by Sarah Lanfear
Driving down the road I nearly missed the winding gravel driveway leading up to the home of Berkeley and Jill Adams, a cozy 1500 square foot house tucked into the woods of rural Panama, NY. The house was built in the unique style of a gothic arch and painted a classic cabin brown, fitting in harmoniously with the wooded surroundings. The land is very important to the Adams, and when they built the house in 1975 great care was taken to cause as little disturbance as possible to the surrounding area as well as the environment at large. This ideology is present in nearly every decision they make and is manifested throughout their home in ways both large and small.
The most obvious green feature of the house is the solar panels covering one side of the garage roof, which are tied into the power grid and use a net metering system. This means that as the solar panels produce energy throughout the day it is fed into the grid and their electricity meter actually spins backwards. This, along with extreme energy efficiency throughout the house, has allowed them to bring
their utility costs down to a mere $22 per month, including the $16 minimum charge for connecting to the electric company.
This energy efficiency starts first with the insulation. Since the original structure was built 35 years ago they have more than doubled the insulation on the outside walls. Combined with triple-glazed windows this has brought the insulation of their house up to R32. What that translates to is in the winter they only need to keep a small fire in their soapstone stove from 8:30 in the morning until 4 or 5 in the evening to keep the house at a comfortable 70 degrees, letting it cool down a bit at night. This only requires about $100 worth of firewood per year, although all of this is currently being provided by wood harvested from their property. Assisted by a small fan to help circulate the warm air to the second floor of the house they have almost eliminated the need for their supplementary electric heating system.
A few simple design features have allowed the Adams to eliminate the need for supplementary cooling as well. In fact walking into the house on a hot and humid summer afternoon was quite a relief. This is created first of all by a crawl space which harbors consistently cool underground air that circulates throughout the home. Their house is also designed with the largest windows facing to the south. What today has become a common design feature for green homes was in fact included in their design by a fortunate accident, originally intended to provide a view of the ravine behind their house. South facing windows coupled with generous overhangs block the summer sun, moving high across the southern sky, from shining directly into the windows, helping to keep it cool. In the winter, however, when the sun is much lower it shines in through the large windows and helps to heat their home, keeping it at a comfortable temperature year round.
There is one problem that comes with a home that is this well insulated which is the buildup of stale air and humidity. To counter this problem the Adams are currently looking into installing an energy-recovery ventilator. This ingenious ventilation system solves the problem of stale air without wasting energy spent on heating or cooling. It works by transferring energy from the stale indoor air to the fresh air from outside as they pass each other within the ventilator, ultimately reducing energy loss by 70 to 80%.
Beyond temperature control there are a lot of little things the Adams do to save energy in their home that add up to make a huge difference. For example, their 40 gallon hot water tank is hooked up to a timer which turns it on for only
one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. Surprisingly this produces enough hot water to meet all of their household hot water needs, including showering, washing dishes, etc.
They also have a much smaller and more efficient washer and dryer, which works to fit their small living space as well as their small energy budget. Even in the purchase of a new Blu-ray player energy efficiency was taken into account.
When I asked the couple why they chose to build their home as they did Berkeley responded by saying “we didn’t see the need for excess”. The two have always cared about nature and realize that consuming more than you need will always have a negative impact on the natural world. This love of nature can be seen in how they manage their property, which is left in its naturally occurring state as much as possible. They only keep a small yard, sharing the rest of the property with the abundance of wildlife that also calls this place home.Berk Adams Panama, NY 14767 email@example.com