Living For Tomorrow – A Conversation with Andy McLaughlin

By Elle O’Casey

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I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Andy McLaughlin, a retired Philosophy Professor and Sustainable Woodstock board member to ask him a few questions about his net zero Vermod home in Woodstock. Here’s our conversation.

What is a net zero home?

Over the course of a year, a net zero home generates as much energy as it uses – this can be via solar power, wind power, or other means. It is still tied to the electric grid but sometimes it is feeding electricity into the grid and sometimes it is taking electricity from the grid.

What motivated you to live in a net zero home and what led you to Vermod homes?

We wanted to move to Vermont to be near our grandchildren. I have been interested and concerned about environmental issues and I used to teach about them for years. I knew that if we were to build a house, it had to be a net zero house because I believe climate change is the most pressing problem we face as a civilization. So we looked at various net zero builders and discovered Vermod, a company in nearby Wilder. I liked what they were doing, which is building affordable net zero housing, rather than aiming at high-end construction. Their main target is replacing modular trailer homes with net zero houses. The owner, Steve Davis, is passionate about doing this. I wanted to support the buisness of building affordable and ecologically sound housing.

We worked with them to design a house in which we would like to age in place. Vermod’s designer Nat Geno, is good to work with and we came up with a design that we liked and met our needs — a space for art for Karuna, my artist wife, and a space for my office. They have a “factory” in Wilder where they construct net zero modular homes.

What are some of the cool features about these homes?

A net zero home starts with super insulation (R38 walls, R60 roofs), triple pane glass in the windows and air tight construction techniques. This leads to the problem of indoor air quality which Vermod solves by using a heating and cooling ventilation system involving a ground source heat pump and a heat exchanger to bring in outside air as needed without losing the heat in the inside air. The water heater also runs on a heat pump which extracts enough heat from the utility room to provide all the hot water we need. The electrical power for the system comes from the solar panels installed on the roof.

What we have found is that we live in a very comfortable home with a steady temperature in the winter and summer. The heating/cooling is extremely comfortable and we can set the system to run at whatever temperature we choose.

Can you talk a little bit about the cost savings?

Well, the first thing is there are no utility bills. In the summer months, we generate considerably more electricity than we use. This excess is fed into the electric grid. We currently have a credit with Green Mountain Power for several hundred dollars and can “bank” this against the possibility that we will have to draw electricity from the electric grid in the winter.

What was the building process like?

Once we finalized our design, we signed a contract with Vermod and they built four modular units which were delivered on flatbed trucks to our site. A large crane placed them on the waiting foundation. On the first day, the whole house was in place, with appliances, flooring, doors and windows already installed at the factory. In a few more days, the finishing work was done and then we moved in. Very pleasant!

Do Just One Thing: Identify one way you will cut down on your in-home energy consumption this summer.

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