After recession’s wrecking ball, Connecticut architects clear rebuilding phase

By Alexander Soule and Macaela J. Bennett

Updated 4:49 pm, Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Photo: David Lindsey Advanced Photographix

Photo: David Lindsey Advanced Photographix


A Trillium Architects-designed home on Dolphin Cove Cove Quay in Stamford, Conn. (Photo permission of Trillium Architects; photo by David Lindsey, Advanced Photographix,

In mid-May, a year after the keys were handed over to the owners of the new Dolphin Cove home on Stamford’s waterfront that represents a model of sustainability, Elizabeth DiSalvo revisited the handiwork of her Trillium Architects.

It was not so many years before that sustainability was as much on her mind for Trillium itself.

Between 2008 and 2010, revenue from architectural services fell 29 percent, or $11.2 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent annual estimates. Even by the standards of the recession, that was a big number — just seven industries had declines that were more severe of some 325 tracked by the Census Bureau (two of the others being landscape architecture and interior design firms).

While architects tallied gains five straight years after 2010, the $34.9 billion in revenue they generated in 2015 was still 9 percent below the high-water mark in 2008.

The recession “was devastating to the architectural profession, both nationally and locally,” said Richard Granoff, founder of Greenwich-based Granoff Architects, which handles both commercial and residential work. Granoff said his firm fared better than most, but said many endured layoffs or outright closure.

Since the downturn, Granoff has seen “steady, modest growth” in his business, he said. The most noticeable sign of his firm’s success is located at 330 Railroad Ave., where Granoff Architects recently moved into an $8 million headquarters following a gutting and renovation of the historic building previously owned by Eversource Energy. Granoff plans to lease space there to other businesses, as well.

DiSalvo moved Trillium in 2012 to Ridgefield, where she lives, and is now looking to add to her staff of four full-time design professionals. In the decade prior to 2012, the firm had its offices in South Norwalk, where Trillium experienced the pendulum extremes of the boom-bust economy.

“The fall of 2012 was when things started coming back,” DiSalvo recalled. “During the recession, a lot of people stopped being architects.”

George Wiles, principal of Bridgeport-based Wiles Architects, has endured multiple recessions in the 40 years since he founded the company. A few years after the most recent downturn, new commercial construction had yet to resume and Wiles found his firm “doing renovations to the shopping centers we built 20 years ago,” in his words.

Bridgeport-based Antinozzi Associates led all southwestern Connecticut firms on Architectural Record’s most recent rankings of the top 300 firms in the nation, reporting 2015 revenue of $8 million, a 20 percent bump from the prior year. The pipeline is filling for other industry stalwarts, as well, including Beinfield Architecture, which has multiple major projects under way such as the redesign of the 9 W. Broad St. office building completed last year and the University of Connecticut-Stamford’s first dormitory.

“We’re a relatively small architectural firm with 10 employees, so these projects represent a large portion of our work,” said Bruce Beinfield, principal. “Stamford’s particularly dynamic because they’ve had such a large influx of residential uses into the downtown. ... They’re very cognizant of all the implications of that.”

Resumed growth throughout southwestern Connecticut has led to the emergence of startup firms, including Danbury’s seventy2architects. Founders Maura Newell Juan and Emmanuel Juan kept overhead low in the early going by operating out of a home office before opening a location in downtown Danbury as project work picked up, including from a burgeoning restaurant scene in downtown Danbury.

“We are doing a lot of tear-downs and dramatic renovations and expansions,” she said. “The requests are more dramatic than people had been brave enough to do eight years ago.”

Back in Stamford, Trillium client Gunilla Falkman-Vickers says she is thrilled with the firm’s Scandinavian-inspired design for the Dolphin Cove home she and her husband, Leonard, moved into a year ago from Norwalk’s Wilson Point enclave. On a May afternoon, light from Long Island Sound flooded the home, with the design a testament to the “hyper-sustainable” ethic that is Trillium’s niche specialty — with the home a testimonial as well to DiSalvo’s perseverance through the dark days of the recession.

“My energy bills are a fraction of what they were,” Falkman-Vickers said.



— Includes reporting by Chris BosakPaul Schott and Keila Torres Ocasio.; 203-354-1047;

Photo: Carol Kaliff / Hearst Connecticut Media

Photo: Carol Kaliff / Hearst Connecticut Media

By Katrina Koerting, News-Times  Published 4:23 pm, Thursday, February 23, 2017

RIDGEFIELD — After nearly a year in their new home, the Ranades haven’t had to pay a nickel for the energy needed to run it.

That’s because all the electricity needed to heat, cool and power the 2,500 square-foot home comes from the 32 solar panels installed on the roof.

The panels, which generate 11.5 kilowatts of electricity, are just one feature of the “net-zero” house, which was recently featured in the CT Zero Energy Challenge, which is sponsored by Energize CT, an initiative of the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, the Connecticut Green Bank, the state and various energy companies.

The energy-efficient features are all but invisible in a home characterized by its open layout, abundant natural light and vibrant paintings adorning the walls.

“It’s very tranquil,” said Kishore Ranade. “The open space brings the outside in.”

Large windows in the living room showcase the sprawling hill and woods in the back yard. The windows also provide beautiful views of the sunsets.

“We wanted something that had more of a feeling of the outdoors,” Mala Ranada said.

The windows also allow light to warm the house in the winter, enhancing the home’s energy efficiency. Special solar shades outside the glass let light filter in, illuminating the space, while keeping the heat out if it gets too warm.

At first, the Ranades were looking to renovate the ranch house, which belonged to Irene Kampen, who wrote “Life Without George,” the inspiration for the TV show “The Lucy Show,” starring Lucille Ball.

They turned to Mike Trolle, a principal at BPC Green Builders, and learned that it made more financial sense to completely rebuild, adding the energy-efficient features they wanted.

“Generally, with the way the energy costs are going up in Connecticut especially, and the costs to build a green home have gone down, it made sense,” said Kishore Ranade.

