di Domenico + Partners

Westchester, NY Passive House

Designed collaboratively with owners Joan Raiselis and Fred Ellman, both designers and passionate environmentalists, this modest, 1,872 square foot new house in Tarrytown (Westchester County), NY satisfies their desire to reduce, repair, remake and rethink the impact our daily routines impose on, and the outcomes our first-world lifestyles have on our environments. Joan founded the not-for-profit Sustainery, Inc., an organization dedicated to providing a creative environment where practices in sustainable living are discussed, defined and explored. Through this new house, she seeks to embody the passion that has been her way of life since childhood.

The house has a ground-floor kitchen/dining/living area, bedroom and bathroom. A large corner window in the living/dining area affords views of the Hudson River, and although the footprint of the house is modest, the double-height living/dining area makes it feel spacious. The second floor was designed to eventually include a study, a second bedroom and second bath so that the owners’ guests will have room to stay overnight. Particular care was taken to create a unique house that is a reflection of the owners' contemporary tastes while respecting the character of the 100-year old neighborhood.

Designed and built to stringent Passive House standards, four strategies were followed to significantly reduce energy usage and improve comfort:

Orientation: The home is oriented in an east-west direction, and most of the windows face south, so that the house can take advantage of the sun's warmth in the winter months to reduce heating costs.
Insulation: Thick insulation and high-performance windows and doors retain heat in the winter and keep it out in the summer.
Air tightness: Air-tight construction minimizes infiltration and heat loss to improve comfort by eliminating drafts and reducing outside noise.
Ventilation: Energy recovery ventilation continuously brings in fresh, filtered air with minimal energy loss.

The house’s energy-saving characteristics, along with the roof-top solar panels, allows the house to be “net-zero.” Over the course of the year, the electricity generated during sunny days offsets electricity pulled from the grid on cloudy days or at night. Reliance on electricity allows the owners to avoid the use of fossil fuels – no oil or gas will be used.

At every opportunity, locally sourced materials were specified. White oak wood for flooring, for example, came from a woodworker in Kitchawan, NY who milled a felled tree on his property. Eastern White Cedar, sourced in nearby Connecticut, was selected for the exterior siding for the northern façade of the house. The carpet runner on the stairs was hand-crafted by a local weaver. All appliances were chosen for their energy efficiency and their local (USA) manufacture. All stain and paint is zero VOC; metal/cable railing was made near Rochester, NY; all lighting uses LED or xenon bulbs; and special care was taken to find appropriate fixtures that were made in North America by sustainable manufacturers.

A rain harvesting system collects water from the roof and stores it in a cistern for irrigation of the planned vegetable and flower gardens. To minimize rainwater run-off, the remainder of the site was designed to have no impervious surfaces.

The end result of the team effort is a comfortable home that meets the users’ needs while contributing in its small way to a more sustainable future for the planet.