It would be nice to have known Thomas Jefferson, and to have been able to say 'hey -- Tom -- if you could, when you get a minute, would you design me a place?' and then you'd laugh over some agricultural faux pas and drink a few glasses of wine and talk about things, like where your land is and how many bedrooms you needed - and that would about cover it. Except that everybody has budget issues, since it seems like even Virginia's Governor Barbour never got around to building the dome on his place in Barboursville. From the Virginia Landmarks Register, 4th ed., 1999:
Until it burned on Christmas Day, 1884, James Barbour's home at Barboursville stood essentially as completed ca. 1822 from designs supplied by Barbour's friend Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson's drawings called for a dwelling with a recessed portico on the north front and a three-part bay sheltered by a portico on the south front, with dome above -- a scheme resembling Jefferson's Monticello. The dome, however, was not built. Even in its ruinous state, the house presents a romantic image of the Jeffersonian ideal, a compact but architecturally sophisticated classical villa in a carefully contrived landscape setting. The great grassy oval in front of the house was originally a racetrack. James Barbour (1775-1842), a statesman and diplomat, held many public offices, including governor of Virginia, secretary of war, and minister to Great Britain. The stabilized ruins are now the centerpiece of one of Virginia's first large-scale wineries.
So - '...a romantic image of the Jeffersonian ideal, a compact but architecturally sophiticated classical villa in a carefully contrived landscape setting...' - works for me. Except that I'm not building in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, and Thomas Jefferson doesn't live down the road from me (but I wish he did).
But all I can say is thank God for my architherapist. Truly. I can't complain for a minute. I think that he is trying to keep me on tract to build a 'compact but architecturally sophisticated classical' home at the beach. A contemporary beach house, so to speak. I'm at the stage though where I need to be actively involved in the process, decisions need to be made, and a big one will get started on Wednesday, and that's when I have an early morning phone discussion with the HVAC consultant on the project (yes, it's all part of the LEED process - we need HVAC and Structural Engineering consultants to contribute to the design and building process). My architect has told me that the HVAC consultant is going to try and convince me that geothermal is the way I need to go for my heating, cooling, and hot water needs. In fact, I asked if he would send me something to read on geothermal, so the consultant sent me the following overview ('The Geothermal Concept') to review prior to our conversation on Wednesday: Download geo_conceptca002_december_28_2007.pdf
What I'm interested in right now is to learn about all of the disadvantages of geothermal, so I can ask the right questions on Wednesday. From what I've read thus far, here are the main disadvantages (and questions):
- higher initial costs than conventional systems (so the question is, how much higher? and how much more efficient are they than conventional systems? what is the cost-recovery time?)
- open-loop systems have more potential problems than closed-loop systems, since they bring water into the unit, which can result in clogging, corrosions, etc. (do you recommend an open- or closed-loop system?)
- since open-loop systems require large amounts of clean water to be effective, this often limits their use to coastal areas, or areas near lakes, rivers, etc. The used water must also be returned to the environment safely (so an open-loop system would possibly be one done in a coastal area, so - what is the typical repair historys for such a system?)
- closed-loop systems often use an anti-freeze solution to keep the loop from freezing (this is probably not an issue in coastal South Carolina, right?)
- there are all sorts of added issues if refrigerant is needed - toxicity is a concern, corrosion issues (for copper piping) is a possible problem, and repair issues are problematic.
- accessibility to terminal units is critical for repair - so architects, builders, structural engineers, etc all need to coordinate their efforts - and the units need access to both electrical and plumbing service. (what is the repair history on similar units? will the loop joints be heat-fused, which is supposed to reduce repair frequency?
- back-up heat systems are required in cooler regions (so how cool is 'cooler'? we're supposed to get down to the upper teens by sometime next week...how will such a system operate during the colder than normal or warmer than normal periods?)
- the area needed to lay the piping system can be quite large (how large is 'quite large'? what happens when a 'repair' needs to be done on the underground section of the system? what is the average cost of repairs, and how many repair people are even out there in Charleston County? how will the system interfere with my evolving 'landscape plan'?)
- what tax credits are available for geothermal installation in a new residential home? (it looks like a $300 credit, which seems sort of...minimal, doesn't it?).
Some useful links (while I'm at it):
- Alternative Energy Resources in South Carolina
- State Energy Efficiency Index: South Carolina (not too impressive)
- South Carolina Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (for geothermal)
- South Carolina Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (comprehensive list)
- Santee Cooper Residential Green Power
- The Case for Geothermal (from gladwell.com)
- Financing an Energy Efficient Home
- Southface Fact Sheets and Technical Bulletins
- Southface: Sustainable Design, Construction, and Land Development (Guidelines for the Southeast)
- building science.com
- BuildingGreen.com (LEED credits)
- BuildingGreen.com (ground-source heat pumps: tapping the Earth's mass)
But back to Governor Barbour's place. I went there the day after Thanksgiving with my brother, to visit the Barboursville Vineyard. It was just a beautiful setting - with vines covering the hillsides around the home - with the home itself surrounded by large boxwoods and a few southern magnolias. What a gracious home - and it reminded me so much of Monticello - a slightly smaller version, and no, it isn't on a mountain top - but the style was distinctly Jefferson. I can't imagine heating those rooms, but the reality is that they were probably always cold in the winter (hence the Christmas Day fire, right?). But to design and build a home whose bare bones are so elegant, so perfect - is definitely a wonderful thing, and while I don't AT ALL think that a plaque will be in front of my home one day like the one that says 'Governor Barbour's Mansion' - I still hope that it will be a place that will seem cared for, designed, perhaps thought through, and definitely responsible.
There is much learning yet to be done though. Talk about a steep learning curve...