive Solar

click to enlarge A Passive Solar Home in Stone Ridge
Deborah DeGraffenreid
To keep costs low, and to stay true to the project’s focus on sustainability, Reynolds utilized a cork backsplash, bright blue cabinetry, and wood trim that were leftover from another project. The custom arched black walnut dining table was built by Hudson Workshop.
Reynolds and Bassler knew they would have to come up with some innovative solutions if they were going to realize their dream of seeing affordable, livable passive solar homes throughout the land. And Reynolds had the perfect guinea pig: himself. "I needed a house anyway," he explains. The opportunity to utilize his architectural experience to create a home that expressed his environmental and political concerns, and was also flexible, private, healthy and "had some wow," was motivating. "I wanted to have an emotionally alive house that was both energy efficient and affordable," says Reynolds.

click to enlarge A Passive Solar Home in Stone Ridge
Deborah DeGraffenreid
Throughout the house, oak finishes installed by local craftsmen Lee Sahler and Brandon Pra offer a warm counterpoint to the concrete slab floors and a marble and walnut table created by Hudson Workshop.

First came choosing the right site. "We wanted to try to find that sweet spot for this climate and this region and this vernacular," he explains. The home needed to be facing south to take full advantage of the sun's light, but the choice of the land itself was also part of the team's reduce-reuse-recycle ethos. Inspired by philosopher Christopher Alexander's book A Pattern Language and his ideas of site repair, Reynolds had bought up three-plus acres outside of Stone Ridge. Once the bank of an old shale mine, the property was undeveloped but "completely junked," says Reynolds. "It looked like a lunar landscape." It was one of the worst pieces of land he could find but he knew with a properly design home, it could be not only beautiful, but beautifully utilized. (He also preserved the land's few deciduous trees to help with the home's shading throughout the summer.)

To prove that their ideas could be replicated, and by almost any professional with standard training in the building trades, the partners hired local workers and focused on utilizing conventional methods in unconventional ways. Translating the complex technology into simple building techniques was one of the biggest challenges—and greatest rewards. "To take these intense technologies that we wanted to execute—taking the big concepts and simplifying them—that was the real fun," says Bassler.


click to enlarge A Passive Solar Home in Stone Ridge
Deborah DeGraffenreid
Reynolds installed an outdoor shower in a secluded spot behind the house. Corrugated steel siding is a durable, maintenance-free exterior finish, and blends well with the surrounding landscape.
The home's structure is simple and economic: a rectangular footprint built on leftover shale grade with an extruded roof. Inside, a concrete slab floor extends throughout the 1800 square feet of space. Designed to capture the warmth emanating through the home's south facing windows, the floor retains the sun's heat through the colder months. Inside the larger rectangle, the space is divided into three 24-foot squares of living space. An open kitchen, guest bedroom, and office forms one wing of the house; a master bedroom suite with a bathroom and walk-in closet forms the other. In the center, a two-story open living space looks through a south-facing wall of triple-paned, glazed glass. Sliding pocket doors separate the three living spaces, allowing for privacy when needed or giving the home an informal studio-type feel when left open. Throughout the home the team used a combination of new material and remnants from previous projects. This simplicity of design and tendency to recycle translated directly into cost savings and allowed the team to keep the home's construction costs competitive with other homes on the market.

True to that spirit of simplicity and versatility, the interior design allows the home to adapt and grow with Reynolds's changing needs. Above each wing of the house, Reynolds allowed for extra space and framed a staircase near the home's entrance. Now utilized for storage, the second story of the eastern and western wings could be attached by a catwalk, to create two extra bedrooms if needed.

click to enlarge A Passive Solar Home in Stone Ridge
Deborah DeGraffenreid
Reynolds installed pocket doors throughout the house. Maximizing the flow of light, heat, and air, they also allow the rooms to easily change from openness to privacy. An east-facing window at the main bedroom offers an additional view of the surrounding woods.

The home's corrugated metal exterior hides sophisticated walls. "Despite their simplicity, passive house walls are technically very carefully assembled so that they can dry in two directions," explains Reynolds. To head off potential moisture and rot, Reynolds and Bassler incorporated "rain screen walls" with open ventilation channels to allow air to naturally flow throughout. Cellulose insulation, created from recycled shredded newspaper, keeps the home's temperature constant while allowing for air circulation. While it was professional and personal goals that originally motivated Reynolds, he's been rewarded with a home that's supremely comfortable. "I've been through eight months now and the temperature remains very even, comfortable and cozy—one of the best parts of living in the house is watching the seasons move through," he explains.

Above, the metal roof is entirely covered in solar panels. Reynolds's home is still connected to the grid, but he generates the majority of the power he needs—to heat, to cool, to run his appliances, and even to power his plug-in Chevy Volt—from the panels on his roof and some smart design.

Reynolds isn't giving up his castle of sunlight anytime soon. However, he and Bassler emphasize that everything they've done is available to anyone who is ready for modern, energy-independent design, right here in the Hudson Valley. "We aren't doing anything exotic," Reynolds explains. "It's the exact opposite of that—it's really local knowledge, local sensitivity to climate, local materials and skills, and local self-reliance." Bassler adds, "It will be great to talk to you in 20 years, when everyone is building passive houses."

About The Author

Mary Angeles Armstrong

Mary writes about home design, real estate, sustainability, and health. Upstate, she's lived in Swiss style chalets, a 1970's hand-built home, a converted barn, and a two hundred year old home full of art. Now she lives with her son in a stone cottage outside Woodstock.
Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment
  • or

Support Chronogram