Blog : Green Homes Built on a Budget

By Katelyn | Aug 12, 2015 | in

By Josh Rosenson

GREENLAND - Little Green Homes is heading up construction of an all-electric house in Kittery, Maine for partners Ann Grinnell and Marge Pelletier. It is the fourth home Grinnell has had built, and it’s being done on a modest budget of $300,000 to $350,000. When complete, the sustainable project will be Grinnell and Pelletier’s retirement home.

Chris Redmond and his business partner, Jeff Stacy, started Little Green Homes, located in Greenland, in 2007. Redmond says that since the beginning each house his team builds is unique and budgets vary, so wise choices are key. For Grinnell and Pelletier, Redmond said the goal is a durable house for retirement, with low utility costs and great energy efficiency.

“You always have to make decisions on, what are the important things for this house,” Redmond said. “[What] they spent money on were really all the things that are going to help in that respect.”

Redmond said the two spent a little extra on a 30 panel, 8.4 kilowatt solar electric system, essentially creating a self-sustaining energy source on the roof of the Kittery Foreside home. Spending on solar drives the design process, and resulted in the house not being parallel with the street, but instead is rotated about 15 degrees so that the rear roof (with panels) faces as close to due south as possible. Grinnell said she’s done with oil and propane, and this house is being built with that in mind.

“I always tell people, no propane, no gas. It’s all electric. I’m sick of paying that oil bill and that propane bill,” she said.

Additionally, Little Green Homes is a Business Partner with the Green Alliance, a union of local, green businesses and eco-focused community members that educates consumers on sustainable issues. Grinnell and Pelletier, community members of the Green Alliance, were connected with Little Green Homes through the Alliance.

Everything will run off the power generated by solar, including an electric range and an electric mini split heat pump, which Redmond said is a popular choice these days in the green building world.

“It’s an air-source heat pump that provides heating and cooling. It’s similar to a geothermal system, which is a ground-source heat pump,” says Redmond. “However, although the technologies are similar, the systems are quite different. The geothermal system is generally more of a central heating and cooling system and has much higher up-front costs. The mini-splits work well for small, well insulated homes, because they don’t require all the ductwork.”

The water heater in the home is also electric. “They’re really trying to be smart about what systems they are using and take advantage of the solar.”

“They obviously had to make some sacrifices [after paying for solar],” Redmond said. This included choosing vinyl windows and vinyl siding.

“There’s definitely a cost savings there and although vinyl siding was frowned upon in the green building world for many years, there have been arguments made recently that vinyl siding actually has a lower environmental impact than many other siding materials. That’s another thing that has to be brought up in green building discussions. You can’t have cheap materials that are going to rot. That’s another benefit of the vinyl siding. It’s a product that’s not going to need any paint and it’s going to last forever.”

Grinnell and Pelletier didn’t skimp on the insulation, using dense-packed cellulose insulation throughout the house and rigid foam in the crawlspace. Cellulose is made from recycled newsprint.

So what else did Grinnell and Pelletier do to stick to the budget? Grinnell visits Haiti frequently, and was inspired by question from a Haitian, who asked, “[Do] you have a house for your car?” It made Grinnell question her own excess, and so, when planning the home, Grinnell opted not to include a garage, which also saved on building costs.

Grinnell said the home is designed for single-floor living, though there are two guest bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor for visitors throughout the year. As the second floor will likely only be occupied about 20 days per year, it is separated from the rest of the house by a glass door, and will only need to be heated when guests are present, reducing energy costs. For further savings, Grinnell, who retired in April, and Pelletier, who will retire next year, opted not to spring for solar hot water, citing the payback time as too long.

“It’s completely different than the other ways I’ve built houses. [Little Green Homes] let you be more involved. They share all the figures with you. They share how they make money,” Grinnell said. “I want Little Green Homes to make a living, but I don’t want them to take me to the cleaners, and I don’t think they ever would. It’s not just us that is cost conscious, Little Green Homes is cost conscious. They are always coming up with ideas for us.”

In building green homes, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

“We care a lot more about how the houses work and how they’re built than the materials,” Redmond said, noting in the past people were sold more on things like expensive flooring and countertops. “I definitely think when we have an educated client who researches, they want something durable. When they come to us, they really care about a house that’s going to last.”

Pelletier and Grinnell also reduced expenses by not paying for brand new, high-end products. Lower end and reclaimed items, though not the flooring, are used upstairs, such as sinks, vanities and doors. Grinnell said they are now getting quotes from painters for the whole inside of the house, as well as solely the main floor. Grinnell said they may paint the upstairs themselves for additional savings.

“Every single person, Chris, Jeff (Stacy), and their foreman, Jeff Blye, they have great taste. [Jeff Blye is] the head guy on our project,” Grinnell said, adding that Blye is there every day and answers all of Grinnell and Pelletier’s questions, as well as those from subcontractors.

Grinnell praised the Little Green Homes crew, the transparency they offered, the quality and the attention to details of the work, noting Redmond makes himself available 24 hours a day.

“They never, ever cut corners,” she said. “We both feel that it’s worth every dollar that we are spending.”

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