Near the South Carolina shore, one couple built an eco-friendly home with the traditional look they love.
When longtime D.C.-dwellers Diane and Lee Morris found a plot of land in Bluffton, South Carolina, they looked forward to stepping out of the city and into nature. “The tides make a huge impact,” Diane says. “At one point in the day you’re looking at mostly sea grass, and then all of a sudden there’s only water and dolphins and wildlife. It’s like a painting that’s ever changing.” Inspired by their surroundings, the couple decided to build a house in tune with the environment.
Architect Joel Newman’s design called for a small footprint to preserve specimen trees on the compact lot. Then Genesis Construction came in to build the house according to sustainable guidelines outlined by EarthCraft House, a green building program that addresses resource-efficient design, site planning, indoor air quality, and energy-efficient building techniques and materials. “The benefits aren’t just that we’re being good to the environment,” says Bill Mischler, president of Genesis Construction. “They spill over into things like quiet spaces, lower energy bills, and healthy air.”
According to Bill, most of the home’s Earth-friendly aspects hide behind its walls. The building team utilized the “envelope method” of construction, insulating and mildly conditioning the attic and crawlspaces so that mechanical systems and ductwork aren’t exposed to extreme temperatures. Tight construction and ductwork help reduce moisture, drafts, dust, and pollen so that, in a controlled climate, a smaller unit is required to maintain comfortable air temperatures in living spaces―a benefit Diane has already experienced. “We don’t use the air-conditioner or heat as much as we would ordinarily,” she says.
From beginning to end, the builders tried to limit damage to the environment. During construction, they set up silt fencing to prevent soil runoff. Instead of using an impervious material for the driveway, they packed it with crushed oyster shells, so that rainwater seeps into the ground rather than sheeting off into the adjacent May River. Inside they used low-VOC paints, and reclaimed-pine flooring and paneling milled from locally harvested yellow pine. Instead of accepting factory-applied coatings with high levels of VOCs, they finished the sustainable material on site to lower levels of offgassing.
Though the Morrises love old houses (they’ve renovated 13 historic residences), they can’t help but admire this brand-new home. “The homes we’ve lived in have always been elegant and built so beautifully,” Diane says. “This house has that same quality. There’s nothing obvious about it that makes you say, ‘This is an EarthCraft house,’ but the difference is incredible.”