The energy-efficient features include triple-glazed panels from Ireland to better insulate the house and a heating and cooling system that pulls heat from the outside air in the winter and pushes heat out in the summer. Another mechanism transfers heat from outgoing stale air to the incoming fresh air, lowering heating costs and improving air quality.

Trolle said creating a strong thermal envelope is the most important goal, because it keeps the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer with less energy. This is accomplished with a thicker and continuous insulation to prevent accidental air leaks.

Once the decision was made to rebuild, the couple worked with Trolle and Elizabeth DiSalvo, of Trillium Architects, to determine which methods and designs worked for them. Mala Ranade drew on her experience as an artist to help determine the layout.

“We got an education; we didn’t just get the products,” Mala Ranade said. “It’s made a difference in how we feel about our home.”

The builders kept the original concrete foundation, but added insulation before building on top of the existing footprint, DiSalvo said.

Most of the living space, including the master bedroom, living room, office, dining room, kitchen and guest bathroom, is on the main level. The lower level has two bedrooms and a sitting area, as well as the control room that tracks how much solar energy is generated.

The Ranades said they’ve seen the difference the green technology has on their energy bills and lifestyle.

Kishore Ranade said they were paid about $6,000 annually on energy at their previous Ridgefield home, which is similar in size. He said the technology in the new home isn’t common in the U.S., Europeans have been using it for years.

“It’s not something exotic, mysterious or expensive,” he said. “For me, it’s the obvious way to go.”

“It really is very easy,” Mala Ranade said. “Once you learn the technology, it’s not like you have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out the bells and whistles.”; 203-731-3345



Fairfield Realtors Learn Many Homebuyers Are Searching For Solar

 Meredith Guinness 04/01/2016

Scott Thompson, chair of Fairfield's Clean Energy Task Force, tells the Greater Fairfield Board of Realtors about the town's Solarize Fairfield program.   Photo Credit:  Meredith Guinness

Scott Thompson, chair of Fairfield's Clean Energy Task Force, tells the Greater Fairfield Board of Realtors about the town's Solarize Fairfield program. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness


FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Environmental experts addressed the Greater Fairfield Board of Realtors Wednesday, explaining what sorts of sustainable bells and whistles the savvy homebuyer is looking for these days.

“Solar is the new granite countertop,” said Bob Wall, associate director of marketing and outreach at Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority, or CEFIA.

Homes on the market with existing solar panels, modern insulation and sustainable landscaping are getting noticed by a new breed of buyers, he and others said.

About 300 homes in Fairfield currently use some form of solar cells, said Scott Thompson, chairman of the town’s Clean Energy Task Force. When the town announced its Solarize Fairfield initiative recently, about 75 homeowners signed up to learn more.

“It’s really incredible what’s happening,” he said.

Last year, an AP environmental science class at Fairfield Warde High School studied about 16,300 rooftops in town — via Google — to see which would be good candidates for solar cells. The town sent letters to about 5,500 homes that fit the criteria, Thompson said.

The next informational workshop will be held at 7 p.m., April 28, at the Fairfield Public Library.

Elizabeth DiSalvo is an architect at Trillium Architects, which won the 2016 CT Green Building Council’s Award of Excellence. She said her firm focuses on building homes that are energy efficient, sustainable and healthy.
She promoted the idea of “greening” the multiple listings services by letting buyers know if a home boasts state-of-the-art water, heating, cooling and air-quality features.
“We care passionately about this,” she said.

And the environment around the home matters, too, said Dan Corra, business manager of Plantscapes Organics.

“One thing people are looking for is low-maintenance landscapes,” he said.

Other desirables include organic tick control and innovative use of storm water, including adding it to a pool, he said.

“Another big selling point is the lawns,” he said. “Having nice landscaping is a huge selling point.”

Fairfield is getting in on the act, too, according to Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart.

The town saves about $2.4 million annually in “cost avoidance” by taking advantage of rebates and other programs tied to sustainable initiatives around town.

“The town is very proud of its leadership position,” he said.

The Greater Fairfield Board of Realtors serves Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Milford, Monroe, Newtown, Shelton, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport and Wilton.

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Trillium Architects:  Employing creative designs, spaces that match the homeowner lifestyle, and best green practices, such as solar.

Energy efficiency a growing requirement among home buyers

Published 11:01 pm, Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A home at 19 Lakeside Ave. in Darien was completely remodeled to be as energy efficient as possible, thanks, in part, to the south facing solar panels seen on the left side of the roof. Photo: Autumn Driscoll 

A home at 19 Lakeside Ave. in Darien was completely remodeled to be as energy efficient as possible, thanks, in part, to the south facing solar panels seen on the left side of the roof. Photo: Autumn Driscoll 

When Linda Connolly started selling homes in Fairfield County 18 years ago, green house equated more to plants growing in a glass structure than an energy-efficient dwelling.

Now, homebuyers want to limit their household expenses and are increasingly demanding the home they purchase features some levels of energy efficiency, according to Connolly, a real estate agent with the William Raveis office in Danbury and president of the Northern Fairfield County Association of Realtors.

Technology like solar panels, geothermal energy and energy-efficient windows and insulation impress some buyers, and there seems to be a trend in that direction, she said, but buyers she has seen still seem to be focused more on standard priorities such as location, size and price.

"I haven't had anyone come to me and say `I'm not looking for anything without green features,' but I think there are people looking for features like energy-efficient HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning), energy-efficient appliances and ways to save water," Connolly said.

Long-term value

Connolly has not sold a home with energy-saving features like geothermal and photovoltaic solar arrays, but she said she understands why a buyer would be interested, understanding the long-term value.

"It could be a selling point for some people. They might be able to get more for their home if they advertise it as a green home," said Connolly, who represents residential properties in 14 communities in northern Fairfield County.

Realizing more homebuyers want energy-efficient features, she plans to take classes on green-home technology offered by the Connecticut Green Building Council.

