Cape Cod Home - Chatham Stage Harbor House

Thank you so much to Cape Cod Home for featuring our Chatham Stage Harbor House  in their Spring 2018 issue.  It was a wonderful project to work on with great clients in a beautiful location!

In 2014 we started working with a fabulous client on their new family’s home in downtown Chatham. They bought a small cottage on a charming street right off of Main Street but knew they needed a larger home with a second story to accommodate their family, and extended family. The lot was small, but lovely with old trees and views to stage harbor. We collaborated with the owner’s daughter, an architect in New York city to create a multi-generational home that accommodates their 90 father on a first floor bedroom as well as college kids and extended family.  The main living space is an open living, dining and kitchen with a pantry tucked off it. There’s a screened porch beyond that offers indoor /outdoor living in the summer months.  We tried to use as many windows as possible to keep the space bright and airy. While the street façade has windows, we kept it a little more solid for privacy but the back is a wall of windows overlooking a bluestone patio. Thanks to Cape Cod Magazine for the feature and Dan Cutrona Photography for the amazing shots.  Toby the wheaton terrier stole the show as usual!


Full Article in Cape Cod Home:  Back to the Family

Builder:  Ta LaBarge

Framer:  Matt Andersen - Andersen Framing

Structural Engineer:  Mark McKenzie

Site Engineer:  Clark Engineering

Kitchen & Baths:  Classic Kitchen & Interiors

Windows:  Marvin Integrity - Marvin Design Gallery

Photographer:  Dan Cutrona

Writer:  Haley Cote

Cape Cod Home


Thank you to Cape Cod Home magazine for featuring our interview in the “next wave” feature of their Annual Guide. While it can be hard to self-reflect we are proud of the work we’ve done and feel so fortunate that we get to collaborate with some many great clients, engineers, builders and local vendors.  Cape Cod is a great place to work and we again are so lucky we have designed in many amazing locations and with a wide variety of styles.

 Check out the article here 


Best of Boston Home - Boston design center

A3 Architects was excited to attend the Best of Boston Home event Thursday evening at the Boston Design Center in the Seaport District.  We were honored to be named Best of Boston Home 2018 Sustainable Architect and it was wonderful to celebrate with other building and design professionals in such an awesome space. 

The Design center is a revamped historic warehouse built in 1918 – at the interior they have left the structure completely exposed – it was exciting to see the old mushroom cap columns next to the exposed ductwork. 

Thanks to Boston Home for hosting such a wonderful evening and congrats to all the winners!


Best of Boston Home 2018 - Sustainable Architect

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A3 Architects was honored to be named Best of Boston Home 2018 for 'sustainable architect' in November.  We continue to be passionate about our commitment to net-zero design- creating buildings that create as much energy as they use.  We are so thankful to have many clients who share this commitment and happily share their energy bills with us!  We appreciate the recognition as we continue to pursue energy efficient projects across the Cape and Islands, and beyond.  

Congratulation to all the winners!  We look forward to celebrating at the Design Center in Boston in December. 


A3 wins 1 Bedroom and 3 Bedroom Category in CCYP Housing Competition

A3 Architects was honored to be awarded first place in both the 1 bedroom and 3 bedroom categories of the Cape Cod Young Professionals design competition for affordable housing on Cape Cod.  We look forward to working with the CCYP to further develop these schemes into permit sets and have them constructed in the future.

The designs are all quite traditional and compact, again to address affordability. We are committed to low energy use homes, so all three were designed to be net-zero possible with the addition of photovoltaic panels.  While affordable housing is an issue on the Cape so are energy prices.  Fixing energy costs goes a long way towards addressing affordability.

Cape Cod Times Article on CCYP Housing Competition

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Behind the scenes of the Stage Harbor photoshoot


It’s so fun and rewarding to revisit projects after they’ve been lived in for a few months. We love to get final pictures for our portfolio, website and possible publication.  It is an exhausting day but well worth the effort.  In this post we share some behind the scenes action working with our favorite photographer Dan Cutrona. He’s so easy to work with and is a wizard with light. We are excited to see his final shots!

This house was easy to photograph in that the first floor is a series of open spaces – kitchen, dining, living rooms and screened porch.  We always try to get a series of exterior shots and in this case waited until the ‘magic hour’ to shoot outside. But the sun sets so quickly we only got about 4 shots in before losing the light. 


Southern New England Home

Check out the latest issue of Southern New England Home to see the feature on our Net Zero Quivet Neck House

The Quivet Neck project was developed on an existing site is an undisturbed 8 acre parcel in rural East Dennis with abundant wildlife, rolling stone walls and wetlands. The project will minimally disturb less than 1/4 acre on the site and faces the northwest for distant views of Cape Cod Bay. The proposed design is in keeping with the charming historic neighborhood of East Dennis. The shingled style with three gables on each side will provide a dramatic interior roofline for the main living areas located on the second floor, under the roof. All the rooms are oriented towards the exterior living spaces and the distant water views beyond. The house will be super insulated and produce nearly as much energy as it uses.

energy:  MA New Homes with Energy Star, Tier 3.  Solar panels on south roof by E2Solar, Dennis MA

builder:  Brian W Shanahan CO, Barnstable MA

photography by Dan Cutrona

magazine:  Southern New England Home

article by:  Kiley Jacques

blog:  Aerial Video of Net Zero Quivet Neck House

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What's a mini-split?

We wanted to share some great information about mini-split heat pumps that we received from Cape and Islands Self Reliance.  At A3 Architects, we typically specify mini-split heat pumps (ducted and ductless units) for a majority of our projects.  This all electric system provides heating and cooling and is two-to three times more efficient than electric resistance baseboard heating of the 1970s and 80s.  When paired with solar photovoltaic panels on your roof, heating and cooling with electricity becomes an efficient and affordable option.

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 Wall Mounted MSHP at A3 Architect's Office

Wall Mounted MSHP at A3 Architect's Office

"What's a mini-split?"

Ductless mini-splits provide cooling, dehumidification and heating in the same unit, which typically hangs on the wall.   The compressor is located outside.  To cool, the unit moves the heat out of the building just the way an air conditioner does.  When it gets cold and you want to get heat from the unit, it reverses to pull heat from the outside air and pump it back inside.

Check out the great new incentive available through the MA Clean Energy Center (rebates up to $2,500) which include higher incentives for moderate income households and for replacing electric baseboard heating.  These incentives can be coupled with the incentive from Mass Save (rebates up to $300 per inside unit).  Mini-split units must be qualified, listed with and certified by the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), and meet the program SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) and HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) requirements.

Self-Reliance recommends that you consider the Fujitsu models as they offer the highest performance ratings for heating and cooling while being very energy efficient.

Ductless mini-splits are easy to have installed and are quieter and more efficient than window A/C units and much more efficient than electric baseboard heating.  We have partnered with local installers who will do a free site assessment and provide you with a quote specific to your home or business.  You can sign up here, or call our office at 508-563-6633 or email

 Wall Mounted Mini Split Heat Pump

Wall Mounted Mini Split Heat Pump

 Floor Mounted Mini Split Heat Pump 

Floor Mounted Mini Split Heat Pump 

The above information was provided by Cape and Islands Self- Reliance.  Self Reliance is a non-profit based in North Falmouth that promotes energy efficient and renewable energy technologies.  Please visit their website to find out more about this organization and how you can benefit from their programs. 

Home Remodeling Magazine: Cape & Islands - Oyster Pond House

Check out the latest issue of Home Remodeling Magazine for a feature on the Oyster Pond House in Falmouth. We created a dynamic new kitchen with vaulted ceilings to connect an existing 1930s Cape to a new family room space in the back.  It was so fun working with the family to create their Cape home base that's perfect for entertaining and outdoor living. We love the cover shot - a new mudroom/bathroom space connected to the outdoor shower!

