Maine Island House Innovations: New Environmental Architecture - Homes Across America Search Return

Maine Island House




Goals of Innovation: A central goal of the project was to create a progressive home that challenged standard residential building techniques, and stereotypes associated with “green” architecture and construction. The owners, whose family has been part of the island for four generations, were determined to have a modern house, yet one that responded carefully to the island vernacular. The home was intended to be environmentally sound, as well as an exploration of new possibilities for environmental design and residential green construction.

Description: The project was seen as a prototype, with an emphasis on celebrating both the aesthetic and the functional potential of sustainable construction.

Elements of local island architecture were fused with modern design to transform the design into something unique. The three main building volumes are covered by two gable roofs and a long sloping shed roof dutifully clad in corrugated metal that echo the countless seaside dwellings that inhabit the islands. The three building masses, set slightly askew to each other (magnetic and true south respectively), create a dynamic interplay of forms and shape. The house completely opens up to the south and southeast, gathering light off the water and establishing a close harmony to the outdoors.

The design keystone is the seamless integration of modern design and environmentally advanced features. Energy efficiency, and calculating a rapid payback in energy savings, were priorities. The orientation of the house takes advantage of both views and passive solar benefits, while the design allows for natural daylighting in every room. Active photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of the barn/garage generate electricity. In addition, the house is super-insulated with walls, which incorporate a thermal break between wall materials, insulated to an R-value of 28 and a roof that exceeds an R-value of 60.

Throughout the house, new technology and materials blend with traditional and low-tech systems. For example, locally milled and pre-stained, pine-drop siding, (a classic Maine cottage siding), and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified white cedar shingles placed over a cedar breather offer subtle accent to the changes in the building shape. These materials are applied over a small air space creating a rain screen that will add to the longevity of the wood siding. Strong angular walls and strategically placed glazing create a modern and dynamic façade, suggestive of the contemporary floor plan inside.

The interior is built for island living: relaxed, casual, and welcoming. The entry is a series of layered spaces including a covered stoop at the connected ell with interior views through the building to the nearby boatyard. A visitor is greeted in the entry/mudroom that acts as an airlock during the winter months to conserve heat. Low maintenance materials, such as exposed, colored concrete floors with radiant heat and FSC certified ‘ApplePly’ cabinets, add to the goal of celebrating aesthetics and function.

Obstacles: New building on this island is a sensitive matter. In recent years, many people have built grand vacation homes, which stand as vacant and ostentatious reminders of the difficulties threatening the viability of rural island communities. While the owners of this project are year-round island residents, an important challenge was formulating a design for a thoroughly modern home, that acknowledged and embraced its island location, but would not appear pretentious or disconnected. This kind of outward expression was achieved through a highly collaborative design process, and careful attention to the island context. In the end, selective use of traditional materials and vernacular building forms assembled in new and unusual ways, provided the opportunity to delicately connect the otherwise competing ideas of new and old.

Cost Information: This was a design intensive project form start to finish. The design budget constituted about 5% of the total project cost. However this number would have been significantly higher if not for two important factors: 1. The design costs were offset by the Design/Build nature of this project, allowing the design to be communicated to the field crews with fewer detail drawings and greater collaboration with subcontractors. 2. The owner/clients active involvement in the construction process allowed for more of the project management time to be used on design details, product research, and sourcing of materials.

Additional Benefits/Drawbacks: As a prototype, the house offers an exciting example of new possibilities in sustainable design and construction, and demonstrates design compatible with long-term occupancy. Consequently, many of the island residents have toured the home; both interested in its unique individual features and the home as a model for future island development.

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