Michael Trolle, owner of BPC Green Builders in Wilton, incorporated many of those technologies into his Danbury home, and the results have been impressive.

"We moved in November of 2013. This past winter was the first in the house, and in our first winter we spent $200 for electricity, and we kept the house at 70 degrees," said Troelle, who has been building energy-efficient homes for 15 years. "It's been my goal to bring green to the marketplace. We've done a lot of jobs that are LEED certified. Green building has gone mainstream."

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an energy-efficiency rating assigned by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Deep energy retrofits

Because of tree coverage, Trolle has not been able to install solar panels on his 1,650-square-foot house on Carol Road, but he is using other technology to reduce costs.

"I attribute it to how well insulated the house is and that it's airtight and to the efficiency of the mechanical equipment," Troelle said, the installation of an energy-recovery ventilator is essential. "Every house we build has one."

Elizabeth DiSalvo, principal architect in Trillium Architects in Ridgefield and a member of the Connecticut Green Building Council Board of Directors, has worked with Troelle on several houses.

Increased has interest in building and buying energy-efficient homes, according to DiSalvo, who focuses on designing green properties.

"There are people who want to save money and think it's cool, and there are others who just want the greenest home possible," said DiSalvo, who helped organize a tour of green homes across the state hosted by the Connecticut Green Building Council during two weekends last month.

They ranged from a house where all work was done by the owner to deep energy retrofits, according to DiSalvo, to new homes "over the top" in energy efficiency.

Among the homes on the tour were several in Fairfield County.

"Right before the recession in 2008, people started asking for it (energy-efficient homes), and then the recession threw it off," DiSalvo said. "As soon as the recession ended, people were totally into it."

Assessing resale value

Philosophy differs among the professionals who design and build energy efficient homes, compared with those who construct homes using more conventional strategies, she said.

"We try to assess the resale value with clients," DiSalvo said, adding the Connecticut Green Building Council wants to educate real estate agents about the benefits of energy-efficient properties and the technology involved.

"Our council is starting to green the MLS (Multiple Listing Service)," she said. "The MLS is starting to recognize energy efficiency. Every house we do has solar panels and a version of geothermal."

Some level of green is being incorporated in most home construction, according to Katherine Pancak, professor of finance and real estate at the University of Connecticut.

"There is a growing interest in homebuyers that want to buy a green home," she said.

"Reasons vary, including wanting a home that is healthier, has lower utility and maintenance costs and leaves less of a carbon footprint on the environment.

"While a perception is green homes are expensive to build, the U.S. Green Building Council reports that energy-efficient green homes can be built for the same cost or less than conventional homes.

"The USGBC reports that just under 50 percent of new construction homes that they certify are in the affordable housing sector, indicating that green technology is being incorporated at all housing levels."

by Janis Gibson on Jul 10, 2013 • 10:59 pm

The Green House Effect

The Lawrence family’s 1954 Cape was demolished and rebuilt into a 4,380 square foot award-winning LEED home; the couple worked with Trillium Architects and BPC Green Builders to create their dream home. All photos by Bryan Haeffele.

The Lawrence family’s 1954 Cape was demolished and rebuilt into a 4,380 square foot award-winning LEED home; the couple worked with Trillium Architects and BPC Green Builders to create their dream home. All photos by Bryan Haeffele.

Leslie and Bob Lawrence had lived in their “sweet 1954 Cape” for about a decade when the arrival of two children and the demands of modern life led them to decide, in 2007, to update and expand their Rowayton home. “There was no consideration for moving,” said Leslie, “as we love where we are. It’s only three-quarters of an acre, but half of it is wild; it’s wooded, with a pond that attracts wildlife, including herons, and a small stream runs through it.”

The couple wanted their renovated home to be as low maintenance as possible, as well as green, using geothermal technology for heating and cooling. “We wanted to do LEED building, to be the people who did it and say ‘It’s not that hard to do.’ Consequently, we did things a little backwards,” Leslie recalled, “seeking out a green builder before we had any idea of what the project would look like. That led us to the Trolle brothers and Chris Trolle.”

Doing business as BPC Green Builders and based in Wilton, Chris and Mike Trolle have been constructing and renovating green homes since 1998; all of their homes are Energy Star-certified, and five in Fairfield County are LEED-certified, including the completed Lawrence house.

In researching geothermal technology, Leslie learned that insulation is critical and would be hard to add to a house with 7-1/2-foot ceilings. And as sometimes happens in the discussion/planning process of an extensive retrofit, the time came when Chris, an engineer, told the couple it would be less expensive and the result much more efficient to demolish the existing house and start over. Time to call in an architect.

Trillium Architects and BPC Green Builders collaborated to make the newly constructed home as green as possible.

Trillium Architects and BPC Green Builders collaborated to make the newly constructed home as green as possible.

The Lawrences interviewed four “green” architects, finally selecting Elizabeth DiSalvo, principal of Ridgefield-based Trillium Architects. The homeowners wanted to enlarge the Cape’s basic footprint, have open spaces and niches, and requested that the public areas be bigger and multiuse, while making the bedrooms smaller than is common today.

House boat
In addition to higher ceilings and lots of natural light, Leslie wanted a dining room that had flow into the living room to accommodate a large dinner party. Another feature she always dreamed of was a sleeping porch. In addition to a home office area, Bob, a former high school and college wrestler, wanted a “wrestling room” that would accommodate a 10- by 12-foot mat. As far as shape was concerned, “We were thinking basic box,” Leslie recalled.

The family’s beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniel feels right at home.

The family’s beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniel feels right at home.

Elizabeth designed just such a house, but then one morning woke up with an idea that she quickly sketched, then refined. When she presented both concepts, everyone agreed on the new design, a classic modern that is bowed front and back, giving the house a boatlike feel inside and out. She describes the house as “solid, like grandma’s house with lots of nooks and crannies but also all of the modern amenities.”