To read: Home Remodeling Magazine

article written by: Lenore Cullen Barnes

photos by: Dan Cutrona

builder: The Valle Group

SDLs vs. GBGs

Okay, you’re probably wondering what we’re talking about …

The short answer: GBGS and SDLS are the decorative grilles on a window. 

The next question you might have “is what are grilles?” …look left- we did a quick sketch calling out the anatomy of a 2 over 2 double hung window.

Now you might be wondering why we’re talking about this at all… From an architecture standpoint we love windows.  They do a number of things for a structure –let in light, bring in fresh air, they also articulate the overall feel of a space.   Large windows with no grilles provide an unobstructed view allowing the most light into a space.   Windows with a lot of grilles harkens back to a more traditional, historical style that you will see driving down historic 6A on the cape.  

A historical cape cod house might have a 12 over 12 window pattern.  This means that there were 12 panes of glass in the upper sash and 12 panes in the lower sash.  A modern approach to this look that allows more light in and less cost is a 6 over 6 or 6 over 1 window which is commonly seen on the cape.

Historically, windows were a collection of smaller panes of glass that were joined together by muntin bars.  These muntin bars were integral to having a larger window unit; but they were also a weak point of the window from an energy standpoint.  The bars were made of wood or metal that acted as a thermal bridge from the interior of a structure to the outside.   As technology increased we found ways to produce larger pieces of glass without the need of this joinery and eventually we began producing double glazed and triple glazed windows that are extremely energy efficient.  So, from a functional perspective we don’t need the muntins (or grilles), but from a decorative standpoint we can have them in one of two ways.

Windows with GBGs, Grilles between the Glass

GBGs or grilles between the glass are just as their name describes --- grilles that are placed inside the double glazed window.  This gives the look of a traditional window from a distance, but when you are closer to the window you see that grilles are inside the glass.   These windows appear flatter in comparison to a window with SDLS. 

Windows with SDLs, Simulated Divided Lites

SDLS are an architect’s preferred detail for window grills.  SDLS or Simulated Divided Lites are grilles that are applied directly to the surface of the glass and provide the most authentic look for the window while still providing the energy efficiency of a modern double glazed window. These windows appear flatter in comparison to a window with SDLS. 

Historic Details of 6A

Driving down 6A into Yarmouth port and through Brewster is a beautiful tour of historic Cape Cod architecture.   The weather has been so nice these last few days we decided to stop one morning and photograph a few of our favorite architectural details along this part of Old King’s Highway. 

 Happy Fish Bakery - the classic black and white color scheme and decorative gothic style details

Happy Fish Bakery - the classic black and white color scheme and decorative gothic style details

  Briar Patch Pediatrics - Brackets at porch roof

Briar Patch Pediatrics- Brackets at porch roof

 Love these Scissor Brackets at this small historic home.

Love these Scissor Brackets at this small historic home.

 Simple, angled porch brackets and large picture windows at the Town Crier Antiques

Simple, angled porch brackets and large picture windows at the Town Crier Antiques

  Brewster General Store  - the Brewster General store is an iconic stop along this part of 6a with its tall front porch with large over-sized store front windows and decorative brackets.

Brewster General Store - the Brewster General store is an iconic stop along this part of 6a with its tall front porch with large over-sized store front windows and decorative brackets.

Affordable Net Zero Eastham House

In February of this year, we broke ground on a small affordable net-zero house. We are committed to making net energy zero work for all.  The clients owned an 850 SF cottage in Eastham on a small lot. The cottage had no foundation so we demolished it. 

The new design is for a 1780 SF house. The form is simple – again for affordability – 2 gables connected by a small connector piece.  One wing houses the master bedroom and an open living/dining/living room.  All rooms have south facing glazing for passive solar heating. The smaller gable consists of a garage and guest room, while the ‘connector’ contains mudroom/entry and guest bath.  These simple forms allow the framing costs to remain minimal.


