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Monday, October 3, 2022
Home Green Judy Martin Rates Rye House Tour’s “Certified Green Home” Piece by Piece

Judy Martin Rates Rye House Tour’s “Certified Green Home” Piece by Piece

After last Friday's Rye House Tour raved about its 6,800 square foot "green house", MyRye.com decided to put this green home to the sniff test. We asked Judy Martin of Rye's Green Home Consulting to tell MyRye.com readers: green or green wash? Here is her report. (Full disclosure: Martin is providing green consulting services to the MyRye.com House project.)

Green house Judy Martin

By Judith Martin, Green Home Consulting

A green home is not about sacrificing comfort, luxury or style—and sacrifices weren’t made at the Forest Avenue green home.  It is however about designing, building and operating in an ecological and resource-efficient manner.  Savvy home buyers are asking for energy audits as well as home inspections; energy use questions rank second only to property tax queries.  Did the home design take advantage of passive solar for both heating and daylight?  And how about on the interior—has the architect designed to help contain the conditioned air within the home by carefully choosing exterior door and window locations, minimizing double height rooms and fireplaces and efficiently using space rather than building a large home?  Take a look at “Creating the Not So Big House” by Sarah Susanka.  A 6800 square foot home doesn’t qualify as “not so big” but how green is it?

First let’s consider the efficiency of the “building envelope” (the walls and ceilings that encompass the space that is heated and cooled).  Energy-efficient windows are an excellent choice as was the decision to extensively air seal and caulk the home, although the tightness of the home is offset by a bunch of fireplaces.  The use of high performance foam insulation (which is a petroleum based product) and mineral wool was a very good one, although we prefer blown-in cellulose as an insulator because it is a completely green product.  If properly taken, these steps together can reduce the energy demand of this new home by as much as 50%, effectively heating and cooling it as though it were half the size.  Few local mansions can make that claim.  Of course if it were a 3000 square foot home, the same proportionate savings could be achieved, with a fraction of ecological impact of this home.

While I would like to have seen a geothermal heating and cooling system, which is the most efficient available, the Buderas boilers and Carrier 21 SEER AC units are great choices.  I hope all of the ductwork was sealed and insulated—an easy and highly effective step–and a duct blaster test performed to insure that the heated and cooled air are reaching their intended destination with minimal waste.  Radiant heat is a highly efficient method for heating a room but an outdoor porch? A garage?  Pretty extravagant.

Hot water storage is extremely inefficient so we prefer to minimize that requirement.  I’m also wondering about the location of the hot water heaters relative to the end use.  Were the heaters placed so that there is minimal waste of water while waiting for hot water to arrive at its destination?  It is hard to achieve that goal in such a large home without thoughtful planning.

While we’re on the subject of water, drip irrigation is good although no mention is made of drought-resistant native plantings so less irrigation is needed altogether, or systems for gathering rainwater for reuse in irrigation.  And how much of the 1.2 acres is irrigated?  If large swathes of the property are “natural”, more water will be saved.  And inside, why is only one water-saving toilet mentioned?  Surely there are 5 or 6 toilets if not more in a home of this size.  What about other low-water use plumbing fixtures?  Are the gains from the one toilet offset with water-wasting rain heads and body sprays?

Salvage and recycled materials are great in residences and several are mentioned among the home’s features: decking, metals and plastics, stone and the slate roof.  Many more recycled materials are available but apparently were not incorporated. Other “green” materials were used as well, such as flooring, low VOC paints, stains and materials, reducing the ecological impact of the building process in some instances and improving indoor air quality in others. Many are readily available.
We love the use of Energy Star appliances although the list is a bit misleading since appliances that use heat such as ranges, ovens and dryers do not come in Energy Star models.  We hope the new owners continue the Energy Star trend with their choice of smaller appliances such as fax machines, computers, dehumidifiers, and so on.  But what about the lighting?  Presumably there is a vast amount of lighting in such a large home—will the homeowner use cfls, LEDs, dimmers, motion sensors?
All in all, not bad compared to the typical home built in Rye but we can do much more with readily available products and technologies. Reducing the size is one obvious step and others are mentioned above.


