WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has always been a proponent of the environment and sustainability, so it is fitting that him and his wife, Mary Richardson Kennedy, renovated their historic 1920s colonial with a variety of sustainable technologies and products, including a geothermal and photovoltaic system, and a solar domestic hot water system, with the goal of achieving U.S. Green Building Council LEED Gold certification, which they are in the process of applying for now.
The Kennedy Green House renovation began in May 2008, after the home was infested with black mold due to a basement flood followed by high temperatures. After this unfortunate incident, the family decided to salvage the home and transform it into an energy-efficient and water-conserving house, which will be a living laboratory for contractors, architects, designers and consumers, showcasing the latest in green technologies. The renovation was completed in December 2009.
According to Dean Demague, vice president of B&D Controlled Air, New Milford, Conn., the project’s mechanical subcontractor, the solar systems along with the geothermal system were driven by the Kennedys' interest in these types of systems and their commitment to the longevity of the earth.
“When we started the rebuilding process, we knew that every single product we used had to create a healthier space for our family and reduce our impact on the environment,” explained Kennedy.
But before any of the energy and water conserving mechanical systems could be installed, the house had to be raised to save its foundation.
“We salvaged the home by removing the entire foundation and supporting the existing structure,” said Jim Blansfield, president and owner of Blansfield Builders, Danbury, Conn., the project’s general contractor. “We put the house up on steel beam trusses to salvage it and do work underneath, then we put a new foundation back in and lowered the house down. The house is really a new structure on new foundation with a lot of reused materials from other projects near by.”
Once the structure of the house was salvaged, the mechanical systems were installed. The home’s geothermal system is a 16-ton system made up of six 400-ft. deep wells in the yard for the reverse/return set up with five radiant heating zones. Three water-to-water heat pumps provide the necessary heating capacity during cold winter months, and five water-to-air heat pumps provide cooling during hot summer months.
“We did a VIP certification test and found we are running 3.5 to 4.0 COP on the equipment on the heating side and 27 to 30 SEER on the air conditioning side,” said Demague.
“In this [geothermal] application there was a lot of rock and a lot of hard drilling, but it’s good for the conductivity of the wells,” added Demague. “Here you had to drill vertical bore holes where there is an upfront cost compared to trenching. The end result is once the loops are in the holes and grouted it’s a great pairing of how well you can remove and extract the heat in the earth because you have great conductivity to the ground. The rock is a positive. Usually where there is rock there is water moving through it, so you might not have to drill as deep as you would in other areas of the country.”
During cold months, the home is heated via radiant flooring. More than 10,000-ft. of Viega radiant tubing was installed in the majority of the home — the two main floors and the basement living areas. The only areas that do not have radiant flooring are the garage and some areas in the basement.
Solar systems and more
A solar domestic hot water system, consisting of four solar panels, a Schuco Premium H flat plate solar collector, a DP&W Powertube racking system, and two Bradford White storage tanks, supplies hot water to the house. The backup system for the solar hot water system is a Triangle Tube boiler and an Eternal Hybrid water heater.
“We have that [de-superheater and boiler] for domestic hot water and the radiant heat if there was ever a pump failure and the geothermal system needed to be repaired,” said Demague.
The Eternal Hybrid and Triangle Tube both help heat water for two different sections of the home, therefore there is some fossil fuel being burned, but not too much.
“There is a tremendous difference of how much fossil fuel is being used when compared to how much would be used if none of these sustainable systems were in place,” said Demague.
The home also has a 7.56 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system that consists of 120 SunPower SunTile 63W panels (solar shingles) and a SunPower SPR-7000m inverter. Mercury Solar Systems, Port Chester, N.Y., installed the systems that B&D Controlled Air designed.
Solar shingles were chosen for this project because they are not intrusive, according to Blansfield, and aesthetics were very important to the client. Even the four solar panels are located on the roof on the back of the house for aesthetic reasons, plus, the house is facing south, making it a natural for solar.
“This is the first project here on the East Coast to use this type of solar shingle, said Blansfield. “It’s been used in California, and this is an attempt to introduce these solar shingles on this side of the country.”
“The Kennedy’s have the East Coast’s first SunPower SunTile high-efficiency solar system installed on their roof,” said Jared Haines, president, Mercury Solar Systems. “The solar cells on this system are expected to deliver up to 50% more power than conventional technology clearly setting this system apart from other residential projects being done along the eastern seaboard.”
Along with conserving energy, conserving water in the Kennedy Green Home was a must, so all plumbing fixtures — showerheads, toilets, faucets, etc., — are low-flow, and the finishing touches are being put on an underground storm water collection system.
“We utilized the best of what Kohler had to offer,” added Blansfield. “They were significant in their help to make this project look good and effectively conserve water.”
Even though the Kennedy Green House was a unique project for the subcontractors, general contractor and architects, there were some challenges during the project.
“Having a famous client was exciting and it was a large residential project,” said John Clark, a senior design technician who assisted Brooks Washburn of Brooks Washburn Architect, Potsdam, N.Y., on the Kennedy Green Home. “We had a lot of design flexibility. However, the project was on a very tight and vigorous schedule. There were design challenges on the HVAC side since there is an extreme amount of symmetry with the house. Concealing the duct work and piping was a huge undertaking, so there was a lot of coordination to implement this. Where ever we positioned grills we tried to incorporate them into the design of the home to hide them.”
Housing the mechanical equipment was another challenge.
“The mechanical room is quite amazing, to see how much is in such a small area,” said Clark. “It is located in the basement and an attic truss was designed to contain air handlers, etc. The mechanical equipment for the second floor is located in the attic trusses and the equipment for the first floor and basement levels are housed in the basement mechanical room.”