By its very nature, sustainable architecture requires a different perspective.
There is a premium on efficiency in design and materials, seamless integration into a building’s surroundings—and close communication between designer and homeowner.
Three recent sustainable building partnerships on the Cape and Islands show what is possible when expert, artisanal design meets the principles of environmental sensitivity. All three homes produce most of the energy they need; one home has even joined elite ranks with an exclusive green building certification. The best part of all? The three families love their homes as much as they love the sun and the ocean outside.
When John Abrams, founder and CEO of South Mountain Company in West Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard, tackled a decrepit 1943 cottage in Aquinnah, the rebuild included a deep energy retrofit. The homeowners, a professional couple in Washington, D.C., with five children, knew they had their architect and builder when Abrams said a teardown wasn’t inevitable. “We liked the idea of saving something old,” the homeowner says. “John was the first one who said he could work with it. We had a meeting of the minds very early.” Abrams, the founder of the employee-owned company, also felt a solid partnership. “They were sensible, adventurous, and trusting,” Abrams says of the couple. “The collaboration was really rewarding.”
Abrams used several strategies to save energy. Along with South Mountain designer Derrill Bazzy and engineer Marc Rosenbaum, Abrams wrapped the entire house with insulation and installed triple-glazed windows, reducing air leakage by 90 percent. Then the crew installed air source heat pumps and a heat recovery system for ventilation. The final touch was a solar electric system on the south-facing roof.
Today, the shingled house, perched on a hill with a view of Vineyard Sound, is a welcoming, airy space, featuring a cathedral ceiling with beautiful reclaimed Douglas fir beams. But mostly, the family loves the property for what is outside. “My son and I love to go fishing and clamming in Menemsha Pond,” the owner says. His wife has an organic garden, and the family enjoys nothing more than having their neighbors over for striped bass they’ve caught that day and vegetables fresh from their garden.