A New Language - Building and Renovating Sustainably

Our home is situated on a beautiful 2.5 acre wooded site which is part of a larger woodland area. We purchased the land in 2004 and our house was completed in 2008. Throughout numerous seasons and before signing the sale agreement for the land, we assessed the trees, terrain, wind direction, and location of the sun. The sunrises are dazzling, the breezes almost constant, and the views ever changing. Because of the time spent at our site, we realized the advantages of turning the axis of our home to incorporate passive solar features, catch the breezes for cooling, and enjoy the farmland and mountain views. After months of research and visiting homes under construction, we made the decision to build with a material our area is known for and use locally made concrete. The basement and first floor walls were constructed with Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF). The second floor is built with Structural Insulated Panels (SIP) which were made in western PA. Both systems exceeded the R-values required by the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code for walls and roofs.

Our_HomeWe harvest our heat and cooling from the earth with a ground source heat pump, also called a geo-thermal system. The EPA rated fireplace insert provides extra warmth and ambiance on the coldest winter days and nights. The conservation and wise use of energy is a part of the overall construction of the house and the way we live. Most of the indoor materials, caulks, finishes, and paints have low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) to off gas into the home's interior and trigger respiratory reactions. Fresh air enters and stale air leaves via an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV).

With the guidance of our county service forester, I researched and interviewed professional foresters and loggers to assess the health of our wooded lot and to help us evaluate which trees to remove before construction. We also hoped to use the wood from some of those trees in our home. The wood from the harvested trees became the hardwood floors, bathroom vanities, and decorative trim. Finished hackberry and black walnut boards cover the construction beams giving them a beautiful rustic finish. In addition, we cut approximately 8 cords of wood from the smaller downed trees and acquired a huge pile of wood chips which we used for mulch. Before cutting the logs into firewood, we kept an eye out for hollow logs and logs with holes that could be used as a home for smaller animals. Those logs were scattered through out our woods. We also created brush piles which smaller animals can use for protection.

Native plants, shrubs, and perennial plants from our previous home were used for landscaping along with some massive rocks removed during excavation. We replace invasive vegetation with native plants, shrubs, and trees whenever possible. Recycling and upcycling is a way of life for us along with the composting of leaves, clippings, and vegetable matter.

Our home offers us shelter, provides warmth and coolness, energy efficiency, ambiance, and a resting place at the end of the day. The wildlife continues to seek shelter and food from our sustainably managed woodlot.

Following the completion of my home, in 2009, I coordinated and implemented the renovation of my parent's 1960's ranch home. The complete renovation of the kitchen and main bath and a partial renovation of other rooms were completed using sustainable/green products and practices wherever possible. I contracted with a construction and demolition waste (CDW) recycler which allowed 90% of the materials removed to be recycled. Kitchen cabinets, fixtures, and older appliances were donated, sold, or salvaged and reused. Furnishings from consignment and discount shops, as well as borrowed accessories, were used to stage the house for resale.

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"It has been a delight working with you.  You are always upbeat and quickly solve issues. God has gifted you with administrative ability and a quick mind to size up what needs to be done. You are not only gifted in management but also in vision.  You see and instinctively know what to do."
~ Joan Gill, Realtor,
Prudential Rittenhouse Realty Group, Harleysville, PA


"I have had the pleasure of working with Marie North on a residential project where sustainability was the basis of most design decisions. Her knowledge, both academic and practical, makes her a valuable resource to anyone involved in the task of living more respectfully with the natural environment. But what I appreciate the most about Marie is her openness and enthusiasm to discuss the big questions about what "sustainability" means and her earnest desire to explore appropriate means to achieve those ends. She is a joy to work with."
~ Kerry Kowalchuk, AIA, LEED AP