Innovative Old Greenwich home is up and conserving

By Crystal Kang

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Diane and Chris Murphy on their porch. Diane and Chris Murphy on their porch.

When Diane and Chris Murphy moved to their waterfront colonial home at 15 Shore Road in Old Greenwich, their first instinct was: out with the stick-built home and in with the concrete-structured, environmentally conscious abode. Chris Murphy, co-owner and president of Murphy Brothers Contracting, hired his own company to rebuild his 2,700-square-foot home using Styrofoam and concrete — adding eco-friendly details such as a dual-fuel heat pump and electricity-producing shingles, the first to be used in Fairfield County.

The Murphys recently moved into their single-family, four-bedroom home, which now has a spacious kitchen with countertops made of recycled wormy chestnut beams, an open living room and office space with natural lighting, along with a small rooftop patio. Murphy even has a “man cave” in the basement with a pool table and big-screen TV.

The idea of the construction project was for Murphy to build a green model for clients and architects, showing them how spending 15 percent more money up front to integrate energy-efficient features would save about 50 percent more annually in the long run compared to the cost of running a standard, stick-built home.

“We continuously work on projects for our customers, so I don’t understand why we shouldn’t do as thorough of a job on other people’s homes as we did on ours,” Murphy said.

Despite the initial hurdles due to weather and other uncertainties, the Murphy family is finally settling in and discussing the biggest challenges and luxuries of their new home.

“The biggest hurdle for Diane was the design part of it,” Murphy said, referring to his wife. “We hired Rex Gedney because we knew he did traditional designs. He didn’t have to sacrifice his design for us to build our house this way. We were able to put all the energy-efficient components into the house and have a beautifully designed house, too.”

It took seven months to get the permit on the project and another six months to build the home, Murphy said. The polar vortex played a role in slowing down the process, which takes nine months on average for a home of their size, he added.

The Murphy family invited the public to tour the home after its completion, showing the technologies and sustainable building techniques that went into its construction.

“We had a lot of people stopping by and asking, ‘What is that?’ when we first started construction,” Diane Murphy said. “So we had a lot of interest with that. All the neighbors have been following our project and wanted to know how it was done.”

The Murphys said part of the luxury of living in their home is that they don’t need to turn on any lights during the daytime. With plenty of windows throughout the home, they rely on very little indoor lighting. Also, they said they don’t have to worry about getting flooded because their backyard is sloped downward and the elevation of the home is 12 feet above ground. Even if the water came up to 15 feet, they wouldn’t be affected by the flooding, Chris Murphy said.

“We hope this is a prototype for homes and lets people know you can do a beautifully designed, energy-efficient home,” Diane said. “A lot of people steer away from it because there’s a huge cost factor. But with so many rebates, incentives and programs going on, we’re trying to change the stereotype that green home projects are expensive.”

New York City-based Steven Winter Associates Inc. has been contracted to help the home achieve different levels of energy-efficient certification, including through the Department of Energy’s Energy Star program and its more stringent Zero Energy Ready Home program.

The Murphys hope to snag a third kind of recognition through the Connecticut Zero Energy Challenge, according to Lois Arena, senior mechanical engineer at Steven Winter. About 10 or 11 homes are entered in this challenge this year. Winning homes meet a certain level of energy efficiency without their solar or electric-powered roofs included in the assessment.

The Murphys also plan to incorporate more green ideas so they can reach the passive house level, the strictest energy efficiency standard in the nation.

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About the author

Crystal Kang
Crystal Kang, a Chicago native, is former a reporter for the Fairfield and Westchester business journals. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and her work has appeared in news outlets including CNBC.com, Allstate Corporation’s investor relations website, and an NPR-based radio station in Urbana, Ill.
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