Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

The River House – Orford, New Hampshire

Beautiful, Efficient Home Earns Architecture Award

The River House. Exterior view shows solar photovoltaic system on the barn roof

The River House. Exterior view shows solar photovoltaic system on the barn roof

By Barbara Whitchurch

The River House in Orford, NH captures the character of New England farmhouses and was sited to preserve as much farmland as possible, while providing views up and down the river. Its a four-bedroom home and large barn, which contains a studio apartment, an office, a workshop, a boat room, and space for equipment storage. More important than its aesthetics, though, is the fact that the energy usage of the house approaches net-zero.

In January, 2017, The River House received an Annual Excellence in Architecture Design Award from The American Institute of Architects, New Hampshire Chapter. The award recognizes architecture that exemplifies excellence in overall design, including appropriate functionality, sustainability…and building performance.The architectural firm is Haynes and Garthwaite of Norwich, VT.

Solar hot water panels on the house.

Solar hot water panels are shown on the main roof of the house.

Byron Haynes, the architect, described the genesis of the design. The owner was interested in energy efficiency, and he approached us because he knew this was the kind of thing we do: building a beautiful house and doing it responsibly.The owner was interested in solar PV; Haynes suggested solar hot water, too. Other sustainable aspects were the use of local materials whenever possible; recycled flooring; use of spray foam only when necessary; and only LED lighting.

Haynes chose Naylor and Breen Builders, who specialize in high-end residential building, for the construction. When I spoke with Brent Wilbur, the project manager, I asked him how they approached net zero.

There were many details that contributed,” Wilbur told me. “Its built on a slab-on-grade; most of it faces south with lots of large, south-facing windows (Marvin Ultimate triple-pane). The solar installation is a combination hot water and 5kW PV. The homes radiant heat and hot water are supplied by a propane boiler. There is also a wall-mounted, ducted Mitsubishi air source eight-unit heat pump for supplemental heat and air conditioning.

The bright kitchen interior. Photos from Carolyn Bates Photography.

The bright kitchen interior. Photos from Carolyn Bates Photography.

The exterior is wrapped with two inches of polyisocyanurate; the inside is six inches of dense-packed cellulose, yielding an eight-inch-thick wall. In the attic and cathedral ceiling, extra insulation was blown in, and under the flat roofs, loose-filled cellulose was used. Closed-Cell Foam (CCF) was added under all the low-sloping roofs and around windows and doors for extra protection.

I asked Brent Wilbur what he learned from this project. “Im now a lot more interested in building energy-efficient homes. And I understand the critical importance of air sealing to meet the required number of air changes per hour. Meticulous attention to taping can make a huge difference in the efficiency of a building.The blower door test yielded 1 ACH50; an average well-insulated home runs between 4 and 6.

The owner emailed Haynes the other day. ”Its 5 degrees outside and I am padding around in my bare feet…the house is toasty warm.Byron added with a laugh, The heat hasnt come on in the winter yet.

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Barbara Whitchurch is a Board Member of Vermont Passive House, a non-profit dedicated to educating the public about the concept of Passive House and promoting the Passive House Standard among architects, builders and state government ( She is the co-owner of a certified passive house in Middlesex, Vermont. She is a freelance editor, writer and jewelry artisan, and the pet parent of the worlds greatest Great Pyrenees, Bailey.

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