Litchfield House: Zero Energy Saltbox in Connecticut

The Litchfield House, located in the eponymous Connecticut town, is designed based on traditional saltbox techniques but incorporates a broad range of advanced building technologies.

The saltbox is one of the country’s oldest home construction techniques and an excellent example of American colonial architecture. Dating from the 1600s across New England, the saltbox’s shed roof and single story would face north with little to no glass in an effort to deflect winter winds. The two-story side of the design faced south, using large windows to passively collect solar energy. The Litchfield House is an effort to implement the principles of the historical saltbox using modern green building techniques. Thanks to Jim and John Bleuer of Bleuer Green- which is developing the house, located about halfway between Hartford and Poughkeepsie in Litchfield, Connecticut- for sharing details about their project with gbNYC.

Perhaps the biggest difference in the Litchfield House from a traditional saltbox is that the house’s large roof faces south instead of north, allowing a rooftop photovoltaic system to collect nearly 13,000 watts of solar power annually. The home’s annual thermal load will be less than 5,000 watts, providing around 8,000 watts for the rest of the house’s electricity needs. The house is on the local utility’s electric grid, so it can take advantage of net metering and feed electricity back into the grid when a surplus is available; conversely, during winter months, it can draw power from the utility. Once a year, the utility will net out the house’s electricty consumption and the Bleuers anticipate that average annual electricity load will be zero.

Heat-gaining cermaic floors will be incorporated into the south side of the house and floors throughout will be heated with custom-built, thermal electric heating mats, tailored to each individual room. The mats are powered by the photovoltaic system, and programmable controls in each room control temperatures. All of the house’s floors that are not ceramic tile will be bamboo. The house also features a panelized foundation that boosts the basement R-value to 21 and eliminates heat and cooling loss through the basement floor. It uses a pellet stove for heat (no natural gas or oil); on average, it requires three tons of pellet fuel to heat a house during the typical winter, so the Litchfield House will likely cost $600.00 per year to heat based on pellet fuel costs of $200.00 per ton. (These figures are on average, so the Litchfield House may actually cost less.)

Although the 2 x 8″ building envelope added a third to lumber expenses because of the additional 2″ studs, it should increase the house’s heating efficiency by nearly a third. The house is insulated with 80 percent post-consumer recycled newsprint cellulose that’s also treated with non-toxic borate as a prevention against mold. All pipe penetrations through the building envelope are also insulated with sprayed cellulose, which is not typical in average home construction. Cellulose insulation allows virtually zero air penetration as compared with fiberglass insulation, which is highly permeable. The Bleuers also addressed one of the largest sources of heat loss in conventional construction- concrete foundations- by using a pre-fabricated, insulated foundation that incorporates thermal breaking foam. Poured concrete typically has a negative R-value, but the Litchfield House’s foundation started out at R-5 and, thanks to the cellulose insulation, stands at R-21.

The 2700-square-foot Litchfield House sits on approximately 5.6 acres and, as you can see from the construction photos below, is designed to blend in with the colonial architecture of the surrounding Litchfield hills. Indeed, the aesthetics of the house’s photovoltaic array are being handled with subtlety; it will not be visible upon entering the property. The Bleuers anticipate an asking price of approximately $750,000.00 for the house, which should be be completed soon.

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