Most days, it’s European history to undergrads. Often, though, he’s throwing open his doors for groups and classes studying green building, fulfilling the mission and vision of the home’s builder along with his own, and showing off the nifty features that made this dwelling a runner-up in our Best In Green Building Competition for 2008.
The ecofriendliness of this particular home began even before the first stone was turned, with the choice to build in the thickly settled Village of New Paltz. Third generation local builders Floyd and Gary Kniffen, given the opportunity to build one of four Green Building Demonstration Homes in New York, chose to put their green spec house right in the middle of everything—much to the delight of its eventual purchaser.
“Like many Americans, I grew up in the suburbs,” reflects Stapell. “So I guess I was drawn to the idea of more density as an adult—having people around, having a sense of being connected. I’m an outdoors person—I love to bike and hike—but I don’t necessarily need to privately own the space where I do that.”
That sense of connection and fondness for urban living, plus a commitment to ecological responsibility, made house hunting a challenge. Stapell and his (now former) wife set up camp in Beacon when they arrived from California and perused the Hudson Valley real estate market. “The market was really high, and we weren’t finding anything,” recalls Stapell. “Until we found this house online, half done—and absolutely ideal. We came to see it, made an offer the next day, and that was that.”
The project was planned and built using the Draft New York State Green Building Guidelines, with an eye to demonstrating that green is possible, attractive, practical, and affordable. Its exterior design, with a gable roof, blends smoothly with the existing village construction.
The quarter-acre lot is an easy stroll from everything from the public pool to Stapell’s job at SUNY New Paltz. “Restaurants, the post office, the movies…I can walk to the end of the block, get on a bus, and be in Manhattan in a little over an hour—anywhere in the world, in other words,” Stapell marvels. “This would still be a green house on a five-acre lot, but I wouldn’t be able to lead as ‘green’ a life.”
Subtler aspects of the location enhance the building’s energy efficiency still more. The house is sited on the lot in such a way as to maximize passive solar gain, allowing sun in the winter and shade in the summer. “A lot of thought was put into the siting on the lot and the shaping of the building,” Stapell points out. “A century or two back, I think farmhouses were probably sited with this kind of TLC—before modern technology allowed us to forget all that good stuff.”
Though Stapell concedes that the $475,000 price tag was more than they’d intended to spend even at the peak of the housing bubble—about 18 percent higher than comparable dwellings, to be precise—he points to features that balance the equation: a metal roof guaranteed for 75 years, James Hardie fiber-cement siding that never needs painting, a foundation of Superior Walls modulars, and a type of bamboo flooring that can be refinished over and over. “Floyd’s concept was ‘build it once; build it right,’” Stapell says.
Besides the passive solar, a handsome hearth of recycled brick surrounds a state-of-the-art Scan woodstove, and forms a “thermal mass” that runs through the core of both stories of the 2,170 square feet of living space. Supplemental heating comes from two Luxaire sealed combustion furnaces. In the summer, temperatures and mold-producing humidity are kept low with two Luxaire A/C units. All of the HVAC components were carefully sized and are linked to a Honeywell heat recovery ventilator, providing the house with fresh air all year round. All in all, the sleek mechanicals give the basement a tidy, spacious feel. “I’m not entirely sure that everything was done just to be green—I think some of the features are inspired by the small, efficient houses of Europe, and used because they work really well,” says Stapell.
The location allowed the builders to tap into existing village water, sewer, and natural gas; Stapell points out that a 1,100-gallon rainwater collector (“the world’s largest milk jug”) feeds all the toilets and outdoor hose bibbs, keeping the water bill at an absolute minimum. A simple arrangement of motion detector and pump means that ultramodern Takagi “flash” water heater works only as needed.
In winter, the Shawangunk Ridge provides a spectacular backdrop for sunsets from the second-floor master suite. In summer, a sustainable landscape thoughtfully created by Ethan Zickler of Kerhonkson-based Eden Design offers considerable greenery and privacy. “It’s about trying to mitigate the loss of habitat that happened when the house was built—putting plants back that are meant to grow here, making a habitat for butterflies and whatever else,” says Stapell. “We have daisy, sweet fern, moss, phlox…
“When I purchased this house with my ex, it was part of a plan that has obviously changed somewhat,” Stapell reflects. “But the house—the location, the ultra-practicality—I’m still excited about. I absolutely love this community. I’m so happy to be a part of it.”