CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Robert Dorsey said he wanted to save money when he asked architect Joe Sinclair to design a house that would fit on the concrete-block foundation of a previous house.
And he insisted that's why he recycled materials such as using leftover pipe for closet rods and scraps of wood for bathroom shelving.
"I already own this tree," he said, explaining why he used ash for the ceiling beams in the contemporary living room. Dorsey has ash trees on a farm he owns in Lincoln County.
Sinclair agreed that economy is important, but equally so is the natural environment and people. It's a philosophy known as the "triple bottom line."
Sinclair pointed out that the ash was locally harvested and is sustainable, in that trees can be replanted. The hickory for the wood floors came from an Appalachian forest, certified as a stand in which the trees are planted at a rate faster than they're being cut.
The wood burned in the fireplace insert is cut from trees on Dorsey's land, and even the mantel is milled from a branch of a walnut tree that was on his farm.
Obviously, a lot of energy is saved when wood is harvested on site or nearby.
"When they bring bamboo for floors from China to West Virginia, it makes my heart sick," Dorsey said.
The biggest energy savers are the structural insulated panels (SIP) used for the exterior walls and ceilings. Six- and 8-inch-thick foam is sandwiched between sheathing to provide both insulation and support.
"There are no studs," said Sinclair, explaining that inside heat is lost through the wood framing, a term called thermal bridging.
"SIP eliminates thermal bridging. It keeps heat in in winter and out in summer."
In traditional construction, fiberglass insulation is secured between the supporting studs of an exterior wall. In West Virginia, insulation with an R-13 value would be recommended. But with the loss of heat from thermal bridging, the rating would actually be R-7, Sinclair said.
"With SIP, you're getting all of the R value -- well over R-20."
Which raises the question: Is the Dorsey house too airtight?
"You can't neglect interior air quality," Sinclair replied.
That's why a heat recovery ventilation system was installed in the basement. Fresh air from the outside is brought in through a vent that passes by, but doesn't touch, the exhaust air that is exiting through another vent. The incoming air is heated or cooled by its proximity to the exhaust from the gas furnace or electric air conditioner. The Nu-Air machine that makes the exchange ensures that the same amount of stale air leaves as fresh air enters.
Sinclair said the heat transfer system is used mostly in Canada, and is becoming a trend in Europe.