After about two years of planning and design, which all call a collaborative effort, the 1,800-square-foot Cape (plus basement) was demolished in October 2009. A year later, the four-level 4,380-square-foot home was completed. Landscaping of the sloping property, including dredging the pond, was completed in July 2012. Stone from the excavation was used to create a front yard retaining wall that includes a welcoming curved seating area and table. Last month the home received an Award of Merit from the Connecticut Green Building Council (CTGBC), according to Elizabeth.

The new house was angled slightly to be south facing for future solar panels. “The house is wired for solar, but technology is changing so fast in that area, that we decided to wait a bit,” Leslie said. It has a “popout” on the living room end that holds a sealed, gas-burning fireplace (open fireplaces are a no-no in energy-efficient houses). When the house was being framed, the Lawrences’ two sons noticed the space above it and requested a “secret passage” between the closets in their bedrooms.

Leslie notes that “the air conditioning and heating is different from any I’ve ever experienced — it’s everywhere with no pockets of warmth and cold — a nice consistent temperature.”

The screened-in porch serves as a warm weather family room and is a favorite gathering spot.

The screened-in porch serves as a warm weather family room and is a favorite gathering spot.

The screened-in porch serves as a warm weather family room and is a favorite gathering spot.

Life in a fishbowl
From the backyard, all four levels are visible, with the large glass-walled family room, with wrestling mat in the corner and plenty of space for Bob’s musical instruments and the boys’ games, affectionately dubbed “the fish bowl.” It opens onto a stone patio with seating and eating areas. An en suite guest room is also on this level. Two stories above it, a large screen indicates the sleeping porch off the master bedroom. In between are a deck off the main living level and a screened porch with a woodburning fireplace, which is accessed through the den behind the kitchen.

There is a wet bar between the kitchen and dining room, which accommodated 29 for their first Thanksgiving dinner, and a large storage pantry behind the bar.

The spacious living room is front to back, with windows on three sides, and the bowed walls create great acoustics. The fourth wall between the entry and kitchen is all shelving above storage cupboards and holds a TV, books, pictures, family mementos, sculptures and artifacts. This reflects Elizabeth’s philosophy that every wall should be useful; built-in shelving is plentiful throughout.

There are plenty of places to sleep, including this cozy screened sleeping porch at the back of the house.

There are plenty of places to sleep, including this cozy screened sleeping porch at the back of the house.

There are plenty of places to sleep, including this cozy screened sleeping porch at the back of the house.

Upstairs, a wide center hallway separates the parents’ bedroom from the children’s and accommodates several activities. The home’s front end, which opens onto a balcony, also has a second door; two desks on the walls create Bob’s home office area, giving him privacy yet a feeling of spaciousness. The boys’ bedrooms are divided, with about a third of each room comprising a walk-in area that holds clothing, dressers and other storage, and the master bedroom has a separate dressing room and space that Leslie calls her own.

While the top level was planned as unfinished attic, it came out so nice that it is used as an additional guest room and storage.
Leslie and Bob recommend that anyone considering renovation or new construction investigate green building at some level.  

For more information visit: and

Originally published in The Home Monthly, on Jul 10, 2013

The family makes the most of the outdoor space with a large entertaining area.

After years of wind, Arctic drafts and sky-high oil and electricity bills, a Darien couple embarked on a “green” project to make their uninsulated old house as energy-efficient and environmentally friendly as possible.  Jeanna Shepard

After years of wind, Arctic drafts and sky-high oil and electricity bills, a Darien couple embarked on a “green” project to make their uninsulated old house as energy-efficient and environmentally friendly as possible.

Jeanna Shepard

Energy-Efficient Homes: Shelters From the Storm



When Hurricane Sandy slammed into Connecticut late last October, 94 percent of Connecticut Light & Power’s 8,000 customers in the town of Darien lost power. Fifty streets in the coastal community were inaccessible to restoration crews; 20 homes were eventually declared uninhabitable. The power—and with it heat, lights and appliances—stayed off for as long as two weeks. As temperatures dropped, one of the worst storms in the state’s history cast the affluent Fairfield County community into a cold, dark gloom.

Darien residents were not alone, however. According to the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Safety, more than 650,000 homeowners across the state were out of power at the peak of the superstorm, many for 10 days or longer. Just a year earlier, some 880,000 were rendered powerless by the snowstorm of Oct. 31, 2011, and over a million by Hurricane Irene just two months before that.

Meanwhile, as neighbors huddled against the cold or jumped ship, vacating their homes, Anthia and Sam Nickerson remained well insulated from the hurricane-force winds and below-freezing temperatures in their 1920s Colonial in Darien’s central historic district. Although they were without electricity for three days, the house stayed a comfortable 66 degrees through the long nights, with enough hot water for showers, a gas stove for cooking meals, and even efficient methods for burning wood in the fireplace.

After years of wind, Arctic drafts and sky-high oil and electricity bills, the Nickersons embarked on a quest in October 2010 to make their uninsulated old house as energy-efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. They didn’t know it, but they were among the advance guard of homeowners opting for sustainable, energy-efficient design, products and technologies ahead of the extreme weather that darkened much of the Northeast in 2011 and 2012.

Now, in response to increasingly prolonged and widespread outages, more Connecticut homeowners are in the process of reclaiming power—with assistance from the state, the federal government, even local utility companies—before the next monster storm strikes.

If the destructive weather patterns of recent years have changed the way people think about power and the environment, they’ve also changed Connecticut homeowners’ perception of green design and living.

“Over the years, we’ve seen interest in green building grow from almost nonexistent in this part of the country to very popular,” says Elizabeth DiSalvo, a partner at Trillium Architects in Ridgefield, the “environmentally inspired” firm hired to oversee the Nickerson project. “In 1994, approximately 10 percent of our clients asked for a ‘green home.’ By 2007, 98 percent came to us requesting that their project be at least some ‘shade of green’”—a term she uses to describe levels of energy-efficiency and environmental friendliness.  

