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A modern home that stays true to its Maine roots

Propane's flexibility and clean emissions profile are key to achieving the vision of a Northeast residential architect and his clients.

By Jeffrey Lee

Staff Writer

The propane fireplace in the House on a Hill, overlooking Casco Bay in Maine, is a marvel of thoughtful design and intelligent planning.

The home, designed by Corey Papadopoli, an architect with Elliott + Elliott Architecture, Blue Hill, Maine, has a beautiful view overlooking the bay through curved glass windows. Papadopoli's clients wanted to see the fireplace's gas flame from both the sitting room and the living room, which sit on opposite sides of the fireplace. And Papadopoli wanted to avoid obstructing the view with a chimney or vent pipe. So the custom fireplace is power-vented through the floor, underneath the sitting room, then into a wall and through the roof.

"We ran the stone flooring into the fireplace, and then inset the burners below it, so it looks like the flames come out of the stone, which was pretty cool," Papadopoli says.

The unique fireplace is just one example of how propane can help architects achieve their vision for home performance, comfort, design, and sustainability. In areas such as rural Maine that have no access to natural gas, propane is a versatile and cost-effective energy source that can meet the needs of demanding clients.

Click to enlarge   
Click to enlarge 

21st-century approach

A small firm of eight people that designs residential and small institutional projects, Elliott + Elliott tends to work in modern interpretations of vernacular architecture. "We look for historical precedents in Maine, or wherever we're working, and find contemporary ways to update those and apply them to 21st-century living," Papadopoli says.

The House on a Hill is a prime example. The home replaced an existing, 100-year-old Cape Cod house. The homeowners had grown up in the old house, but the systems were woefully out of date, and it didn't meet their needs as they were aging. The new design starts with three wood boxes that reflect the quintessential Cape Cod style and then links them together with glass connectors that reflect a modern building system. "It's contrasting the solid, heavy wood boxes with their punched openings versus these very light, steel-framed glass apertures," Papadopoli says.

The architects knew early on that the homeowners were interested in propane cooking, which they had in their previous house, as well as radiant heat and a gas fireplace. "They wanted the sense of the flame, but without having to deal with the wood," Papadopoli explains. The architect discussed the pros and cons of propane and heating oil with the homeowners, who quickly decided on propane for its cleaner, more environmentally friendly emissions. In addition to the custom fireplace and a gas stove, a propane boiler provides the home's radiant hydronic heat and domestic hot water.

"We ran the stone flooring into the fireplace, and then inset the burners below it, so it looks like the flames come out of the stone."

Papadopoli says conversations about a home's energy source usually come early in project planning, when there's plenty of time to decide how the propane can be accommodated on-site and whether it can be used to fuel other amenities in the home. "We have a questionnaire that we send to our clients to help with our programming of projects, and that's one of the questions that appears on there," he says. "'Have you envisioned heating your home?' Sometimes clients come to us with very specific requests, and other times it's more of a discussion in terms of pros and cons of different heating sources."

The preference for propane in Maine is often environmental and aesthetic, Papadopoli says. "Sometimes people don't want to see the black smoke or soot that comes from the chimney [with heating oil], whereas with propane you don't really see anything." For the architects, too, it provides more options in terms of amenities like fireplaces and outdoor living, in addition to its cleaner emissions profile. And in Maine, it's often the most cost-effective energy source.

In the House on a Hill, the custom propane fireplace complements the homeowners' lifestyle. "They host a lot of large functions and fundraisers," Papadopoli explains. "The wife works with small groups, helping them with mission planning." The home's attractive gathering spaces, highlighted by the custom fireplace and views to the bay and the gardens surrounding the home, are ideal for accommodating those lively gatherings.

Learn more about the factors that make propane a clean and flexible choice for innovative architectural designs. PERC provides architects with free, AIA-certified continuing-education coursework on the application and installation of propane products. View our course offerings.

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