Some strategies when considering to cost effective ways to get to net zero:

 Raised Heel Energy Truss

Raised Heel Energy Truss

1. Truss roof

Instead of framing with convention lumber (typically 2x10s) this roof framing is designed to be a truss.  There are many advantages to using trusses. One is affordability.  They are installed easily in one day with a crane so there’s a major labor savings.  Secondly, the truss consist of 2x4 and some 2x6 members so there’s a significant savings versus the 2x10 lumber which is good for costs and sustainability.  Finally, these trusses are designed to allow 14-16” of blown in cellulose insulation so that are much more insulated than a typical roof especially
 Triple Glazed Window and Double Framed Wall

Triple Glazed Window and Double Framed Wall

2. Double framed wall

3. MA Energy Star Homes



4. Photovoltaic panels




We often use double wall construction when attempting to get to net-zero. We essentially double the amount of insulation. The only additional cost is extra cellulose insulation and some additional 2x4 studs. We are using


All of our new construction project participate in this worthy program. We work very closely with our HERs raters ( to energy model the initial design and then optimize the insulation/mechanical strategies.  During construction, the HERs raters test the project for air tightness. Our goal is always tier 3, the highest level where there’s typically around $8,000 to $10,000 in rebates/incentives, as well as a tax credit.


To get to net-zero, we need energy production. The most effective way to do this is by adding solar panels. We are so lucky to work closely with E2 Solar ( on our projects from the beginning. WE evaluate for shading and production. Sunpower panels are the most efficient on the market and reliably make more electricity than we plan on. 

4. Mini split heat pumps





5. Operating expenses


Since we are now making electricity on our roof, guess what we want to heat and cool with? Electricity!  While gas can be efficient, we LOVE mini splits. These are small room sized split systems that provide heating and cooling. When we reduce the loads by adding insulation, we can heat and cool the entire house with one mini split.  We often add others for reduncancy BUT talk about energy savings! We added insulation so that one mini split (cost $4000 installed) can heat and cool a small house.  A typical house requires a new installed $30,000 fossil fuel heating system.  


Most builders/architects create budgets based on construction costs, but we think it’s important to consider operational costs as well. What will you monthly energy costs be? WE can help project that with energy modeling!  We look over the course of a year since we often find there’s surplus of electricity created in May & June (no heating or cooling loads, but long sunny days) that can be utilized in Dec. and January (high heating loads, low sun angle)
   BlueskinVP 100  -   tri-laminate polypropylene wrap  

BlueskinVP 100 tri-laminate polypropylene wrap  

 West Elevation of Net Zero Eastham House - Screen porch is framed and  E2 Solar  was on site yesterday preparing the roof and electrical service for solar panels

West Elevation of Net Zero Eastham House - Screen porch is framed and E2 Solar was on site yesterday preparing the roof and electrical service for solar panels

 View of LIving Room - Double Framed Wall and Triple Glazed windows. 

View of LIving Room - Double Framed Wall and Triple Glazed windows. 

 Raised Heel Scissor Truss

Raised Heel Scissor Truss

 Triple Glazed Windows & framed Double Wall

Triple Glazed Windows & framed Double Wall

Out for a walk in Dennis Village

A3 Architects is located in the heart of Dennis Village in a historic building from the 1830s.  Before we moved from our office in Brewster to our current location, we didn’t know much about this part of the cape.  It has been wonderful to explore all the hidden (and not so hidden) gems in the area and we thought we would take a moment to highlight a few of our favorite stops. 

Our favorite places to grab a bite to eat:

The Mercantile

Fun little sandwich shop located behind the post office.  It is easy to run in and out for a quick sandwich (or call ahead during their busy summer months)  Everything on the menu is great, but we suggest the jimmy tuna on oatmeal bread and maybe a cookie…

The Underground Bakery

Located in the same plaza as the Merc – they have great coffee, fun sweet treats, and awesome atmosphere


Encore Bistro and Bar

This little bistro is located on the grounds of the Cape Playhouse and is a lovely setting for an eat-in business lunch. 

