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

click to enlarge Peter Reynolds at the south-facing end of his passive solar house. Inspired by his love for the region and the environment, the designer and his partners at North River Architecture built a home on the cutting edge of sustainability. The shading roof overhang and other details were carefully calibrated with the help of passive house consultant John Loercher of Northeast Projects LLC. Solar panels from Lighthouse Solar generate enough power to make it a Net Zero Energy home. (And even power his car.) - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Peter Reynolds at the south-facing end of his passive solar house. Inspired by his love for the region and the environment, the designer and his partners at North River Architecture built a home on the cutting edge of sustainability. The shading roof overhang and other details were carefully calibrated with the help of passive house consultant John Loercher of Northeast Projects LLC. Solar panels from Lighthouse Solar generate enough power to make it a Net Zero Energy home. (And even power his car.)

Senior Designer Peter Reynold's hyper-local, passive solar-designed home in Stone Ridge is the future of energy efficiency.

If any type of building embodies the American ethos of independence and provides a practical blueprint for throwing off the chains of energy dependency, it's passive solar design. Popular in Europe and gaining traction in the United States, passive solar construction incorporates specific siting, the innovative use of materials, and deceptively simple building techniques to create habitats that, when it comes to energy consumption, sip rather than guzzle. With the addition of solar panels, a passive solar building can effectively reduce its need for additional fuel sources and its carbon emissions to zero.

click to enlarge One of the home’s two bedrooms. Super insulated “rain-screen” walls allow the home’s temperature to remain constant and the air flowing and comfortable throughout the year. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • One of the home’s two bedrooms. Super insulated “rain-screen” walls allow the home’s temperature to remain constant and the air flowing and comfortable throughout the year.

The challenge of not only building a home that meets this high bar of energy independence, but does it specifically within the Hudson Valley's particular micro-environment, and in a way that is affordable, is one that Peter Reynolds and Stephanie Bassler of North River Architecture and Planning in Stone Ridge have taken on with passion. In fact, they've thrown down the gauntlet. With the planning and recent construction of Reynolds's modernist, barn-inspired home, they've created a dwelling that's not only rigorously sustainable, but also beautiful, adaptable, and warm, both in temperature and invitation. Inspired by a range of design philosophies—from ecologist Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built to the utilitarian, simplicity of the Shakers—Reynolds and Bassler have constructed a model for the present moment.

The partners are thinking globally but pioneering some bold, local strategies. Part of a movement of architects and engineers who share their findings in an open-source format, Reynolds and Bassler executed the actual construction with a local workforce, utilizing mostly American made or recycled materials, and kept the cost of Reynolds' home within 10 percent of standard construction. "We think this is passive solar's time," declares Reynolds. "We really see it as a 21st-century way to build and design and we are really pulling along with everybody else to do it."

Architecture of Freedom

click to enlarge An abundance of south-facing, triple-glazed windows in the double-height living room fills the home with light and capture heat in the winter. They also offer a view of the Shawangunks—bringing the outdoors inside throughout the year. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • An abundance of south-facing, triple-glazed windows in the double-height living room fills the home with light and capture heat in the winter. They also offer a view of the Shawangunks—bringing the outdoors inside throughout the year.

The partners' first experience with passive solar construction was in 2010, when they were hired by the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck. With a wide-ranging practice that spans both residential and public buildings, they had already executed several projects to the high LEED standard for energy efficiency. Passive solar design seemed like a natural next step. "Omega had a concurrent interest to ours in passive design and were interested in a certified project. They came to us already committed," explains Bassler. She was interested in learning more about the building technique and underwent the intensive training required to oversee the project, becoming certified as a passive house consultant.

The architects and Omega were very pleased with the resulting building, the Women's Leadership Center, and the partners began to realize that passive construction was the next step in energy-efficient home design. "Passive house design, compared with other efficiency protocols, has the most impact," explains Reynolds. "It goes far beyond LEED. It's truly effective for the individual homeowner, and has a quantifiable impact on global emissions. It allows individuals to reduce their footprint in a simple way."

click to enlarge The North River Architecture team enjoys a break outside with Jay Philippi of Eileen Fisher. In keeping with the project’s sustainable design goals, the outdoor patio was landscaped according to xeriscaping principles of native plantings and minimal maintenance. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • The North River Architecture team enjoys a break outside with Jay Philippi of Eileen Fisher. In keeping with the project’s sustainable design goals, the outdoor patio was landscaped according to xeriscaping principles of native plantings and minimal maintenance.

Still, there were a few issues keeping passive construction a novelty, rather than a pervasive, building trend. Passive construction utilizes a few basic strategies to achieve its high standard of energy efficiency. By relying on a tightly sealed, insulated exterior "envelop," the home's interior temperature can remain constant with minimal energy loss. Specially glazed triple-paned windows not only illuminate the interior but also trap the sun's heat—however, until recently, windows of this type weren't manufactured in the US and their import and utilization added to the cost of construction exponentially. Reynolds believes the previous designs of most passive houses further added to their lack of popularity. "Up to now passive house design has been either very expensive or kind of engineer-y and optimized and not so beautiful," says Reynolds.

Professionals as well as consumers just weren't aware of the techniques and the possibilities of the construction method. It didn't help that passive solar had had a false start in the US during its early days. "In the `70s, they didn't quite get it right," Reynolds explains. "The mistakes that were made really set the movement back." The first passive houses were too tightly sealed, allowing condensation to form inside the walls and causing irreparable structural damage. "The passive solar movement went through an in-between period, when we didn't really understand humidity control and we would trap a lot of moisture in the walls. It made the houses sick," Reynolds says.

click to enlarge In the living room, Reynolds displays fabric wall art pieces by DesignWork, a zerowaste art project crafted from recycled Eileen Fisher clothing. Eileen Fisher served as a consultant on the project. The home’s arched cork acoustical ceiling was installed by local craftsman Lee Sahler. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • In the living room, Reynolds displays fabric wall art pieces by DesignWork, a zerowaste art project crafted from recycled Eileen Fisher clothing. Eileen Fisher served as a consultant on the project. The home’s arched cork acoustical ceiling was installed by local craftsman Lee Sahler.

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