This winter and spring, JLC is following the custom build of a second-home getaway next to a pond in the Maine woods. Designed by architect Eric Sokol of Portland-based Winkelman Architecture, the house is under construction by Jesper Kruse of Maine Passive House in Greenwood, Maine.
The clients are repeat customers for both Sokol and Kruse: JLC highlighted a previous Maine Passive House project for this same couple in 2014 (see: "Framing a Two-Pitch I-Joist Roof," by Jesper Kruse, JLC 12/14). Kruse specializes in super-efficient Passive House homes, but as architect Sokol explained, the clients for this upscale project aren't focused on their heating bills.
"They loved working with Jesper on that previous job, as did I," said Sokol. "But these owners aren't super-interested in Passive House, or high-performance building envelopes, or saving the planet. But what they loved about the way Jesper builds on the last project, was the comfort. You know, when you build a house with a thermal envelope like this, it's not drafty. And it stays nice and cool in the summer, and nice and warm in the winter."
"This is the way to market high performance," said Sokol. "People appreciate it, because they can tell the difference. Honestly, it kind of surprised me when they called and said, 'We want to do it the same way.' I wouldn't have expected that, but that's what they wanted to do."
Nestled by the side of a pond in the woods, the site posed a design challenge for Sokol. "When I dug into the zoning of the property," he said, "I learned that there's a 100-foot setback from the water (which is typical), and then there's a 30-foot side-yard setback, and then there's a 50-foot setback from the road. So there's this little tiny wedge on the site that is buildable, and that's it. So if you look at the plan of this house on that site plan, it's shoe-horned right into that triangle."
The resulting house has a staggered footprint, and steps down the gentle slope from the road toward the pond. The house may eventually be the owners' retirement home, explained Sokol, but in the short term it will serve more as a gathering place for social entertainment. "So you come in the front door, and it's like a split level," said Sokol. "You go either up or down, depending on where people are congregating. A lot of the time, they want to be hanging out in the lower-level living space. And from that space, they want to be able to step out right on the downhill side, just walk out onto the ground next to the water. So it's a true daylight basement."
These considerations determined the foundation and floor-framing concept, Sokol explained: "You have the existing grade on the downhill side, and then you come up enough to form the floor and the foundation. Then you need a certain amount of head room down there, and that kind of sets the first-floor height. But that first floor is 3 or 4 feet up above grade on the uphill side, so that's why there's a split-level entry."
Working around steel structure and rough wiring, carpenters install ceiling boards onto solid sawn beams for a basement-level room, then apply Advantech panels over the boards as subflooring for the living space above.Play slideshow
The lower-level space has exposed timber ceiling beams with tongue-and-groove pine ceilings—chosen because "it looks nice," said Sokol, but also because "it makes it feel a little higher down there." The lower level also has lots of glass, including a large lift-and-slide door facing the pond. All of this created construction challenges for Kruse and his carpenters (see slideshow): The exposed steel and wood structure had to be placed with care, and rough wiring had to be integrated into the beam assembly as the tongue-and-groove ceiling boards were installed, then overlaid with Advantech subflooring.
The complex footprint, along with dormers and bump-outs above, make the house too hard to frame using Kruse's typical wood I-joist built-out wall, said Kruse. Instead, the plan calls for double stud walls—and Kruse expects the result to fall a little short of the strict Passive House standard for energy conservation. Still, he anticipates an exemplary level of comfort, and he says that just like his Passive House projects, this building will be heated and cooled entirely by one or two mini-split heat pumps.