When Bill and Martha Sykora bought in Annapolis in December 2009, the modest ranch house needed major TLC. Water flowed next to and into the basement. The newest features, including the HVAC system, were vintage 1970s. On the plus side: Good bones, opportunity and a Broad Creek waterview. “We’ve always been environmentally conscious,” says Bill. “We did what we could to make our other houses more efficient, but we never had the chance to do it all.”
For their liveable green home, the Sykoras teamed up with Alex Dean and the Alexander Group, Inc. Work began in summer of 2010. “Creating a high performance, energy-efficient home and re-use of major components of the existing structure was challenging,” says Dean. In green lingo, you don’t tear down. You deconstruct. “Deconstruction is the careful disassembly of building components and finding ways to re-use them on-site or for donation,” explains Dean.
A big hurdle was Anne Arundel County’s building permit system, all the more demanding because the house is in a critical area. After six months of wrangling, permits in hand, it was out with the old and in with the new almost everything: nitrogen-reducing septic system; geothermal heating and cooling system; sprayed-in, closed-cell, foam insulation; roof-top solar panels; and high-efficiency windows. The new house is so well insulated that, to make sure it got enough healthy fresh air, an air-quality ventilation system was added.
The Sykoras wanted a house that was environmentally responsible, efficient and healthy. They hadn’t sought environmental certification, but when Alex Dean presented a scope-of-work that would achieve LEED certification standards, the family jumped on board. The Sykoras and the Alexander Group worked from the LEED checklist, marking off boxes. LEED third party certifiers “literally poked their fingers into the insulation to make sure there was enough there,” Martha says. Water-wise landscaping earns points. The Sykoras used native plants, many they brought from their former home in Crofton. Dutch white clover, a perennial ground cover, replaced traditional turf It’s great for erosion control and doesn’t need mowing,” Martha says.
Nothing about this home says it’s different from the neighbor’s homes. The front walk crosses a pond, part of the drainage system. Roof run-off not captured by the six rain barrels feeds the pond. Overflow channels into a rain garden. The geothermal heating and cooling system lies buried under the clover lawn. Solar panels that power the entire house can’t be seen from street or back yard. “We now have this amazing, beautiful place,” Bill says. And there’s nothing better than to see the electric meter running backwards.”