The Story. The Products. The Future.
After a beautiful 1-hour drive South from Albany New York, we approached our destination in German Town. Pulling up to park, next to a Tesla that was tethered to the home, we were greeted by Roscoe, our four-legged welcoming committee.
And on the porch leading into this gorgeous house was Everett Kramer, his wife Jeni and son Hawk. We were in awe seeing the completed build of a modernized farmhouse set in front of a 45-acre backdrop of fall shades of red, brown and orange. What is most impressive is that we were looking at a home built to be almost 90% more efficient than most houses being built across the U.S.
This project began with Everett Kramer’s desire to build the farmhouse of tomorrow on the land where he and his wife Jeni were married. Inspired by Wolfgang Pheist’s passive home concept and motivated by cold Winters and hot Summers, Everett was able to learn, design and accomplish his dream of building a home that his family could enjoy for years to come.
The passive home concept dates back to the 1990’s when it was introduced in Europe with a goal of building homes that would contribute to providing a more sustainable environment. The basic objective is to eliminate thermal bridging so that a steadier temperature can be maintained inside the home. Put simply, it is designing your home to be like a stainless steel Yeti® tumbler where there is minimal air flow to maintain a consistent temperature within. Hence requiring little energy to heat or cool your home.
For the more tech-gifted, there are 4 key requirements that make up a passive house. The first is space heating which can’t use more than 15 kwh/M2. The second pertains to the overall energy consumption for electricity, heating water, gas etc. which needs to be less than 60 kwh/M2 per year. As mentioned above, minimal airflow is critical to minimize the dissipation of energy which means the house needs to be as airtight as possible. The requirement is that there can be no more than 0.6 air changes per hour at 50 pascals of pressure (0.007252 psi).
Lastly, is thermal comfort which the standard is no more than 10% of day hours can exceed 25° C. Because of the minimal airflow, passive homes incorporate an E.R.V. or H.R.V. which consists of tubing that is ran to and from the unit throughout the house which recirculates the air. These mechanical ventilation systems are crucial to preserve healthy air quality indoors ensuring that the proper amount of oxygen is being disbursed throughout your home and that contaminants such as carbon monoxide and methane are removed. Combined with better insulation, construction of walls and triple pane windows, not only is thermal bridging reduced but there is an acoustic benefit as noise from outside is also reduced.
We had a chance to catch up with Everett during this visit to explore his passive home inspired build and to check out his homes cool features including some of our hardware.
Sugatsune: So what gave you the idea to want to build a passive home?
Everett: When I first moved out to the Hudson Valley, I lived with Jeni in the original 1850’s farmhouse and let me tell you, in the Winter, it was so cold. We were consuming an incredible amount of oil just to heat the place so I started researching ways to make the house more efficient. Then I came across the Passive Home concept and fell in love with the science of it.
Sugatsune: That’s crazy, so you come across this concept and decide, hey, I’m going to go build a house?
Everett: Well, sort of. It really started when Jeni and I got married, in fact, our ceremony was exactly where we built this house. We loved it so much we decided we wanted our home to be located there. My first job out of college was as a Personal Assistant to an Architecture Critic and from that time, I’ve always dreamed about designing and building my own house. We also own a few rental properties which allowed me to build up my skills starting from small repairs to taking on larger restoration projects. Overtime, I continued to study the craft and learning building codes and became an avid follower of Matt Risinger and The Build Show. Matt is great and I learned so much watching his videos and reading his blog posts. In fact, many of the products, tips and tricks that used on this project, came directly from his videos! He’s incredible.
Sugatsune: Is that where you found our products?
Everett: Actually yes, I was watching his video on hidden hinges, the one with the hidden doors he built under the staircase. That’s really where I got the base design for our staircase. As we were designing though, we felt that having hidden swinging doors wasn’t practical because if left open; it would block the hallway. As I was researching the HES3D-E190’s which Matt used in his build, I came across Sugatsune’s LIN-X Lateral Door Opening System and was like wow, this could work.
Sugatsune: You incorporated more Sugatsune products, in fact, I see you used the new Push-to-Open Door Latch (ML-ZN80) in conjunction with our LIN-X800. In doing this, don’t you lose the soft-closing benefits of the lateral door system?
Everett: Functionality was critical in wanting to use the LIN-X800 system. We wanted to use larger, heavier doors but didn’t want to lose access if a door was kept open. But aesthetics, especially in this hallway, was important. I was really inspired by Tesla which the new cyber truck is supposed to not have any exterior handles on their doors and I wanted that look so we couldn’t add handles on especially because we really wanted these doors to be hidden. Your Technical Team did advise against this but I believe sacrificing the soft-close feature was worth it and we are happy with how it is truly, a hidden door.
Sugatsune: Getting back to passive homes, how were you able to learn and understand what was needed to actually build something in this direction?
Everett: As I was researching how to make a more thermo-efficient house, I began getting materials from 475 Building Supply who imported a lot of the needed materials from Germany. The guys there introduced me to Crammer Silkworth who helped me with modeling and testing the house. He was great and was instrumental in ensuring that I got the right materials and worked with me and my crew to ensure that the details of installing everything was right.