“Green” at various times has meant natural, ecological, organic and energy-conservationist and energy-efficient, but in the wake of last year’s storms it has come to mean something else: survival. “People now want to be able to easily go from being on the grid to off the grid with solar panels, generators and alternative heating sources like gas stoves and wood-burning stoves,” DiSalvo says.

In Darien, Measure for Measure, a construction company associated with the Center for Green Building in Bridgeport, took the Nickersons’ original house down to two walls, recycling all of the wood, nails and asphalt shingles, then resheathed the house with energy-efficient SIS foam-insulated panels. They also took down a dangerously swaying spruce tree in the back yard and milled the wood into trim for the new triple-pane, Energy Star-rated windows.

Beyond wanting to lower their energy costs and raise their comfort level, however, the Nickersons wanted to be sure the house was a safe, healthy place to raise their young children. The walls of the house were filled with Bonded Logic Ultratouch (recycled cotton insulation made from used blue jeans)and all joints and surfaces treated with nontoxic compound and paint. Finally, Aegis Solar Energy of Branford installed 12 200-watt panels on the southern side of the roof and a solar hot-water system.

A year earlier in Killingworth, George Keithan Jr., CEO of an alternative-energy and sustainable-design firm, built a 3,600-square-foot, energy-efficient farmhouse for himself, his wife, Mary, and their three children on 14 acres bordered by native fieldstone walls.

“Too often people think of energy-efficient houses as contemporary, but they don’t have to be,” Keithan says. “The goal from the start was to be zero-energy efficient in a New England-style house and prove that if we could do it, anyone could.”

The first net zero-energy residence in Connecticut and one of only a few in New England, the house uses no fossil fuels and produces no carbon emissions. Instead, it relies on 10 AET solar hot-water panels on the roof of the main house for heating radiant floors and water—10 drain-back collectors feed hot-water tanks in the attic—and 65 Schüco solar photovoltaic panels in the barn behind the house for all of the property’s electrical power, including the Energy Star-rated appliances and LED lighting. The Connecticut Green Building Council, which has documented the energy efficiency of the house, estimates that together the panels generate 20,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year.

Experts say the cost of home energy efficiency is largely offset by the savings over time in fuel and utility bills.

George Keithan calculates that his solar and other energy-efficient components, which cost $40,000, will pay for themselves in eight years, thanks to greatly reduced energy bills and incentives that helped defray the initial outlay: a rebate from CL&P’s new construction program, a 35 percent rebate from the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CCEFIA), and a 30 percent federal tax credit for installing solar and geothermal systems. Anthia Nickerson estimates that state and federal incentives cut the cost of their system by two-thirds.

Some Connecticut homeowners are realizing gains sooner. Through an arrangement with CL&P, Keithan receives credits for the energy his system generates on sunny days, then uses those credits to power the house on cloudy days and at night. In addition, at the end of the year he says he receives a small check from CL&P for the extra energy he produces, which the utility supplies to other homeowners.

“I’m selling electricity to my neighbor during the day and buying it back from CL&P at night,” Keithan says, adding that he hasn’t paid for power since moving into the house.

Last fall, in the wake of the massive and prolonged power outages of 2011 and early 2012, the state amped up efforts to market energy efficiency to homeowners throughout the state.

In September, CCEFIA launched Solarize Connecticut, a pilot program to encourage residential solar power. The first phase of the program included four towns—Durham, Fairfield, Portland and Westport—chosen from the 10 communities that applied. CCEFIA supplied a list of authorized installers from which the towns made their selections. Residents who signed up for the program received free site inspections and tiered prices on solar-panel systems: The more who signed up, the lower the price of the individual systems.

By mid-January, when phase one ended, some 300 homeowners from the four communities had contracted for solar installations—well beyond what had been done in the previous seven years in the state, for roughly 25 percent less than the normal cost.

In Fairfield, a coastal town particularly hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy, 76 residents signed up to lease or purchase solar panel systems. Elsewhere, contracts totaled 58 in Westport, 45 in Portland and in Durham, an agricultural community of 7,400 without access to natural gas, 117 with BeFree Solar, a  local installer.

Phase two of Solarize Connecticut, currently underway, runs until mid-July and includes Bridgeport, Canton, Coventry and, in a joint partnership, Windham and Middlefield.

Gradually, climate change is altering the way we view our environment here in Connecticut. Areas of the state long considered highly desirable sanctuaries from the stresses of daily life—the beaches and forests—are increasingly being viewed with wariness as residents cope with storm surges, flooding, fallen trees and downed wires.

And despite all the energy-efficiency programs and incentives, a growing band of homeowners is putting less stock in their local utility companies and more in higher powers: that is, solar, wind, geothermal heat—and their own instincts for survival.

For all the efficiencies they have brought into their homes, the Nickersons in Darien and Keithans in Killingworth remain connected to the utility grid. But up in the northwest corner of the state, architect Wes Wyrick left conventional living five years ago for a small, passive solar saltbox he designed for himself and his wife on 40 acres in Kent that operates entirely off the grid.

The house’s long, high expanse of southern-exposed roof and central fireplace make it an ideal passive design—and a traditional New England one—that’s efficient to heat.

The foundation of the house is slab-on-grade to absorb, store and radiate warmth collected from the sun. Energy is also collected by nine solar photovoltaic panels on the roof that feed a bank of 12 batteries that in turn supply a 48-volt energy system. For backup support there are four Rumford-style fireplaces, a design known for its heat efficiency, and a 25,000-volt Generac generator fueled by a 1,000-gallon propane tank. Well water is drawn by a 220-volt, battery-powered pump. The walk to the front door passes through a large flower garden, watered by roof runoff, that could be pressed into service as a survival garden.

“I wouldn’t recommend it for everybody,” Wyrick says of the lifestyle. “My wife is lukewarm. You have to look at every watt you use. We have all the modern conveniences but we’re cautious about how we use them.”

