A lake home with luxury and low-energy aspirations
A homeowner's "window to heaven" uses renewable energy and readily available propane to keep electricity use to a minimum.
Lew Miller is a certified diver, and he's worried about the water. Deep below the surface, he can see the damage that's being done to coral reefs around the globe.
So when Miller, a senior vice president in investment properties for CBRE, set out with his wife to build their dream home on Lake Lanier, north of Atlanta, he was determined to do everything in his power to keep his home electricity usage at a minimum. The connection between saving energy and saving water is straightforward, he says. Nearly two out of every three gallons of fresh water withdrawn in the Southeast are sent to electric power plants to meet cooling water demands, and nearly a gallon of water is consumed for each kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity produced.
Miller partnered with experienced green builder Curtis Peart, principal with Atlanta-based FrontPorch, to construct a sustainable lake home certified to EarthCraft standards, the Southeast equivalent to LEED. Ventanas al Cielo (Windows to Heaven), as he's dubbed the cutting-edge "staycation" home, will use a combination of renewable energy and propane power to keep electricity consumed from the local power plant to an absolute minimum.
In Peart, Miller found a capable partner in pursuing his sustainable building goals. Peart has been building homes to EarthCraft standards since the program was developed by local builders and Southface in 1999. He realized early on that his company was already building homes that nearly qualified for EarthCraft just by focusing on quality. More recently, Peart was part of the team that built the EarthCraft- and LEED-certified 2012 HGTV Green Home in the Serenbe community in Chattahoochee Hills, Ga.
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"We've found a very good, practical, and cost-effective way to build green without adding a lot of expense to the home," Peart says. "One of the biggest benefits to our company is that when you hire us, all of our contractors are trained on how to build green, down to all the little nuances."At Miller's home, for instance, Peart incorporated advanced framing techniques that allow his team to more effectively insulate exterior walls and corners, as well as durable and environmentally safe fiber concrete siding sourced from a supplier less than 100 miles away.
The house also utilizes two forms of solar power generation: a photovoltaic power system and two solar domestic hot water panels. Miller hopes the system will produce about 11,500 kWh annually. The home is nearly a zero-energy building, meaning it would consume less energy than it feeds back to the power grid through net metering. Between the energy-saving features and the power generation, the home has a projected Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index rating of 9, meaning it's 91 percent more energy efficient than a standard new home.
Miller found his dream lot on Lake Lanier in 2006. To get the best production from his solar system, he knew that one side of the house had to face south. Not only did Miller's chosen site have good access to the water for recreation, it was ideal for solar production: The best lake view on the lot is due south.
"Going green doesn't mean that you have to give up those nice features that you really like."
One thing the site didn't have was access to natural gas. Gas-fueled features such as a standby generator, a gas stove, and an outdoor fire pit were must-haves for Miller's home, making readily available propane an ideal choice for onsite energy.
The propane-fueled standby generator works hand-in-hand with the home's renewable energy system. The home's space heating and backup water heating both run on electricity, and the photovoltaic panels shut down in a power outage.
"I needed another way to keep my family comfortable," Miller says. "I needed another way to produce hot water. I've taken too many cold showers in my life."
In addition to the generator and the kitchen's Bosch stove, propane fuels the home's fireplaces and an outdoor gathering area surrounding a fire ring. A walk-out terrace provides clear, uninterrupted views of the lake. And Miller's sustainable mindset didn't preclude him from including the creature comforts he wanted in his home: a sauna, steam room, and hot tub; workout room; screened porch; gourmet kitchen; and more.
"We tried to put features in the house so that it was all-season," Miller says, pointing out that luxury living can co-exist with environmental aims. "Going green doesn't mean that you have to give up those nice features that you really like. Going green doesn't mean you have to change your lifestyle."
For more on how propane works in tandem with renewable energy, check out these Propane Energy Update articles: