A Net-Zero House in Connecticut
October 10, 2023
Modern comfort and custom design meet sustainable goals in a house where a family comes together.
Text by Gail Ravgiala Photography by Rachel Robshaw
The clients wanted a new house that was low-maintenance, built to net-zero energy standards, and designed to accommodate two generations who could each live both separately and together. It was a tall order, but the owners got exactly what they wanted by working with a team of collaborative professionals and local craftsmen and vendors. Nestled in the hills of bucolic Litchfield County, the handsome house is proof positive that in the right hands, green technology and beautiful, personal design can make happy symbiotic companions.
The younger of the generations, a married couple who had been living in Manhattan and weekending on Long Island, were ready for a change. The wife had grown up in this picturesque corner of rural Connecticut and liked the low-key atmosphere, natural beauty, and outdoor opportunities. Meanwhile, her empty-nest parents were looking to transition to the next stage of their lives. Together, they purchased ten acres of woodland and hatched a plan to build a primary residence for both their futures.
Architect Julia Metcalf designed a 6,500-square-foot structure as two separate residences connected by a central high-ceilinged corridor that runs from the front door to the rear terrace. To the right is the one-story “in-law” unit, to the left is the larger two-story space occupied by the younger couple. Straight ahead is the view to the rolling hills.
To meet net-zero status, the project was designed to use energy at levels equal to or less than the amount of renewable energy created on-site. “As an architect, it is my duty to help the environment,” says Metcalf, who opted for a geothermal heating and cooling system, which eliminates the need for fossil fuels save for a back-up generator. Solar panels on the southeast-facing roof provide electricity. The house also has an envelope that exceeds building code requirements by 25 percent and low-emissivity triple-pane Marvin windows.
Sensitivity to the environment was also important in the interior design of the house. “We used eco-friendly and sustainable materials,” says designer Kathryn Hunt. The younger couple wanted space and amenities that would facilitate entertaining and overnight guests. “I’m from a large family,” says the husband, “so I wanted an open floor plan for the kitchen and dining area.” The adjacent family room has double pocket doors that, when open, connect the two spaces. Upstairs, well-appointed bedrooms and baths await visitors.
“We wanted a modern farmhouse feel,” says the wife, which they achieved with a muted palette and natural materials such as the white-oak floors, Vermont Danby marble countertops, and the custom walnut dining table.
Landscape architect Abigail Adams of A2 Land Consulting was brought on early in the process and worked with the team to create lawn and meadow and thoughtfully placed plantings to enhance the property from every angle. A favorite spot for both couples is the rear terrace, which is directly accessible from each of their units and where they often meet at the end of the day to enjoy the view and the quiet.
Both indoors and out, every aspect of the home meets the needs of two generations thanks to the stellar designers. “The design team was willing to take feedback and be collaborative,” says the husband of the younger couple. The result is two sets of satisfied homeowners.