Growing up on Long Island, John Post remembers road trips to visit White Flower Farm in Morris with his mother, an avid gardener. While a spectacular place all on its own, the sprawling nursery was situated among rolling hills, beautiful architecture and a lot of open space. Upon retiring and having lived in various locations throughout his adult life, including Fairfield County for 20 years and most recently, Pennsylvania, Post decided to take a closer look at the area that made such an impression on him. He thought, if he and Litchfield County “got along,” this is where he’d buy property and build an energy-efficient house.
“Looking back, my appreciation and respect for the environment stemmed from my upbringing. My family and I did a lot of camping and hiking together. Plus, I was also a Boy Scout, which taught me to respect nature,” says Post, who first rented a condo in the area before purchasing about 5 acres in Bantam, where he not only enjoys his new home, but also tending to his 80-by-50-foot organic garden.
“Majoring in zoology taught me to appreciate and understand science, and that was reinforced in my professional work in the pharmaceutical industry, a technical business based on facts and scientific data,” he says. “It all came together. I learned how interconnected everything is — plants, animals, insects. This then matched up with a growing concern for the cumulative adverse effect that humans are having on our overall environment, especially given greenhouse gas production and the impact that’s having on our global temperature.”
While living in Pennsylvania, he co-founded the Chester County Citizens for Climate Protection, a grassroots organization dedicated to educating the community on the severity and serious consequences of climate change. So, when the opportunity came to build a home, he wanted it to be net zero, meaning that the energy the home needs to function is produced on-site. This was his chance to take action and walk the talk, he says.
Located on a hilltop overlooking a valley with Mount Tom in the distance, Post’s property is just down the street from Wild Carrot Farm. The owner of the organic farm had worked with Russ Campaigne of Guilford-based Campaigne Kestner Architects to build an energy-efficient farmhouse for his farmers to live in. Post, too, decided to turn to the firm to make his dream a reality.
“John came to us with a vision of a grouping of farm buildings, reminiscent of the classic New England architecture that has evolved over several centuries,” notes Campaigne, who says the land had a history of farming and possibly an orchard at one point. “He also wanted to employ cutting-edge technology and building science to minimize the home’s impact on the land and the environment. The idea that a tech-heavy home can be packaged in such a traditional architectural envelope is something that John believes will help show others that it is possible to strike a similar balance of environmental responsibility and traditional design.”
Built in 2016 by Northwest Builders of Torrington, Post’s house has an in-ground geothermal system, which uses the constant temperature of the earth to heat and cool the house. As a result, Post doesn’t use any fossil fuels. The system runs on electricity from a solar photovoltaic array on the roof of his house.
The back of Post’s house faces south, so that the solar PV array receives plenty of winter sun to produce solar energy. In addition, lots of insulation and a tight outer envelope — a home’s physical barriers separating inside and outside air — result in very few air leaks. The appliances and the lighting are all Energy Star-rated, so the energy load is low.
“The additional insulation, passive orientation and tight envelope are easy additions,” Campaigne says. “These elements pay back in less than five years in energy savings and will continue to give back for the 100-plus years the house is appreciated. A geothermal system, PV array, and other high-tech additions will likely pay back in less than 10 years. These are the elements that allow the home to get to net-zero energy use.”
Mathematically speaking, not to mention the environmental benefits, going net zero was a no-brainer for Post.
“If I had built this house to code, an energy engineer calculated that it would cost about $5,000 a year for all of its energy needs,” Post says. “I spend less than $0 for all of my energy because I get a check from Eversource for all of the electricity that I don’t use and send back to the grid. So, if you look at the savings per year of $5,000, I’ll break even in seven years when I’ll have paid for the extra upfront cost of construction to make the house so efficient.”
In fact, Post was asked by Eversource to hold tours at his house for three technical high schools. He had about 150 10th- and 11th-grade students, who are studying to become electricians, plumbers and carpenters, come through his house on three separate dates. On another occasion, a local environmental studies class also took a tour, as well as many interested adults from the area.
“Building this home has given me an enormous amount of peace of mind because I am making a contribution to this global problem,” says Post, who also drives an electric car powered by electricity from the solar panels on his roof. He stores the car in the green barn, where he also has a small workshop for projects. The red barn is the hub for all farming/gardening activities.
“The net-zero approach really represents what we need to do with all new homes given their impact on climate change over their life,” Campaigne says. “We are leaving a legacy of homes that hopefully will be in use for the next century.”
And just as the beauty of White Flower Farm and Litchfield County left a lasting impression on Post, he’s hoping that the visual beauty of his property and living net zero will leave an imprint on his grandkids — the next generation — who enjoy running around the garden, eating cherry tomatoes, blackberries and raspberries.
“All the vegetables, fruit and flowers are ‘locally grown,’ so there’s a zero-carbon footprint in getting from farm to table,” says Post, carrying on his mother’s love of gardening. “There is an enormous pleasure in giving away produce to family and friends. And there’s no fuel needed to ship any of it. It’s just me walking to the garden.”