Environmental Commission's Green Tour Mixes Old Practices with New Technology

Environmental Commission’s Green Tour Mixes Old Practices With New Technology

Linda Arntzenius

According to architect and Princeton resident David E. Cohen, the three main goals of sustainable design are: increased energy efficiency, better conservation of resources (by recycling and using readily renewable materials), and creating an environment that will have a healthy impact on the building’s users as well as on the environment at large by reducing pollution and the use of toxic materials.

Mr. Cohen (owner of DEC Architect, Princeton) brought all three elements to the design of his own home at 135 Terhune Road. The residence was stop six on Princeton Environmental Commision’s Green Home and Garden Tour last Saturday, November 17.

The self-guided nine-stop tour featured five homes, two private gardens, and two public buildings (Whole Earth Center and the D & R Greenway Land Trust’s Johnson Education Center), each showing practical ways of using less energy and less chemicals. Local architects, builders, landscapers, and suppliers were featured.

At Mr. Cohen’s home, the carpentry and tile work was carried out by Princeton Design & Installations of Hopewell. Agriboard structural insulated panels were installed by Thomas Design Associates of Pennington.

Visitors found these panels of particular interest. Made from compressed straw, they use up to 90 percent less lumber than conventional home framing and are thicker than in most homes, which in turn contributes to the building’s passive cooling system. In order to cut down on heating and cooling costs, the house is designed with attic fans, roof overhangs, and each bedroom has its own sleeping porch. The many windows are insulated and a high-efficiency condensing oil-fired boiler that can be converted for use with bio-diesel heating fuel as soon as it becomes available for residential use is controlled by computerized thermostats in four zones of the home.

The lack of conventional air conditioning might not be for everyone. It all depends on one’s comfort level, Mr. Cohen told one visitor. As far as his family was concerned, they were not unduly disturbed by the two or three days during last summer (they moved into the home in March) when the inside temperature rose above 80 degrees. “With the double thickness of the exterior walls, the overhangs on the south side of the house, we avoid the greenhouse effect through the windows,” he said.

The Whole Earth Center, the 37-year-old natural-foods store at 360 Nassau Street, was the first stop for many on the tour. Princeton architect Ronald Berlin and representatives of Baxter Construction were on hand to answer questions about Princeton’s first LEED-certified retail store, now in the final stages of an expansion that will include solar photovoltaic roof panels to supply much of the store’s electrical power.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a national rating system for high-performance sustainable buildings developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which emphasizes state-of-the-art strategies for sustainable development, from site, materials, and resources selection, water and energy efficiency, to indoor/outdoor air quality.

“We are very proud to have recycled 32 tons of waste materials that would otherwise have gone into landfills,” said Herb Mertz, a veteran of 25 years on the board of Whole Earth. “Instead, they have been sorted into bins: drywall will be processed into soil amendment, copper will be stripped of its plastic coating and reused, steel and rubber will be reused, masonry rubble will be crushed and used as fill in site work, grading, and roads.” Over 90 percent of construction waste is being reused or recycled.

Deprivation Free Conservation

Stop number 3 on the tour brought visitors to Princeton Environmental Commission member Steve Hiltner’s backyard at 139 North Harrison Street. Kathy Orchen of Hightstown heard about the tour via an announcement from the D&R Greenway. Ms. Orchen said that she is concerned about land preservation in New Jersey. “I’ve been aware of conservation and preservation issues for many years and it’s great to see a tour like this,” she said. Ms. Orchen was interested in Mr. Hiltner’s use of storm-water runoff in creating a rain garden. “The seasonal pond is a novel idea but living in a condo it’s not one that I can apply,” she said. Instead she’s been caulking windows and installing heavier curtains.

“I call my stop on the tour ‘Conservation Without Deprivation,’” said Mr. Hiltner. “Small changes in landscape and lifestyle such as gardening without fertilizer, and integrating autumn leaves into the landscape can yield big results.” Mr. Hiltner shares his ideas via the Web sites: www.-princetonprimer.blogspot.com, and www.princetonnaturenotes.blogspot.com.

Sustainable Landscaping

More landscaping ideas were available from a professionally-designed organic garden at 132 Drakes Corner Road, where Richard McCoy, of McCoy Horticultural Services, and Barry Draycott of Tech Terra Organics have planted native and deer-resistant plants in a balanced ecosystem that is maintained using such eco-friendly strategies as collecting rainwater and using compost-tea applications to encourage soil health.

Naturalized plantings were also among the highlights of the tour at the D & R Greenway Land Trust’s Johnson Education Center, a former barn that was remodeled by Moira McClintock of Ford 3 Architects, LLC.

Solar Envelope

After being inspired by an article in Better Homes & Gardens, John and Trudy Healy found the design for their passive solar home at 1602 The Great Road in The American House by Mary Mix Foley.

The couple sold their modest ranch home on Wilson Road in Princeton and built their just under 2000 foot energy-efficient house with the help of architect Jeremiah Ford III of Ford 3 Architects, LLC and Lovero Construction.

Perhaps the most ambitious of the house designs on show, it is described as an “envelope house” or house-within-a-house. In winter, warmth from a greenhouse on the southern side of he house circulates through a jacket of air surrounding the inner house. In summer, cool air circulates from a “masonry wick” below the house.

The home’s owners and the architect described the process to tour visitors on Saturday. Built in 1983, the house has no windows on the north side. “We have very low heating and cooling bills,” said Ms. Healy. “Get rid of northern windows, put a garage on the north side and use a row of Norway Spruce as a wind break and you’ll save a lot.”

Other locations featured on the tour were: 2 Queenston Place, where a 73-year-old house has been renovated by architect William Wolfe to include a wheelchair-accessible master bedroom suite and geothermal heating and cooling. The residence at 50 Hawthorne Avenue also featured geothermal heating and cooling with hot water generation as well as assisted natural ventilation, and a reflective metal “cool roof,” also by Mr. Wolfe.

At 99 Moore Street, Richardson Smith Architects and the Princeton Design Guild have added solar panels to a design that emphasizes natural daylight and ventilation.