If there are cost savings to living off the grid, he’s not sure exactly what they are. “It’s tough to calculate on a consistent basis because of the sun,” he says. “Today’s a sunny day and so it’s free.” But, he cautions, “anyone who thinks that the cost of alternative energy is less than traditional energy is fooling themselves.” He figures that the solar panels, storage batteries and the inverter used to supply AC power from the panels cost about $45,000, a reason most solar-power advocates remain tied to the grid. The standby generator cost $11,000.

“All in, I suspect the cost of operating the house is more than a similar-sized conventional house,” he notes, “but this was not the reason for using an alternative system.” It was about self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

“Self-reliance,” Wyrick muses, sounding like a hybrid Henry David Thoreau and Martha Stewart, “is a good thing.”

Home renovation goes "green" with recycled materials

Ben Holbrook,
Published 01:45 p.m., Thursday, September 29, 2011

A local couple nearly doubled the size of their home while significantly reducing energy consumption by completing a green renovation.

After purchasing an 1,800-square-foot home on Lakeside Avenue, Sam and Anthia Nickerson realized the structure wasn't quite up to par with what they desired. As they were considering a renovation, both recalled their time growing up in the Pacific Northwest, where the scenery was occasionally disrupted by the sight of a nuclear cooling tower or a dam. Both wanted to do a renovation that would have the least amount of impact on the local environment.

"You can really see the effect of energy consumption in the Pacific Northwest but you don't always see that effect as much around here," Anthia Nickerson said. "People are starting to become more aware and we felt there was really no other option to go green because no matter what, a renovation will impact the environment."

Once the Nickersons decided to make their renovation as environmentally friendly as possible, they approached Trillium Architects, a firm that specializes in green construction.

Trillium Architect Elizabeth DiSalvo has been doing green renovations since the 1990s and said the first step in making a house green is to make sure the home is properly sealed and insulated.

"You don't want a home where air is coming in or going out in places you don't want it to," DiSalvo said. "When a house is properly insulated, it reduces the energy load as low as possible because you don't need as much fuel or equipment to heat or cool the space."

One of the unique aspects of the Nickersons' home is that the insulation in their walls is recycled denim, which can be reused and is completely biodegradeable.

Once the home was properly sealed and insulated, work could begin on the interior of the home. Throughout the process, Anthia Nickerson said she wanted to stick to her philosophy of "cradle to cradle," which was born of a desire to make sure everything used in the home was useful before it was brought in and that it would also be useful it were removed from the house.

All of the trim around the doors and windows came from a spruce tree on the property that was in danger of falling. The Nickersons decided to have it cut down and taken to a mill where it was made into the trim.

"When I look at the trim I can see some of the imperfections in the wood, and it makes me happy we were able to find a use for the tree," Anthia Nickerson said.

Along with the window and door trim, a number of light fixtures are made of recycled materials, the window treatments are recycled material and the counter top in the laundry room was made from recycled paper.

Renovating an entire home to make it green is not without its challenges. The Nickersons and Trillium discovered zoning laws tend to lag behind environmentally friendly efforts when doing construction projects. While renovating the Nickersons' home, a number of waivers had to be obtained in order to make the necessary modifications to different areas of the house. However, DiSalvo said that although people tend to think building green is more expensive, the savings from tax breaks and energy consumption offset any additional building costs.

"People think it's harder to build green financially but it really isn't. It's all in how you design the walls and the contractors who build green are really trying to do the right thing," DiSalvo said.

DiSalvo said one of the advantages to going green is that many communities offer incentives that will speed up the building permit process and sometimes waive permit fees.

The interest in going green was really ramping up before the recession hit, but DiSalvo said people's awareness of their carbon footprint continues to grow.

When proposing to a client to make their house more environmentally friendly, DiSalvo said people tend to react more favorably to the money they save and she has found guys tend to react especially favorably to some of the technology used.

"Sometimes people are a hard sell when it comes to going green, but guys tend to geek out over the technology that is used in the homes," she said.

Because of the steps the Nickersons have taken to make their home as environmentally friendly as possible, they will receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating of platinum, which is the highest certification on the ranking system.

Anthia Nickerson said the renovation process went exceptionally well, and she didn't find herself becoming stressed out with the project.

"This house is so comfortable and well designed," she said.

As an added bonus, DiSalvo said the Nickersons' home will stand up well for years because of certain elements included in the construction.

"The exterior of the home has a rain screen which will help make the paint last 10 to 20 years longer than on a standard home. This is an incredibly solid house and it will hold up really well," she said. "This job was such a pleasure to do."

Simply Green

Trillium Architect leads the way to great efficiency in building.


You would be hard pressed to find a more deeply passionate green-focused architect than Elizabeth DiSalvo. The founder of Trillium Architects in South Norwalk, DiSalvo has always been mindful of building energy-efficient  houses. “Green is really about quality construction,” she says. “We want to build houses that you would be proud to leave to your grandchildren.”

DiSalvo was raised in Ridgefield and earned undergraduate and graduate architectural degrees from Rensselaer and Columbia University respectively. She gained architectural experience in high school, college, and later years working with a variety of high-end Fairfield County architects. Intervening years were spent learning to design modern,

natural homes in L.A. and New York. Her experience in the early 1990s in Colorado was particularly influential. “I lived and designed in a town that was off the grid. People built their own homes and even their own solar panels. It was very mind opening,” says DiSalvo.

She designed her first new green home in 1999 and, from then on, the “green” focus has been her priority. “The first aspect that we look at with a green home design is the envelope—the roof, walls, and basement,” she explains. “We make these areas as well insulated and air-sealed as possible. We keep fresh tempered air flowing with a super high efficiency HVAC system. The better the envelope, the smaller the HVAC system required, which results in high-energy efficiency and monetary savings to the owner. We specify sustainable and natural materials that complete the package to create a long lasting, low maintenance home.” Besides the technical areas of a home, Trillium focuses on creating unique and sophisticated designs that emphasize natural light, beauty, different levels of intimacy, and the specific needs of each homeowner.

