Last modified: Monday, March 02, 2015

GREENFIELD — It all added up for this former math teacher, given the net sum of skyrocketing energy costs. So he built a net-zero energy saltbox. And it’s scored big.

From the outside, the only thing saying the natural-finish house at 10 Charles St. is out of the ordinary are the tree-beams at the front and rear entrances. That, and the 18 photovoltaic panels and solar hot water panels on the south-facing roof.

But the house that Spartan built — Spartan Giordano, that is — a 1,500-square-foot house constructed for just $157,000 (with never a utility bill in the offing, and 70-degree indoor temperatures even on those recent single-digit days) has won NESEA’s 2015 Zero Net Energy Award.

Giordano, a former Hadley high-school teacher who got turned onto the possibility of super-energy-efficient building turned to Greenfield Community College’s Renewable Energy Program, had never built anything before.

He has visited NESEA’s BuildingEnergycq Conference before, as a GCC student and then working for Co-Op Power and Sandri Energy before getting his contracting license and starting his own business, Spartan Solar, last year.

But at BuildingEnergy 15 on Wednesday, Spartan should get a bonus, the annual award that comes with $10,000.

The conference, being held from Tuesday to Thursday at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center, is expected to attract 3,000 to 3,500 renewable energy and high-performance professionals and enthusiasts from around the Northeast.

“It’s really exciting,” said Giordano, who with his wife, Hannah Smeltz, got their occupancy certificate the same day their son, Max, was born.

Giordano left Co-Op Power “pretty much to build my house” on a quarter-acre corner lot where he removed all but one tree for improved solar access, and spent half a year designing, admittedly with plenty of help. He also hired his friend, Adam Heintz, as lead builder.

“I knew about building, I didnt have experience with physically using tools and getting stuff done. It was all theory-based,” said Giordano, who has kept a blog to share the experience.

The construction costs don’t include Giordano’s own labor, nor does it include the $60,000 cost for the lot, but the bargain-basement cost for this no-basement house does reflect the fact that lots of materials, like windows and doors were salvaged from other job sites through Craigslist, ReNew salvage materials and other sources.

The passive-solar house, with an open floor plan and a living-room a floor made of scrap granite tiles, has 12½-inch thick walls and recycled-newspaper cellulose insulation, a heat recovery and ventilation system to accompany the 12,000 BTU heat-exchange pump and the 4.5-kilowatt system which during their first year produced 500 more kilowatt hours than were needed to power the house.

“I was learning all the way,” said Giordano, who writes about that experience: “We answered the call to improve upon The Formula not through any single measure, but through a myriad of small design solutions, most of which, like passive solar, incur little or no additional cost. … A saltbox shape allows all living spaces to have south-facing glass while keeping volume low and minimizing exterior surface area. The volume of conditioned space can be further decreased by closing an air-tight door to the mudroom and adjoining pantry. … The air space between floors doubles as the location of an elegant built-in laundry drying rack and thus there is no need for a dryer. These and many more design solutions reduce our energy load and allow us to “get away with” a relatively small PV system, just one air source heat pump, and double pane windows.”

Also, writes Giordano, whose business specializes in solar hot-water systems, “Throughout construction, we made an effort to use recycled or second-market product, and to decrease the use of heavy carbon footprint materials like concrete, aluminum, drywall, and foam.

To reduce concrete, we engineered a shallow, frost protected foundation with a narrow 6” frost wall. (Our) home demonstrates ways to move beyond “The Formula.” Rather than adding another kilowatt of PV or elaborate technology, simple design choices reduce the energy footprint of our home.”

NESEA Executive Director Jennifer Marrapese said that of the eight applicants from around the Northeast, the Greenfield house said since the award has been presented , one other Franklin County house has been honored – the Montague City zero-net-energy house in 2010.

Contest judges felt the Giordano-Smeltz house “best exemplified the values of the NESEA community. Replicable, attractive and achievable, this ZNE house combines details that almost anyone could make use of with unique features that are truly labors of love. … Even though they were in the most challenging climate of our finalists, their final energy load was among the lowest.”

A May 1 open-house event is planned at the award-winning house, Marrapese said.

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