Perfectly Green

Design is proof that an energy-efficient home doesn’t have to be ugly, owners say

By Lynn R. Parks  |  Photographs by Carolyn Watson
From the July 2014 Issue

Architect Scott Edmonston’s true passion is green construction — building homes that function well as living spaces and also have small carbon footprints.

When it came time to design a combination house-office for himself and his wife, Jen, he put that passion into action. The result, they agree, is exactly what they wanted.

“This is my favorite place in the house,” says Jen, showing a visitor the large, walk-through closet. Then, “This is my favorite place in the house,” she says again, standing in the office suite bathroom. And yet again, “This is my favorite place in the house,” this time standing on the pebble floor of the master bathroom shower.

The Bethany Beach home didn’t start out perfect, though. In its first version, completed in 2010 and encompassing 1,500 square feet, it had just one sitting area, part of the first-floor great room.

“We needed to live here for a while before we understood that we needed a little more space,” Jen says. A 350-square-foot addition, completed this spring, includes a second-story master bedroom. The former bedroom, at the top of the stairs, is now a casual sitting area. The remaking of that space meant that the original sitting area could become a little more formal — not stuffy, Jen says, but an ideal spot for drinks and conversation before dinner.

Now, the great room “is how I always envisioned it,” Scott says. Hanging above the fireplace are three large silkscreen prints, representations of dune grass by Lewes artist Nina Mickelsen. And nearby is an Eames armchair — molded plastic — designed for the Herman Miller Furniture Co. by Charles and Ray Eames and “something that every architectural student dreams of having.”

Also included in the addition was the installation of an 8-kilowatt solar system that generates electricity for sale back to the power company. Scott describes the house as “net zero,” meaning that the solar panels generate at least as much power as the home uses.

Even before the addition of the panels, the home’s average monthly electric bill was around $100. For warmth in the winter, Scott designed the structure to have plenty of southern exposure, pushing it toward the northern property line to keep it out of the shadow of the next-door house. In the summer, interior and exterior shades keep out the sun. In addition, the many large windows can be opened to catch cooling ocean breezes.

The house is also well-insulated and has an efficient geothermal heating and cooling system. (Such systems take heat from the ground in the winter to warm a building. In the summer, they pull heat from a building and transfer it to the ground.) Light fixtures are fitted with efficient and long-lasting LED bulbs.

Not all of the home’s green features are focused on saving electricity. To cut down on water use, faucets are low-flow and toilets are dual-flush (using different amounts of water for liquid and solid waste). There also are barrels to collect rainwater for irrigation and a planted swale in the front yard to allow rain to seep into the ground, rather than rushing into the street — and on into the inland bays watershed, carrying with it pollutants picked up along the way.

When Scott designed the house — drawing sketches not with a computer program but the old-fashioned way, standing at a tilted drafting desk with colored pencils in hand — there were three elements Jen insisted on. One was a double oven because “I love to cook and bake,” she says.

Second, she wanted the walls throughout to be painted muted mustard, her favorite color. Only in the guest bedroom are the walls a different color. There, salvaged pale gray tiles cover some of the wall, and the mustard paint made them look green, an unattractive combination, Jen says. So wall spaces not covered in tile were painted pale gray.

And third, she wanted the exterior to be blue. Her grandmother, the late Ruth Dietrich of York, Pa., “always wanted a blue beach house,” Jen explains. “This is for her.”

Both husband and wife expressed their personalities in the dining area table. One of the interior doors that Scott ordered — white, 3 by 8 feet and all wood — had a flaw in it. The manufacturer agreed to replace it, “but I hated to throw away all that wood,” Scott says.

Meanwhile, as Jen was wondering how she would serve the upcoming Thanksgiving family dinner, Scott had an idea. He salvaged mahogany balustrades that were left over from a friend’s deck project and built a frame and legs to hold the door. They next arranged Jen’s sea glass collection, including a tiny piece of rare red sea glass that her mom had found, in an 8-inch stripe down the center of the door, and then put a thick plate of glass over the whole thing. Et voila — a dining room table.

The Edmonston home will be part of this month’s Beach and Bay Cottage Tour, sponsored by the Friends of the South Coastal Library. Jen won’t be there during the event, but Scott isn’t sure whether he will attend or not. It would be hard to hear any criticism of the house, he says. On the other hand, there’s so much about it and the theories behind it that he wants to help people understand.

“Too often, people think that if you’re going to build green, you have to build ugly,” he says. “I want to show people that your house can be very efficient and still be a fun, warm, open and interesting place.”

Lynn R. Parks is a regular contributor to Delaware Beach Life.