Published By: Joe Parsons
Paul and Joanne Coons had envisioned taking a vacant historic farmhouse in Clifton Park, New York, and making it both livable and carbon neutral. Their three goals were historic preservation, renovating green, which means no VOC, and having a net-zero build.
They were not new to the eco-friendly restoration process. Years earlier, they had restored a neglected 1852 Greek Revival home conducting an energy retrofit, providing them with hands-on experience. That knowledge aided them in their decision to purchase, restore, and live in the Peters-Lockrow property occupying two acres. The site boasts an adjacent bike path that leads to the town center and the park-and-ride lot for commuting in the tri-city area anchored by Albany, New York’s capital.
The 1830s’ home qualified for participation in the NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) program to assist with compliance with green home building ratings and programs. The Coons opted to purchase a barn-style garage plan from architect Donald J. Berg that matched the home’s style which also replaced the the1960s-era garage. Throughout the restoration process, the team worked closely with the Town of Clifton Park Historic Preservation Commission.
Renovation exposed hidden challenges in the long-abandoned building: structural column damage, inadequate roof structures, missing and compromised foundation, rotted sill plates, and structural members. In addition, the Coons had to correct the 1960s-era re-muddle. But they stayed dedicated to their vision, reusing interior trim, or replacing it with locally milled copies, as well as restoring the tin ceiling found under a drop ceiling in the living room. The Coons say they feel very fortunate because the entire ceiling was still there.
Most material that was demoed was recycled or reused: old kitchen cabinets became storage in the barn, concrete was recycled, even nails were reused or recycled. Clippings and debris removed from overgrown trees and bushes were chipped to become ground cover and materials that could not be reused or recycled on-site were donated to Albany Historic Foundation or Habitat for Humanity.
After checking out all options for modern heating and cooling, Paul and Joanne knew geothermal was clearly the right choice for their retrofit project. The house’s system was in dire need of an update. There was a line at the road, but it had never been connected to the house because the property was so old that it used an existing oil tank.
The place was essentially gutted and fitted with energy-efficient windows, doors, and insulation. In 2010, the Coons installed a ClimateMaster™ Tranquility ground source heat pump, a heat recovery ventilator, and a whole-house dehumidifier. Renewable energy is provided by pole-mounted 11.7 kW photovoltaic (PV) and solar hot water (SHW) systems in the rear yard.
Paul, retired state director of environmental health & safety for the office of Mental Health, and Joanne, a high school environmental science teacher, were thrilled to achieve their net-zero goals. In 2011 they received the Town of Clifton Park Historic Preservation award, Town Conservation Easement, LEED Platinum, NAHB Certified Green Building Emerald awards, and an NYS Energy Star rating.
“For the first year, the local utility paid us for our excess electricity. We are now using the excess carbon-free energy generated to power a 2012 Nissan Leaf and a 2018 Tesla 3 to help cover our transportation carbon footprint.” Paul says.
The family has been living in their comfortable and energy-efficient historic home since January 2011. With the addition of the electric cars, their sellable surplus is down, and most American utilities offer weak incentives for sizing a system to achieve better than net-zero because they buy back power at only about 20% of the price for which they sell it. So, these owners still pay a monthly bill: a customer-service charge of $16.93 a month.
The three-ton ClimateMaster™ geothermal heating and cooling system cost approximately $22,000 but saves $2,400 a year on HVAC costs. The comfort, consistency of temperature, and clean air in their historic home is more than the Coons could have hoped for. “When they told me not to open the windows and I’ll still have fresher air I was skeptical at first,” said Joanne. “But it’s true. The ClimateMaster™ Tranquility unit Merv 13 filters keep the air in our home so clean and comfortable removing pollen, particulates, and pollutants. The outdoor air is brought in by our heat recovery ventilators and then filtered by our ClimateMaster unit.”
The Coons have given back to the community by providing an educational program outlining and presenting their project to several organizations and have opened their home for local and national tours.
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