When we moved to MV in June, we rented a house in Island Cohousing in West Tisbury. This is a group of sixteen homes and a Common House, developed, designed, and built by South Mountain Company (where I consulted for 20 years before coming to work here last June) in the late 1990s. For the previous twenty-five years, I'd lived in a house I designed and built in Meriden, NH called Nerdwood. It was a dose of reality to leave a house that got most of its heat and hot water from renewable energy (sun and wood), was drenched in sunlight, and was able to coast with no heat input for a considerable amount of time, to inhabit a house with, well, let's just say less attention to these attributes.
I had been a consultant on this project, and I built an energy model to help make choices in the building design. I'd urged a strategy that traded mechanical system cost for building enclosure cost, advocating a single point source heater (back then, a sealed combustion gas heater, such as a Rinnai, today perhaps a pellet stove or a single zone minisplit heat pump) instead of a multi-zone oil-fired forced hot water system. The cost difference buys the enclosure upgrades. Unfortunately, fuel oil was $0.85/gallon in 1998 even on MV (it's inflated at about 14% annually since then) so extra insulation and triple glazing were ruled out. Two energy upgrades remained over standard construction - the insulation used was blown-in cellulose installed by one of the best insulators anywhere, Matt Viaggio, and the windows were Canadian Thermotechs, which use hollow fiberglass frames and sash filled with foam insulation to increase the insulating value of the window over a wood window. These windows were specified with a glazing product called Energy Advantage , which lets more solar heat in than most other glazings.
The Island Coho houses got a lot of other stuff right, as you might imagine. The group had identified protection of the Island's sole source aquifer as their primary environmental focus, so each building here has a Clivus Multrum composting toilet. Designing a house around the straight drop toilet chutes adds a serious constraint, and the houses, which came in 2, 3 and 4 bedroom models, all have the same basic layout to accommodate the composter.
As with all South Mountain homes, the materials used on both the interior and exterior are beatutiful, durable, and have a story. The trim is river recovered cypress, the floors are sustainably harvested birch or ash, the porches use native milled timber, and bathroom tiles are from recycled auto windshields. Compared to what houses designed to be affordable usually are, these are beautiful - no carpet, vinyl, particle board, etc.
They are also very well designed, with light on at least two sides in most spaces, and quite space efficient. The base 2 bedroom homes are 1,166 ft2. Our house, which is a three bedroom that also has three of the optional bays, has a gross area of 1,589 ft2. It's larger than we'd like, but there y'ar, as they say in Minnesota (Jill is from MN so I have learned to at least understand the language if it's not spoken too quickly, and who ever heard a Minnesotan speak quickly?)
All of the houses have full basements for a foundation, and that's yet another story.