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Klava House, A Sustainable Energy Efficient House associated with the Zen Center Retreat

At the last RAICA steering committee meeting, we learned that the Zen Center is building a caretaker's house at their Chapin Mill Retreat Center, west of Rochester. Below are answers to questions we asked about the building, provided by Tom Kowol, one of the builders.

The house will be used primarily for residential staff. My wife, Donna, and I will live there when it’s complete as we assume the roles of caretakers/managers of the property and operations of the retreat center. The current caretakers, Wayman and Eryl, are in their 80’s and will continue to live in the existing Farm House. Klava is the last name of Laimons Klava (pron: LIE-mon). He and his parents immigrated from Latvia after WW2 with the sponsorship of a local church. He was the caretaker of the property for decades before it was given to the Zen Center by Ralph Chapin, and he still joins us for lunch once a week. When talk of building the house started, he wrote a check to the ZC of a considerable amount to get the project moving, so we thought it would be appropriate to name it after him. The house is designed to be flexible in its use over time by having all of the load-bearing walls on the exterior, so it can be divided up as needs change. I followed the principles of the PassiveHouse model, which was started in Germany 30 years ago, but I didn’t feel the need to have the house ‘certified’. Here’s a link to the first certified PassiveHouse in the Rochester area. I was in contact with Matt, the owner, throughout his build process. This approach focuses mostly on energy use by controlling heat transmission through the building envelope by making it super tight and well insulated. A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) is used to bring a constant stream of fresh filtered air into the house, while keeping the heat in during the winter, and out in the summer. Other ‘green’ methods are mostly focused on material choices. Foam is a great insulator, but its production is not great for the environment. I sourced reclaimed foam from: I wanted to minimize the use of concrete, which has a high carbon footprint, so the ground floor has no concrete. We had a lot of extra materials left from the construction of the retreat center, and people donated various supplies, so I was able to minimize the purchase of new supplies. The windows were a big splurge of money and not the greatest ‘green credibility’ because they are PVC and made in Austria, however their performance and quality are unlike anything that was available here at the time. In the past couple years a few North America companies have started building PH certified windows. They are triple-pane with triple compression seals, so there is virtually no leakage, so they will likely pay for themselves over their lifetime. The house is all electric, so there’s not any burning of fossil fuels. The hot water comes from an electric heat pump water heater in the basement of the house next door. While there isn’t any solar on site, yet, when the time comes that we can source 100% renewable energy, it won’t take much to cover this house. All of these measures have negated the need for a central heating/cooling system (so far). While we aren’t living in there yet, this past winter was a good test. I was able to keep it warm with just a couple of electric space heaters. When it’s occupied, supplemental heat will only be required during the coldest days (teens/20’s) because our body heat, heat from appliances and electronics, and passive solar on sunny days should be plenty. If it doesn’t work as planned, we can add a ductless heat pump in the future. To avoid making this email any longer, I’ll invite anyone to come out for a ‘socially-distant’ tour, just let me know. Feel free to use any photos you want. Thanks for your interest! Tom

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