Work on JP Green House nearly done

David Taber

Gazette Photo by David Taber Construction has been ongoing for a year at the JP Green House at 135 Bourne St.

JP Home & Garden

WOODBOURNE—After a hectic year of work, the JP Green House, an effort to turn a building constructed in the first decade of the 20th century into a carbon-neutral home and environmental community center, is nearing completion.

The house, a small two-story building at 135 Bourne St. was originally constructed in 1909. After its massive centennial gut renovation, which began last fall, its main “green” feature will be around 10 inches of insulation and tight seals on the floor, ceiling and exterior walls. That system, known as “passive house” design, minimizes energy consumption in heating and cooling the house.

With the building sealed and insulated, the idea is a comfortable interior climate can be maintained almost entirely by occupants’ body heat.

During a recent Gazette visit to the house, Ken Ward, who is undertaking the remodeling project with his partner Andrée Zaleska, said he was happy to experience the concept in action for the first time when he was working on the house over the winter.

On one 15-degree day in February, he arrived to find the house a comfortable 55 degrees, he said. “I had always believed the theory, but it was nice to see it working,” Ward said.

Vacuum tests indicate that, even in its close-to-finished state, the house is currently leaking about 300 cubic feet per hour. Normal houses leak about 3,000 cubic feet per hour. In order to meet the passive house standard, Ward and Zaleska will have to cut the green house’s leakage down to about 150 cubic feet per hour, but Ward said the final touches on the building would probably take care of that.

In addition to employing the passive house standard, Ward and Zaleska plan to install a photovoltaic solar electricity system to cover the rest of their energy needs. That combination should mean the house has a “deeply negative carbon impact”—potentially producing a little electricity that it could feed back into the grid, Ward said.

To heat their water and as a heat source for extremely cold days Zaleska and Ward hope to install an air source heat pump system. According to the US Department of Energy website, “Like your refrigerator, heat pumps use electricity to move heat from a cool space into a warm, making the cool space cooler and the warm space warmer. During the heating season, heat pumps move heat from the cool outdoors into your warm house; during the cooling season, heat pumps move heat from your cool house into the warm outdoors.”

Heat pumps move heat rather than generating heat, providing as much as four times as much energy as they consume, the web site says.

Ward and Zaleska, who have been living in the house part-time with their children—Eli Ward, 9. and Simon and Kuba Zalesky, 7 and 10—plan to try to grow at least half of their vegetables in a terraced garden and raised beds they are setting up next to the house.

The garden will include berry bushes and a gate with a sign saying that ”If you are under this height and this age, you can come pick berries,” Ward said.

The garden will be watered with a rainwater irrigation system, Ward said.

Showing off their handiwork to the community has long been a goal for Ward and Zaleska, and, even as they finish construction, they have been conducting scheduled tours as well as informal tours for neighbors who have stopped in. On the balmy weekend of March 20 and 21, they had 14 groups come by, he said.

They also conducted a number of “work/learn days” at the house.

And as work wraps up, Ward and Zaleska are starting to think about how to use the house for “more thoughtful trainings on passive house techniques,” he said.
They plan to do a formal ribbon-cutting on Earth Day, April 22, Ward said.

But finishing up the project will be a scramble. The couple has run through the $575,000 they planned to spend on the project.

That includes $275,000 they spent to buy the then-bank owned building. In a
previous incarnation, the building had housed Jacks’ Corner Store.

Much of the material used in the construction has been salvaged, including from a stalled condominium development across the street that was torn down, Ward said.

On the other hand, there have been unexpected expenses. When the Gazette visited the green house in March 2009, Ward and Zaleska identified a box sitting in the middle of the floor in the then-gutted house as a donated air-filtration system. That filtration system, Ward told the Gazette during the recent visit, turned out to be an older model that was not efficient enough to meet the passive house standard.

Ward and Zaleska ended up having to pay about $12,000 for a new Dutch model, he said. To maintain air circulation despite their otherwise hermetic seals, passive houses employ specialized air filters that heat cool air coming into the house with warm air flowing out.

The couple received a grant from NSTAR for the heat pump system and they hope to receive other grants from utilities and public sources to complete the project.

They have been nominated by City Councilors At-Large John Connolly and Felix Arroyo, who lives down the street, for a city “Green Home” award, Ward said.

And they have invited Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to the ribbon-cutting. “If he doesn’t come, we’ll have to get [US Sen.] Scott Brown,” Ward said.

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