What does an architect do when he designs a house for himself and his family?
He selects all the best ideas he has seen over his career and incorporates them into one sleek, indestructible home that saves energy, fits into the natural surroundings — and has great views.
One immediate impression of Leigh Overland’s two-story house on a .19-acre lot, is that although the neighbors are close, the front yard overlooks an expansive scene: a small waterway — Ash Creek — draining into a salt marsh just feet away from the picture windows.
“Nature is as close as it can get without being inside the house,” Overland says. “We weren’t planning to move, just refurbish my existing house, until we saw this lot. Within minutes we decided we should build here. It had extraordinary views of nature that awakened my senses to look, listen and smell. I sat there for a half-hour near the creek and did absolutely nothing, every moment seeing something new that caught my interest.”
The property is on the edge of Long Island Sound, a highly desirable address in the town of Fairfield, Conn. Until, that is, recognition of the effects of climate change brought the realization that building just above the waterline would not work for most house designs.
Overland had a different view, one developed over several years of working with a type of construction — Insulated Concrete Forms — that he knew not only would withstand the more ferocious storms regularly blowing off the sound, but also would save money on construction and long-term costs.
ICF consists of hard-foam forms filled with concrete to create the exterior walls of the house. ICF cuts energy bills by up to 70%, and the accompanying air regulation system ensure healthier breathing by preventing entry to pollen and mold.
The concrete walls make it stronger, fireproof, and much quieter than a wood-frame home and Overland designed in many features to improve sustainability, including triple-paned windows and long-lasting roofing and exterior elements that withstand all types of weather.
So when he saw the lot on the sound, he started creating.
“When I design a house for someone, I draw a portrait of everything I learn from my client’s life, hopes and wishes,” Overland said. “So I put myself in the client position and thought about what my hopes and wishes are at this stage of my career and life. This house represents a portrait of that.”
He has created a house that is environmentally sound, easy to maintain, and durable.
Instead of a traditional poured concrete foundation, piles were pounded into the soil to a depth of 30 feet, where ground pressure could support the structure. The anchors are attached to a grade beam, on which the house is built. A deck of ICF forms filled with concrete became the bottom floor of the garage and is as strong as a traditional concrete slab.
What would be the first floor of most houses is a garage with openings in the walls. Even dramatic flooding will not damage the structure or affect the living spaces, which are a full 10 feet above ground level.
An elevator delivers visitors to the living room and bedroom levels and a home equipped with features that provide comfortable, carefree and luxurious living, without exorbitant price tags.
Among the home’s offerings are:
· Solar panels and battery storage that provide most of the electricity for the home, augmented by a whole-house generator and connection to the grid.
· A heat pump that operates to minus-20 degrees to provide heating and air conditioning in the floor. A system of energy recovery ventilation will precondition the air being exhausted from the home to capture most energy and reuse it to heat or cool incoming air.
· LED bulbs rated at eight watts provide the equivalent of 60 watts from traditional incandescent or fluorescent bulbs and supply all of the supplemental lighting in the house.
· Exterior window overhangs block the sun when it is high in the summer sky and allow it to shine in when it is lower in the winter. Sometimes, however, an additional exterior shade is necessary to keep rooms as cool as possible in the summer. That is when programmable shades automatically close or open in reaction to temperature.
· All interior studs for framing walls and ceilings are metal, which saved the equivalent of 10 trees.
· The exterior of an ICF house can be the same as any traditional house, from wood clapboard, to vinyl, stone, brick or stucco. To lower long-term maintenance costs, the siding on Overland’s House is a synthetic material that is waterproof, stainproof and will last for years and years.
· The home is wired for smart applications, with voice-activated controls, automatic window shades, and a security system that covers the entire house and property.
· To control rain runoff, gutters on the roof will deliver water to concrete galleys buried in the ground that will retain large amounts of water and let it slowly percolate into the soil.
· 80-gallon barrels at each corner of the house, when full, will overflow into the underground retention system. Water remaining in each barrel will then serve a drip delivery system for the garden.
The elevator is enclosed in a curved plexiglass structure next to a three-story window.
The kitchen opens to the family area, separated only by a marble-sided island and seating area. A 4-foot by 4-foot by 8-foot window at the prep sink allows a wide view down the creek.
Each of the three bedrooms has an ensuite to evoke a nearly hotel-like experience for guests. In addition, the home features wood flooring throughout and unique tile designs in the bathrooms.
Three gas fireplaces provide a cozy feeling in the minimalist interior of white walls that are broken up only by windows and doors providing stunning views.
One aspect of the construction will not be available to most homeowners: A decade ago, Overland joined ABC TV’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” He was the architect for a “Makeover” home in Bridgeport, Conn., which demonstrated a fast-paced, fun and successful method to connect with and educate the public.
For his own home, Overland put together a team based on much the same concept. They didn’t build the house in a week, but he did enlist more than 100 contractors, suppliers and communications experts who committed to showing the public, via a dedicated website and many in-person tours, the value of environmentally sound, efficient home building for the future. Overland put a name to the effort: The Next Great American Homes.
“It was a real community event,” Overland says. “But in the end, this will result in a home where our families, friends and extended acquaintances can gather for good conversation. A place where Nancy and I can revel in the natural beauty of the environment. At the same time, the Next Great American Home is more than a single building. I think of it as a movement that combines existing innovations to create a new type of home that is energy-efficient, resilient to climate change and more livable day to day."
The team involved can be found at NextGreatAmericanhomes.com contact list