DiSalvo’s theory is simple: The better you build the home, and the more truly special the experience of living in the home, the better the home will be cherished and cared for, and the longer it will last. A home that no one would dream of tearing down and throwing into a landfill is perhaps the greenest home you can build. “Our distinction in this business is that we have been doing this for a long time,” said DiSalvo. “We’re building fine green homes wherein both the technical and spatial designs have been perfected. Our strong relationships with contractors and subcontractors who are truly experienced in green construction are a plus as well.”

Founded in 2004, Trillium focuses on residential work—from small renovations to complete new homes, working in various “shades” of green throughout Connecticut and Westchester County. “Last year, we completed four new homes and several additions,” notes DiSalvo. “Among the new homes was one that will likely receive LEED Platinum certification”—the highest LEED rating, the standard created by the U.S. Green Building Council by which green houses are measured.

DiSalvo says that the firm has another home in progress in Darien that 
will likely receive LEED Platinum.


(Please scroll down to ‘The Green Retrofit’ for Trillium Architects)

The Green House Effect

Going green isn't just possible, it's inevitable. Here's how local proponents walk the talk, and how you can, too.


Living Room westport 1.jpg

June 2008

The next time traffic on the Post Road slows you down near the Westport firehouse, let your eyes linger on its façade for a moment. Those panels you’ll notice on the roof are actually collectors that transform the sun’s energy into clean kilowatt hours of electricity — more than 16,000 and $9,000 worth at this writing. It’s part of a town-wide effort to connect Westport to the growing national movement toward living greener.

Westport’s Clean Energy Task Force, founded last year and chaired by former second selectman Carl Leaman, has its eye on an even bigger prize: reducing energy consumption and resource use by ten percent over three years. The population’s current environmental impact, or “carbon footprint,” as it’s called, is calculated at a hefty eighteen tons per citizen. (For purposes of comparison, consider that the EU’s contribution is about half that heft, per person.) High-visibility activities, like obtaining a grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund to mount the solar panels on the firehouse, help raise public awareness of the group’s earth-friendly initiatives.  

But as Leaman himself will affirm, solar panels alone won’t get the job done. The most effective activities will be those undertaken by individuals who want to make a difference. (If you’d like to start greening your home and lifestyle, right now, see the sidebar on page 82.) Problem is, unlike those solar panels, a lot of this good green stuff is difficult to see. It works behind walls, is screwed into light sockets or hidden in underground wells, invisible to the eye. So we did a little sleuthing to reveal the green revolution going on behind some of our most traditional-looking facades. 

Green Building Blocks

Westport resident and developer Barry Katz experienced his environmental epiphany years  ago. “I sold a very expensive house to people who could easily afford it; they just wrote a check,” he recalls. “It was a large home, and I heard from them when they got their first heating bill. They were shocked at how much it cost to keep the place warm.  Given that financial resources were definitely not a problem for them, I thought to myself, What would ordinary people do?” 

Wanting to answer that question, Katz began to read, educating himself about resource- and energy-saving building practices. “The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn,” he remembers. He also attended several green-building conferences, where professionals and eager amateurs exchanged ideas and resources for building more earth-friendly housing. Gradually he decided to dedicate his business to building green.

“If you know how to build a quality, energy efficient and healthy home, why wouldn’t you?” he asks.

Early last year, Katz completed a new green home on the site of an old house from the sixties. Unlike other “wrecking ball” projects, which have raised the hackles of many residents, he recycled the teardown, finding willing takers for lumber, appliances, fixtures and other materials. Katz then proceeded to build a new/old house — a Colonial, five-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath home. Traditional in appearance, the house boasts a laundry list of green materials and systems: 

Skin Deep: All walls require insulation, but Katz went much further. A spray foam insulation system seals the house perfectly against air leaks, even before other high-tech systems add incremental energy savings. Attic ductwork is fully insulated — lack of this energy-saving blanket is a major culprit of heat loss in non-green built homes. open-and-shut savings: Double-glazed windows, filled with insulating argon gas and a low-e (emissivity) coating that prevents heated or cooled inside air from escaping is a major upgrade from ordinary code standards.

Heat Repellent: Roof shingles have a special coating that deflects the sun’s heating rays, offering savings during air conditioning season. 

Water Misers: Even comparatively high rainfall areas — think Atlanta — have recently experienced years-long droughts. This house is prepared for shortages, with insulated hot and cold water pipes, and on-demand hot water heating by means of motion sensors in each bathroom, so warm water is instantaneous and doesn’t require running the faucet. Also standard in the Katz house are low-flow fixtures and fittings, including faucets and toilets that will save thousands of gallons each year.

Geothermal Heating and Cooling: Underground wells capture, and then circulate via a system of piped water, the constant 55°F temperature of the earth below the frost line; this nonpolluting energy source provides cooling in the summer and heating in the winter, without fossil fuel. While the system is more expensive than conventional gas or oil heat, it’s the next big thing as oil supplies decline and energy prices skyrocket.

Clean Indoor Air: An energy recovery ventilation system provides a steady supply of clean air, while capturing 70 percent of the energy of stale air as it is removed. The central vacuum system filters out dust and allergens for more pristine surroundings. Coatings — paint and other finishes — were chosen for their very low content of volatile organic compounds. VOCs, as they are known in shorthand, can be respiratory irritants, and pollute the air indoors and out.  

The project so embodied Katz’s philosophy for building green and natural that it also impressed his fellow developers, winning the 2007 Home Builders’ Association of Connecticut HOBI award for Best Green House, and — even better in such a tough market — an enthusiastic buyer.

Custom Homes

Another Westport project, undertaken by the family-run Stillman Organization, a residential and commercial real estate development company, is a group of three custom homes built along the Saugatuck River. Robert Stillman, who made a presentation of the project at a recent meeting of Connecticut building professionals, recaps the high points as we tour the first of the homes to be completed. With its beautiful surroundings and meticulous landscaping, it’s difficult to discern how this large, luxury home differs from its equally large neighbor, also recently built by another developer. But the green is, once again, in the invisible details.

