Once in awhile, a client provides so much inspiration that contractors and architects can't help but become better at their professions. Claudette Stern of Ann Arbor, Mich., was this client to Doug Selby, chief executive officer of Meadowlark Builders, and Michael Klement, principal of Architectural Resource LLC, both of Ann Arbor.
Stern, a found-object artist, wanted her profession to inform the design of her remodel, demonstrating that everything has a purpose and there is no "away" to which things can be thrown. She also kept future generations in mind, not only by choosing to remodel in a way that has less impact on the environment, but also by thinking about how future homeowners might use her space. Because of Stern's ideology, the whole-house remodel continuously spiraled into something new and was coined the Nautilus House. The thoughtful process with which the project was completed led to a LEED for Homes Platinum certification and the Silver award in Qualified Remodeler's 2010 Master Design Awards program.
Like many remodels, Stern's project began as a solution to a problem; her split-level home that was built around 1940 had a leaky roof. Because Stern long had been interested in high-performance-building techniques she wanted to know how to replace her roof in an energy-efficient manner while considering how to optimize the space underneath the roof for future homeowners. She opted to expand what was once her attic into an artist workspace, giving future owners the option of creating second-floor bedrooms. Serendipitously, the 2- by 10-inch attic floor joists were spaced 16 inches on center. "That attic was strong enough to be a new platform for a second floor without changing anything," Klement remembers. "It was almost as though the house was waiting to have a second floor built on top of it."
Klement and Selby, who have partnered on several green-building projects, worked as a team while creating the Nautilus House. The design concept incorporated a curvilinear roof form that would enclose the new second-floor space and allow the team to use six 12-inch-thick, 8- by 24-foot (the largest size available) structural insulated panels, or SIPs, as a roof deck, eliminating additional framing and thermal bridging. Waste also was eliminated because each SIP only required a slight bevel cut for mating purposes. Lastly, the curved roof would allow solar panels to be staggered and offset up the slope to ensure no panel would cast a shadow on another.
Stern's interest in adding solar panels to the home was refreshing to Klement. He explains: "When faced with the choice of a $30,000 kitchen remodel or a 4-kilowatt rooftop array of solar panels that will provide most of her power in the summer and much of it in winter, Claudette chose the solar panels. We're seeing a paradigm shift in our industry about what is perceived as valuable and beautiful."
It is obvious that adding solar panels to a structure that isn't energy efficient is a waste, so Selby and Klement got to work improving the existing home's envelope. "We retrofitted all the insulation in the house and wanted to cut the air and water infiltration significantly," Selby says. "We wrapped the whole house in a commercial-grade air/water barrier and then we created a rain screen by fastening 2- by 2-inch cedar furring strips 24 inches on center into the house's framing. That created a 1½-inch gap between the siding and sheathing of the house, so any moisture that gets behind the siding is going to run down the air/water barrier, allowing the area to dry out so the siding on the backside won't absorb any water. We attached the siding to the furring strips."
Klement notes that a rain-screen application also allows easy modification of the home's cladding. "These thicker furring strips allow cladding systems to be attached without penetrating the air/water barrier. In the future, if the owner wants to change the cladding, it can be installed to the furring strips."