  1. Sorry, I’m still not a buyer that this house is “green”. We live in a world with limited resources, and anyone who thinks they’re conserving these resources by buying such a monstrously large house needs to have their head examined. Unless several families move into this home (again, extremely unlikely), the plain and simple fact is that the new homeowner will have a larger carbon footprint on a go-forward basis than the average homeowner in Rye. So please don’t try to bamboozle the public that the builder or new owner is doing the world a favor. It’s hypocrisy, pure and simple.
    The patron saint of the green movement, Al Gore, is a classic example of this hypocritical lifestyle. He’s constantly screaming at the nation to reduce our carbon footprint, but doesn’t make a practice of his preaching – his house in Belle Meade, Tennessee uses twenty times the electricity than the average US homeowner. That’s a serious outlier.
    Let’s look beyond the materials and practices used in building this home, and look at the implications for the large amounts of future energy this home will consume. The higher demand for electricity will increase the demand for oil and natural gas – which powers most of the US electric supply. This forces energy companies to explore potential new oil fields, like those found in the Gulf of Mexico. The ecological disaster now hitting Louisiana and the other gulf states is but one example of what can happen when we continue to pursue luxury and comfort while hiding behind “green” building practices.
    Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem if some ga-jillionaire wants to erect his own personal Taj Mahal here in Rye. It’s a free country, and these big homes have a good impact on the rest of us plain folk by keeping our taxes down. Just please don’t try to kid us that these ecological rapists are doing us a favor by re-cycling stones found on site or using some special paint.
    Here’s an easy prediction – I think that, in the next 20 years, we’ll see a marked movement towards downsizing these McMansions, with significant tax breaks given by either the Feds or the state for reducing the size of one’s home or energy use. The lack of building sites and high cost of property taxes will put pressure on individuals to pursue non-traditional family structures – read multiple families living under the same roof, or a number of non-related individuals sharing the costs of maintaining these abodes.

  2. I agree with Matt.
    The Al Gore “story” has turned into a nightmare for Kleiner Perkins. Now they and Khosla Ventures are stuck with “must subsidize” technology going nowhere soon. I think we will see a big increase in safe hydro-fracked shale gas production throughout the U.S. and right here in NY. That’s likely the best American owned transition fuel to bridge to the future science projects that will actually deliver the economically viable zero impact renewables of tomorrow.

  3. Everyone has choices. The choice to incorporate energy efficiency measures into new construction should always be applauded but we would agree that the greenest house is the one that is already built. Adaptive re-use of existing structures retrofitted with today’s sustainable technologies helps to preserve the embodied energy of older homes by salvaging/recycling existing materials and thousands of hours of craftsmanship. Simply put there are many ways to be green but one way to reduce our carbon footprint is to live smartly and responsibly within the footprint of a pre-existing home.

  4. The mantra for a more sustainable future is “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle”. None of these values are exemplified in this allegedly green home. Reduce is at the top of the list for a reason. Usually, those encouraging and inspiring others to live with smaller carbon footprints see a connection with the rest of the world, including humans and social justice issues – not just whales, koalas, and green ways to indulge one’s self. For anyone really interested in examining how personal lifestyle choices can affect the rest of the world, I recommend ethicist Peter Singer’s 1999 article on world poverty.

    It’s typically ironic that the Rye House Tour is supposed to support programs for young adults who come from families that have not focused on amassing money for money’s sake. The tour is one big consumer envy fest. Where are the homes with books, instruments, warm kitchens that exude the charism of community? No real families live in these homes. The one year I went on the tour with a friend and her toddler, the guards – or are they dosants? – were very nervous that a 2-year-old was dancing in the foyer.

    The house tour is only green in that it is green with envy for the unenlightened.


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