Stillman, along with his brother and father, now runs the company founded by his grandfather nearly fifty years ago. They each take a personal interest in the fine points of the project. True to the principles of green building, they first used construction practices that provide for energy efficiencies far above current code standards. Starting with the basement, Stillman’s builders used a Canadian-made panelized construction system — instead of going up stick-by-stick, the house was shipped in panels, shortening the time between hole-in-the-ground and framed house. Under the basement slab are two layers of expanded foam, giving it an R (resistance to heat) value of 10. Since nearly a fifth of a home’s energy can leak from the basement, Stillman marvels at the cost-effectiveness of this small and relatively inexpensive step.

The foundation walls themselves are made with concrete insulating panels, cast with 2x4 wall studs in place so that drywall can be nailed up without further ado — a cost-saving efficiency that allowed for other, bigger green features elsewhere.

“Most houses have R-19 walls, and even double-glazed windows are R-2,” says Stillman. In this house the building envelope is much more snug, with R-30 walls and triple-glazed, gas filled, low-e high performance windows that provide an R-value of more than 6 — an incredible energy saver. Builders paid special attention to the attic space, again increasing the R-value of the insulation and also using special heat-resistant light fixtures on the upper floor so that attic insulation could fit snug against the fixtures without creating a hazard. To mitigate its air tightness and prevent moisture retention, Stillman has also employed a state-of-the-art, highly efficient ventilation system, much like the Katz house mentioned above.

The highlights of this luxury dwelling are the systems that heat and air condition the inside of its super-efficient, insulating skin. Like the Katz house, a geothermal heating and cooling system requires no oil burner or gas furnace, instead using below-ground temperatures to heat and cool. To augment the system, using rebates provided by CL&P, Stillman installed 5 kilowatts of solar collectors on the south-facing roof of the house. These panels function on the net-metering system, meaning that when the sun is producing more energy than the house needs, the electric meter actually runs backward.

The benefits of the new technology are not just earth-friendly or cost saving. The green house is as quiet and comfortable as it is proportionately skimpy in its resource consumption. Stillman, who is proud of the many fine details of the house’s construction and finish, is sold on green. Along with Katz, he believes that this is the way the business of residential building is headed.

“We’ll reach a tipping point in a few years,” says Katz. He is convinced that the cost of building green (a ten to twenty percent premium over standard practice right now) will come down as technologies improve, acceptance of the practices and materials becomes much more widespread, and general understanding of the “green” concept grows. “Not only will people build green to save on energy costs, but they’ll also realize that a home that’s built green will be healthier for their families.”

The Green Retrofit

While it’s good to build new and green, what’s to be done with existing houses? There are lots more of them than there is new construction, and most were built long before energy prices rose and people became concerned about global warming and environmental degradation. Fortunately, the answer is quite a bit.  






Jennifer Boyd-Mullineaux, her husband and two children had already found a location they loved in Westport, but the house needed some work. Jennifer, a physician’s assistant who now does medical educational consulting for clients seeking a holistic approach to health, had a natural inclination toward a renovation that would include green practices and materials. With ideas taking shape in her mind’s eye, the family was walking a street fair in South Norwalk when she noticed the booth of Trillium Architects.  

“It read ‘Architectural Help: Five Cents,’ ” she recalls, “and I noticed the architects were women. It felt right, and I stepped up to the booth.” She clicked immediately with Elizabeth DiSalvo, a partner in the firm with two decades’ worth of experience and dedication to the principles of designing and building green.

“We spent a year working on the design,”  says Boyd-Mullineaux. “You can get carried away with what you think you need. I went through magazines, looking for things I liked.  I found that I kept ripping out pictures of bungalow-style houses, or spaces with a Japanese aesthetic. I like offset lines, not perfect symmetry, and whimsy speaks to me.”

While the appearance of the home changed completely on the outside, and DiSalvo’s plans reworked the interiors, the renovation had a very modest effect on the home’s dimensions, adding only 800 square feet to the existing footprint. What emerged was a thoughtful remix of existing elements, augmented by strategic bump-outs and careful choices of equipment and materials for their energy efficiency and healthful qualities. 

The earth-friendly decisions began with demolition; at the owners’ instructions, the contractors, Charter Oak Construction, salvaged all the materials that could be recycled. Items such as windows, lumber, flooring and kitchen cabinets found new homes via Green Demolitions in Norwalk. “Don’t throw anything away,” says Jennifer. “It’s amazing what can be donated, recycled and repurposed instead of going into a landfill.”

For the renovation, Jennifer started with basics: energy-efficient windows and blown-in insulation, which have made the house quieter and more comfortable. Then came the fun part: a new mudroom, designed with a closet for every family member, keeping this possible catchall space attractive and welcoming. Outside, the deck is crafted with IPÊ wood and metal railing — no-maintenance alternatives to traditional materials.

In the basement, there’s space for the children, with natural, nontoxic linoleum flooring that floats on its underlayment instead of being glued with off-gassing adhesives. In the space’s small accessory kitchen, Jennifer has used high-efficiency appliances and reused a piece of honed granite that fit perfectly as countertop. To let in light for the bumped-out exercise area, Boyd-Mullineaux had DiSalvo specify a commercial-grade curtain wall material called Kalwall, which is durable enough for a snow load.

The bedrooms are all designed for excellent air flow and equipped with ceiling fans, to cut down on the use of air conditioning and maintain healthy air quality. In the master suite, a small, two-sided gas fireplace lends its cheerful, efficient, and on-demand warmth to the bedroom and the bath area. It’s a renovation with many small changes and additions that in the aggregate combine to beautiful effect. A limited size increase, but lots of thought and care, gave the owners the result they wanted. 

Says Jennifer, “I discovered that the right question to ask was, ‘Will this improve our lives, or are we doing it just because we can?’ If we could say yes to the former question, we knew we were on track.”