There’s no place like an energy-efficient home

“If you’re going to build a house, why not build it as intelligently as possible?”

It’s the question Greenwich resident and home construction author Sheri Koones asks in her latest book, Prefabulous + Almost Off the Grid, a guide to building energy-independent homes.

The book focuses on building prefabricated homes, which are inherently energy-efficient, and are manufactured off-site in advance, usually in standard sections that can be easily assembled, and comprise a combination of panelized and modular building systems.

And while it may sound like a complicated undertaking, Ms. Koones told the Post she knew nothing about prefabrication or energy-efficient construction before building her own home on North Street.

After the completion of her home, which inspired her first book on basic home construction, Ms. Koones continued writing on the subject, and the more she wrote, the more research she did. That started her on her evolution into an energy-efficiency connoisseur.

Her fifth book, Prefabulous + Sustainable, focused entirely on building modular homes. That’s what led her to Prefabulous + Almost Off the Grid, which she calls her most in-depth guide to date to building healthier homes. It even elicited a foreword from actor and environmentalist Robert Redford.

“This book for me is the most exciting book I’ve ever done,” Ms. Koones said. “It’s the future of home construction.”

Incorporating a vast variety of both green and energy-efficient methods of construction, it is a comprehensive guide to creating healthier living conditions and saving money while allowing homeowners to “preserve our natural resources for future generations.”

“A perfect solution to this energy challenge is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel,” Mr. Redford wrote in his foreword. “In 1975 when I built my own passive solar home in Utah, it was incredibly difficult to find materials and systems to achieve the efficiency and energy independence I sought. Today, these technologies have evolved and there are many options available for the construction of energy-independent homes and other buildings. … With the heavy cost we pay for energy, environmentally, politically and financially, the hope is to embrace the new and reduced cost of natural energy. The houses in this book set an excellent example of the types of houses that should be built today with reduced energy use, healthy products and more sustainable materials.”

Ms. Koones included many of the options that Mr. Redford referred to in Prefabulous + Almost Off the Grid. She said she recognized that builders have varying incomes and style preferences, so she provided all the options and kept explanations simple to allow even those with no knowledge of prefabrication to understand the concept and its benefits.

“The book doesn’t dictate that there’s one way to do it,” she added.

Considering that nearly 40% of energy in the United States is used to heat and cool homes, getting “almost off the grid,” or requiring minimal energy from utility companies, is crucial, Ms. Koones explained.

The goal, she added, is to construct homes that not only create their own energy but give some back during off-peak times, when energy is least being used.

“When the cost of energy was lower, the political world situation less turbulent, oil spills more contained, and nuclear energy seemingly fairly safe, energy efficiency was not a major issue. Today we pay a high price for the energy we use,” Ms. Koones wrote in the book’s introduction.

“The small added cost of installing energy-saving systems is quickly recouped in the first few years of operating the house. … Moreover, when homeowners eventually decide to sell their energy-efficient home, the low utility records will allow them to put a higher price on it, thus profiting further,” she wrote.

The one Connecticut prefabricated home included in the book is located in New Hartford and was designed by homeowners Karann and Jeremy Schaller, who incorporated an abundance of green and energy-efficient aspects into their 2,700-square-foot space. The couple’s goal in building the house was to construct an affordable, sustainable home that approached zero energy use, and with a dwelling that is 96% more energy-efficient than the average home, it seems they achieved it.

Based on the structure’s exterior, a red barn shape fitting of the classic New England aesthetic, one might never know that the home contains concrete flooring, solar hot water panels and motion sensors to limit light usage. Or that it is composed of salvaged materials, boasts fiber cement siding and steel roofing and includes a waterless urinal, which saves 3,000 gallons of water per year.

Although most of the homes in Prefabulous + Almost Off the Grid similarly contain a wide assortment of green and energy-efficient aspects, the book also creates room for those who simply want to make their existing homes more efficient, Ms. Koones said.

The author herself, for example, did not construct a prefabricated home for her family because she did not know of its benefits at the time it was being built. Nevertheless, Ms. Koones said, she has since incorporated beams made of reclaimed wood, bamboo flooring in her son’s room and low-energy lights.

The benefits of creating prefabricated homes are nearly endless, Ms. Koones said. “Who doesn’t want to do something more environmentally good?” she asked. “There’s no downside to building more healthy and more efficient.”


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