Sesuit Harbor Café

This one isn’t within walking distance, but it is probably a five minute drive from our office and a great location to sit outside and enjoy a lobster roll by the water.  Open during the summer months

Dennis Village might be small, but it has some great little boutiques


Deep BLUE is owned by Amy Mason –she is an illustrator and designer with her own line of cards, graphics, and fabrics that are showcased in the store.  She also carries an array of furnishings, art, jewelry – seriously – We always stop in when we are looking for gifts and somehow leave having bought ourselves something as well!  (Also ,we love her blue barn doors  on the exterior of the Deep Blue shop-  such a fun pop of color on 6A!)


This little shop is precious.  The owner goes to Paris every year to shop for unique items for the store.  Scout has an array of home furnishings, textiles, and jewelry with a Parisian flair that you won’t find anywhere else (…at least on this side of the Atlantic!). 

Also,  if you’re on the cape in December, be sure to check out her shop—she decorates it to the nines for the holiday seasons!


Elburne is a newcomer to Dennis Village and we are very excited about the addition of this new boutique.  They specialize in reclaimed, recycled, and sustainable home décor….. Right up our alley!

A few of the special places in Dennis village

The beaches:  Corporation Beach, Mayflower Beach, and Chapin Beach

It goes without saying since we are located on Cape Cod that the beaches are a highlight. 

The whole cape has beautiful beaches, but our office is located within a mile of Corporation Beach which makes for a fun run out to the beach and back during our warmer months.  Mayflower Beach and Chapin Beach are also beautiful spots.

 Corporation Beach

Corporation Beach

 photo from the Cape Cinema

photo from the Cape Cinema

The Cape Cinema

We are located directly across from the Cape Cinema and when we moved to our office a few years back… none of us really knew how special it was to be located across from this landmark.

The claim to fame: 

The Cape Cinema (then the Cape Playhouse) opened in the 1930 and was one of three cinemas to preview the Wizard of Oz before its Hollywood premier.  Oh and the other claim to fame…its ceiling.  There is a 6,400 square foot mural designed by Rockwell Kent in the art deco style.  It in itself is worth the trip, but the cinema hosts a wide array of shows (really something for everyone) from the most recent Indie film to the Met Opera to the Ballet and my personal favorite – during the summer they will host a few indie music concerts.  AND you get to watch it all in a beautiful space.  Win-win

Scargo Tower

It is a random, 30 foot tall cobblestone tower located at the top of Scargo Hill.  There are a couple of things that make this a worthwhile stop:

  1. You did hear us say:  it is a random, 30 foot tall cobblestone tower located at the top of Scargo Hill.  The oddity of that should be enough of an allurement alone.  Seriously – it makes you feel like you’re in a fairytale. 
  2. The views.  From the top of the tower, you are afforded beautiful views of Scargo lake below and Cape Cod Bay beyond.  The view is beautiful year round, but particularly specialduring peak leaf season in the fall and in winter after a snowfall.

A little History and a few fun facts: (thank you Wikipedia!)

  1. There have been 3 Scargo Towers in the same spot.  The first one was constructed in 1874; it was wood and well-the cape is a windy place so it didn’t last too long.  The second tower was built in 1900, also out of wood, but it burned down. Since we all learn by iteration – the third was built out of cobblestones and it is what we see today.  It was constructed in 1901. 
  2. One other random fact.  The mason, who did the stonework for the tower, also constructed the stone wall in front of the A3/E2 Solar offices. 

This was fun highlighting some of our local favorite stops – we might just have to do future blog posts on other cape town’s and our favorite places to stop.  We do project all over the cape and always enjoy wandering around!  Be sure to let us know if you have any favorite places we should check out – always love finding spots!

Aerial Video of the Net Zero Quivet Neck House

It is nice to have friends with drones… 

Todd Druskat works at E2 Solar and has been taking amazing footage with his drone of the cape and also his travels to Florida this past winter.  He was kind enough to stop by one of our projects last week and film our Net Zero Quivet Neck House  from the sky.  Love getting this different view of our project… hope we can talk him in to a few more site visits in the future!  Thanks Todd!