Sugatsune: What are some of the key things that makes this a passive home?
Everett: To be clear, I didn’t have PHIUS rate the house as passive but Crammer built the energy model and did the testing to understand the performance. One reason is that Jeni and I wanted large windows so we could take in the beautiful views that we have. By using the triple pane Zola windows you see here, we were able to minimize the thermal bridging in fact, the testing showed that the performance was just as good as if we used their certified ones so we felt comfortable in that decision.
Sugatsune: Aside from the windows, what were the materials you used that contributed most to improving your home’s efficiency?
Everett: As you are probably aware with passive homes, sealing is key to minimize thermal bridging so it really starts there. Taping up areas from the foundation to the roof. We used 8-inches of EPS to build the subslab and the walls are double stud 16” thick walls that use 13” thick insulation throughout the house. The exterior of the house features Siberian Larch and Galvalume® metal sidings as well as the roofing. This helps to maintain the temperatures throughout. The windows facing the North are also triple pane but were inset a-third of the way in to help minimize the impact of the Sun. Because of the extensive sealing, the interior air is purified and pumped throughout thanks to a Zehnder q350 HRV for the main home and in the smaller studio, we chose an HRV from Lunos.
Sugatsune: Well, the house turned out amazing and I can’t believe this is your first build. Where did your inspiration for the design come from?
Everett: I was heavily influenced by Japanese architecture. It amazed me how their designs blended in with the nature. From the usage of woods to the balance of light, colors and the clever usage of space. We didn’t want to take a page out of a Japanese playbook and build it but we did want to add subtle design cues that would accent the house in the direction. I designed the back decking to emulate a beautiful Japanese painting that I had seen growing up. The people in the painting sitting on the “engawa” looked so happy and I always pictured that my family would be filled with that same feeling. We constructed the deck from light gauge steel framing and used a Black Locust decking to be super durable and last 100 years. My father also had a Japanese “tansu” which is traditional storage cabinet originated during the Edo period. I was intrigued by the intricate designs, multiple storage compartments and modular construction. This drove a lot of the ideas when we were thinking about how to create storage spaces and organize especially since I’m not the neatest person by nature.
Sugatsune: Your selection of woods and their tone throughout the house is incredible, very well balanced. The black accents that you used really ties everything together, it’s not wood or laminate, what is it that you used?
Everett: I ended up ordering 50 sheets of Skatelite® which the original material is Richlite®. It is made from basically recycled paper and resin that is heat treated. It is very durable in fact, it is the material used in skate parks, on those ramps you see in the X-Games and it seems to hold up well there. So, durability and there is a cool factor knowing that it was created from recycled material. And I really liked the matte black look of it.
Sugatsune: It is obvious that the environment is a big concern for you, but you were able to do this without sacrificing any creature comfort or functionality. Tell us a little about that.
Everett: Well, at the core of the entire project, it is really that Jeni, Hawk and myself could live and enjoy this home for a long time. It did get me thinking about what we would need as we got older too. The overall layout was designed for adequate space to help facilitate mobility and I purposely designed the home with no thresholds. We decided on incorporating walk-in showers to avoid some of those bathroom dangers and incorporated sliding doors throughout the house. Even the cabinets were designed to incorporate push to open latches so that access into them was more convenient.
Sugatsune: You seem too young to be thinking about older people stuff.
Everett: (laughing) You would be surprised. But seriously, both Jeni and I have aging parents who are here often and we wanted them to be able to get around easily. And really, even for Hawk.
Sugatsune: So more of a universal design approach than an aging in place one.
Everett: Yes, and if you see the hallway, this was purposely made wider and why we wanted to incorporate Sugatsune’s lateral door opening systems so that even if doors were left open, they wouldn’t impede on the space.
Sugatsune: What do you think so far about the LIN-X systems now that you have had some time to use them?
Everett: I can’t tell you how impressed I am with them. From the minute the packages were delivered, you open up the box and you are like, wow, now this is some impressive hardware. Installing them was easy enough and the adjustments made it that much easier to ensure that the reveals were consistent down the entire hallway. I really liked the Matte Black LIN-X800 as it tied into even the columns that were used on the exterior of the house; really giving a continuity in the overall design. Hawk loves his little hide-a-way room and we love the storage that we have from them. Aesthetically and functionally the LIN-X products are really cool.
Sugatsune: Not as cool as the Roomba coming out from underneath the smaller door to clean up the house! In looking back on this project and the year or so you spent building, what do you think you would have done differently?
Everett: I mean there are plenty of mistakes that occurred or issues we encountered but they all seemed to work out. I don’t think I would take on a project like this with a newborn again. Overall, I’m very please with it and glad that we could complete a project that overall will do good for the environment. More importantly, my family gets to enjoy the house and proud that Hawk gets to grow up in a house that is healthy and responsible to the environment. It’s a privilege to live in a house like this!
Seeing this beautiful house was a true experience overall, not only the scenic view on a beautiful fall day but seeing our products in place as a solution to the Kramer’s extraordinary home and seeing the challenges they overcame in the process of creating it. Sugatsune is always looking at unique ways to help more builders overcome their challenges with our high-quality and sustainable products that can offer the best space saving solutions.