Local architects build ‘supergreen’ dream house

August 1, 2014
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(from left) Contractor Tim Alaric and metal fabricator Aaron Legg pose with client and homeowner Hansy Better Barraza on July 17. (Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira)

(from left) Contractor Tim Alaric and metal fabricator Aaron Legg pose with client and homeowner Hansy Better Barraza on July 17. (Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira)

WOODBOURNE—Architects Hansy Better Barraza and Anthony Piermarini love their corner of Jamaica Plain so much, they recently built their “supergreen” dream house there.

They were inspired to make the 1B Meyer St. house highly energy efficient because of a nearby City-sponsored green housing project around the corner on Catherine Street. Another well-known energy-efficient home, the JP Green House, is also nearby on Bourne Street.

Originally living next door at 1A Meyer St., they aimed to build in the 3,200-square-foot space next to it.

“It was a research project for us,” Barraza told the Gazette during a visit to the nearly completed home. “What do you really need” to build an affordable, modern, energy-conscious house?

The 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom new home features clever adaptations to reduce its carbon footprint. The stairs run continuously from ground floor to living quarters to the roof, creating a chimney-like air flow current, which keeps it cool in summer and warm in winter.

The house is so well-insulated that it nearly meets “passive-heating” standards. That means it need minimal additional heating in the winter: the family’s body heat would be nearly enough. The bathrooms have humidity controls, and the roof deck has a rainwater collection system.

With few exceptions—the most notable being the large panel windows Barraza imported from Germany—most of the materials are locally sourced. During the Gazette’s visit, Aaron Legg from Dorchester’s Trimount Ironworks was installing the metal front door staircase he fabricated. Even the home’s electricity is 100 percent New England wind-sourced, she said.

And the outside of the home is covered in certified-sustainable ipê wood and fiber cement panels, which bring the cost down. Their deep charcoal color will age into a lighter grey over time, she said.

“I want to let people know that building a modern home is doable and accessible,” Barraza said.

But it doesn’t come cheap. She estimates that the house cost about $280 per square foot, or about $504,000, to build. “[But] you could do this for $300,000” if compromising on looks or performance was an option, she added.

That doesn’t include the cost benefits of already owning the land and having the house next door to live in and, now, rent out. There were $20,000 in engineering and surveying fees, and a zoning variance process that took over a year.

But for this family, it was all worth it.

“I feel like I made a commitment” to the neighborhood, Barraza said. “To be able to have a home that is reflective of the neighborhood’s diversity” in housing styles is important to her and the family, she said.

Studio Luz Architects, Barraza and Piermarini’s South Boston-based business, designs mostly commercial spaces and new homes and renovations, including the 40-unit Urbanica 691 redevelopment on Massachusetts Avenue in the South End. Its website is studioluz.net.

  • Eric Herot

    Only in America could you build an 1800 square foot house on a 3600 square foot lot, not terribly transit accessible and WITH A DRIVEWAY, and call it “green.”