National Library week: A few of the Cape's best

April 9-15 is National Library week. On the Cape are so lucky to have a library in almost every village.  The CLAMs network is an AMAZING network that connects all the Cape libraries online.  It is difficult to pick just a few libraries to highlight, because there are so many special spaces, but here are a few of our favorites.

South Dennis Library

The winner for the cutest library on cape definitely goes to the South Dennis Library.  The building (nicknamed , “the little library”) was constructed in 1856 at the height of the American Gothic style and features quintessential gingerbread details from the ornate latticework eaves, to the Gothic pointed windows, and inlay clover trim detail. 

Accounts of the buildings exact origins differ-- some say it was moved from another site on Cape or even possibly the Vineyard before it found its home in South Dennis.   Others say it was built by a resident of the town, or maybe even a gift.  In 1918 it was Jonathan Matthews, a sea captain, who bought the cottage for the town to use as a library. 

South Dennis Library Website:

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Jacob Sears Memorial Library

The library was built in 1895 by long time East Dennis resident, Jacob Sears.  It is located in the heart of Dennis village and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.  There are two distinguishing architectural features that make this building especially unique.  The first is the covered entry porch with adjacent polygonal turret.  The wraparound steps leading up to the front door with flanking supporting columns and large brackets makes for a beautiful procession into the space.  The second feature is the 3 floor to ceiling doghouse dormers that articulate the front facade of the building. 

Jacob Sears Memorial Library Website:

Eastham Library

Eastham has a new library that opened this past fall and is a modern interpretation of the Cape Cod architectural style. The interior spaces are bright and modern with beautiful views of the pond beyond.  The exterior of the building is clad in the cape’s vernacular trademark:  cedar shingles and clapboard.  A lovely courtyard sits adjacent to the entry corridor and main reading spaces – we look forward to seeing how this space changes though the seasons.   The original one-room library from 1898 sits at the front of the site and is now a quiet reading space.

Eastham Library Website:

 Corner Window Detail

Corner Window Detail

 Corner Shingle Detail & Window SIll

Corner Shingle Detail & Window SIll

 Courtyard Space

Courtyard Space

Home Remodeling Magazine: Energy Stars

Below is an article A3's Alison Alessi wrote for Home Remodeling Magazine that provides an outline for energy efficient home renovations.  Be sure to visit the Home Remodeling Website and pick up a copy of their magazine for inspiration on your next renovation project!

All photography is by Dan Cutrona. 

 Home Remodeling Magazine

Home Remodeling Magazine

8 Tips for renovating a home with energy efficiency in mind

There are many advantages to renovating your home, from increasing value to creating a space that fits your lifestyle perfectly. But a less obvious opportunity also exists: the chance to assess and address energy efficiency within the home. When wall and roof cavities are open, it is easier and more cost effective to tighten an older house or fix insulation problems. Add in rebates and tax credits for the energy-efficient updates and homeowners stand to save even more money along with reducing their energy bills and carbon footprint.

While renovation projects can be more challenging to make energy efficient, in comparison to new construction, there are still many opportunities. Consider the following:

1.  Start with an energy audit

No matter the scale of the project, start with an energy audit.  An energy audit is quite simply an assessment of the mechanicals and insulation levels in your home. Locally, the Cape Light Compact provides comprehensive energy audits with free LED light bulbs. They also fund up to 75% of recommended incentives. There are programs available for commercial, institutional and renters as well as home owners. These incentives are available every year, so even if you’ve had an audit recently, there may be more that you can do.

2.  Diagnostic testing during construction can ‘catch’ mistakes

If you are doing a significant renovation or addition, you might also consider HERs rating. Home Energy Rating is required by code for most new construction. We find working with a HERs rater to be invaluable. During design they create energy models to predict energy performance. We typically ‘test’ multiple types of insulation and mechanical strategies. Then, during construction, a HERs rater can diagnose duct and air leakages that are very difficult to find and repair when the home is finished. We have detected many serious leaks during construction that were fixed to save homeowners thousands of dollars in future energy costs.

