Farmington house Wolfworks built earns 2013 CT Zero Energy Challenge Grand Prize

Designer Jamie Wolf of Farmington and construction coordinator Janet Downey of Canton head up Wolfworks, a design/build firm based in Avon.
Designer Jamie Wolf of Farmington and construction coordinator Janet Downey of Canton head up Wolfworks, a design/build firm based in Avon.
For the second year in a row Wolfworks, an award-winning design/build company based in Avon, has been named recipient of the CT Zero Energy Challenge Grand Prize for a home the firm built in Farmington.

The award, sponsored by Energize Connecticut, has the goal of shining a spotlight on “Net Zero” homes, which produce as much energy as they use on an annual basis and can lock in an energy cost of zero.

Such homes are not only possible but can be affordably built, said Wolfworks’ principal, designer Jamie Wolf of Farmington.

“Achieving this kind of performance requires a level of mastery that we are consistently achieving and this second award substantiates that,” he said. “We’re proud to be designing and building the most efficient homes in the state. They also happen to look great, work well, and feel good to be in.”

Wolfworks won Grand Prize last year for a home designed and built in Harwinton that was the first in Connecticut to be officially certified by the International Passive House Association, based in Germany, for its level of energy efficiency. Wolf, a Certified Passive House Consultant, is the first person in Connecticut to provide this service.

“This year’s winner is a bright and open Farmington home we built for Mike Randich and Lisa Spalla with single level living to accommodate life as they approach their retirement years,” Wolf said.

“Our goal was to build a very energy efficient house that was easy to maintain and comfortable to live in,” Randich said. “The more we learned we realized that not only was Net Zero attainable, but it also made economic sense for us. We are quite pleased with the finished product.”    

The homeowners and Wolfworks will both be recognized at an awards ceremony this spring.

“We are ecstatic about the award,” Randich said. “I have followed the CT Zero Energy Challenge since its inception. It helped educate us and we may not have ended up with Wolfworks without it. Just being part of the competition was satisfying, but to be honored with an award makes us feel we did things the right way.”

The home’s energy-saving features include: thick walls that hold heat like a thermos; air sealing techniques that are measured and tested with a fog machine; a ventilation system that provides constant fresh air and captures heat as the air changes; heating and cooling equipment that uses less energy than a couple of blow dryers; and in-swinging European windows that gain more energy than they lose and close as tight as a car door.

“It is built to endure but beyond that, this is a home that fits,” Wolf wrote in a blog post. “Like everything we design, it is aligned with the principles of the ‘not-so-big-house’ which favors quality over quantities of space. It has a simple clean aesthetic that leaves room for select materials and a few special craft features to take the stage. Exterior finishes were chosen for long life and low maintenance. The interior features a nice balance of natural wood.”

Randich said they feel fortunate to have met and worked with Wolfworks.

“Jamie was able to take the design work we had done to that point and produce a Passive House design that basically fixed the design issues we were experiencing,” he said. “The fact that Wolfworks was local and would manage the build was also an important factor for us.” 

He added that it was a “pleasure” working with Jamie and Janet, referring to Wolfworks’ construction coordinator, Janet Downey.

“Jamie’s Passive House training makes him exceptionally knowledgeable about what it takes to build Net Zero homes and he explains all that really clearly,” Downey said. “He listens really well to our clients and creates spaces they love.”

The process of building a Net Zero house is different than conventional design and construction, Wolf said.

“Janet deserves huge credit for managing the team that builds these homes,” he said. “It takes knowledge, care, and real diligence to achieve these results, and when it comes to that, she's got game. For me as the designer, knowing it will get built right is essential.”

Downey, a Canton resident, said that learning to build Net Zero homes has been a real education, and she can't imagine building homes any other way now.

“Once you understand the principles and what we need to pay attention to when we build, it makes total sense,” she said. “I'm the one working with all the subs to be sure it all gets done correctly and some of this is new to them so I end up doing a lot of educating. It's not anything they can't do or understand, but it does require them to pay attention to details they really weren't thinking about before, especially related to insulation and air tightness.”

Net Zero homes are not only energy efficient; they are also healthier, more comfortable, durable, and secure than conventional homes, she said.

“It's been great to actually experience how easy they are to keep comfortable with very little energy,” Downey said. “People who work on these projects are always amazed to learn how small the mechanical system is. Then to hear that we don't even have it turned on in the middle of November they say, ‘Now I get it!’”

Net Zero homes run quietly, she said, and it is noticeable that the air is fresh and clean all the time.

“One of our clients’ favorite things was to walk around barefoot in the middle of winter,” she said.

Downey said she appreciates Wolf’s expertise and the confidence he places in her.

“I had worked for years building homes designed by good local architects but working directly with Jamie is different,” she said. “We’re a real team and our design/build process is to thank for that. He asks for my guidance while he is working on the design, and I have him to consult with on details as we are building.”

The fact that Wolf has hands-on experience is good because she likes things to be practical, said Downey, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in architecture in 1986 and has been working in the construction field ever since.

“Earlier in my career people would assume I must be the boss’ daughter or something,” she said. “I know the look, but being a woman in construction doesn't need to be a big deal. I just do my job and in pretty short order, they recognize I know what I'm doing and that I'm there to help them get their job done.”

“I take satisfaction in managing the job well, dealing with the inevitable challenges, and making sure our clients are communicated with and know what is going on,” Downey said. “I'm not sure why being a woman would have anything to do with that. There are plenty of women working in design and in showrooms. You just find fewer working in the trades or managing jobs like I do.”

For more information about Wolfworks, call 860-676-9238, e-mail Wolf at jamie@homesthatfit.com or visit http://www.homesthatfit.com.


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