3.  Insulate from the outside!

Another strategy for renovation projects is blown-in insulation: cellulose, which is locally produced using 90% recycled content from newspapers, is the preferred material. It can be blown in from the exterior to make sure all bays are filled with insulation. It can be much neater to attack this problem from the outside. For roofs, adding spray foam insulation can be great for air sealing, especially for more complicated rooflines. If your house has mechanicals in an un-insulated attic or basement, you should consider getting these mechanicals in conditioned or at least insulated spaces. Usually the easiest way to accomplish this is by insulating the sloped roof rafters of the attic or the basement walls. 

  Scargo Lake Cottage  - Energy Star for Homes Renovation

Scargo Lake Cottage - Energy Star for Homes Renovation

4.  Windows can make a big difference

While it’s impractical to reproduce a true divided light historic window, many double-glazed higher performing windows have simulated divided lights and spacer bars and historic profiles that replicate historic windows with higher performance. However, before you consider replacing all windows, blower door test the house and seal the gaps around the window and under the trim. The return on investment for new windows is really high! That being said, new double-glazed windows help with energy loss, cross ventilation, sound mitigation and thermal comfort.

5.  Continuous insulation eliminates thermal bridging

A thermal bridge is a gap in insulation. Each stud is a thermal bridge compared to the bay between filled with insulation. Heat is transferred more easily by wooden studs than by insulation. If you are replacing your roof or siding (something we consider a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ for most roofing and siding materials), consider adding a continuous exterior layer of insulation under the new siding or roofing.  We have done projects with even as little as one inch of rigid insulation on the exterior of the sheathing.  This gives a nice tight continuous air barrier and enhances the insulation level of wood-framed houses.  The continuous layer helps eliminate thermal bridging for walls and roofs.

 Solar Panels By  E2 Solar  on our  Net Zero Scituate House

Solar Panels By E2 Solar on our Net Zero Scituate House

6.  Getting to net-energy zero

A net-energy-zero house is a building that produces as much energy as it uses. This is a very simple definition but it gives quite a bit of leeway for different approaches. Passive house is another energy standard, one of the most rigorous ones in the world. The standard was developed in Germany but is based on building science from the 1960s and 70s passive houses built in North America.  The basic principal is to insulate a house enough so the mechanical load is dramatically reduced. In our climate zone, to achieve near net-zero or near-Passive house standards, insulation levels would have to be R:40 walls, R:60 roof, triple-glazed windows, R:20 basement wall and R:10 under slab foundations.  While this certainly requires an initial cost for upgraded insulation, and a serious strategy about where and how to accommodate this additional insulation, the upgrade comes with a significantly reduced mechanical load and monthly energy costs. In many cases, the heating could be as simple as one mini split heat pump. The final piece to achieve net-zero is adding renewable energy, typically photovoltaic panels that produce electricity.

8.  Heating with electricity makes sense!?

Many Cape residents no longer or never had access to natural gas for heating.  We can’t make natural gas on our roofs, but we can make electricity by utilizing solar photovoltaic panels. If we are serious about getting to net-zero, it’s important to heat/cool/heat water with electricity. Fortunately, there are great options for heating these days. We use mini-split heat pumps for heating and cooling as well as heating hot water for most projects. They are two-to-three times more efficient than the electric resistance baseboard heating of the 1970s and 80s. There are options for ducted and ductless units. 

9.  Ventilation is VERY important

Finally, a note about ventilation. The first question we often get is “Don’t you want the house to breathe?” Yes, of course we do. However, we want to control that. We don’t want the house to breathe through walls and windows. If you add insulation and don’t consider ventilation there can be problems.  We want ventilation – whether from a simple exhaust-only Panasonic bathroom fan or a more sophisticated intake/exhaust whole-house ventilation system that controls how the house exchanges air. Old houses breathe, but new energy-efficient house do too. They do it in a smarter more efficient way.

About the author:

Alison Alessi is a architect with A3 Architects, Inc. in Dennis MA. She is a Certified passive house designer and is passionate about creating low-energy projects for the Cape and Islands and beyond.