Category Archives: Eco-friendly

UPSTATE JANE: Keeping Warm and Keeping Modern, In An Upstate House

Why is it always such a difficult process to merge form and function? Since moving into my new home Upstate full-time, I have discovered an ugly fact. I was aware that this new home heats with oil (much to my chagrin and irritation) and I assumed down the line I would have to make the necessary environmentally friendly and energy-efficient changes for our budget and my peace of mind. What I didn’t realize, is that to fill my 275 gallon tank of oil, I would pay $800.00. I also didn’t realize that this 275 gallon tank would last me a month. This is not cranking the heat, but keeping the indoor temperature around 65 degrees. My last house had 3 smart heating solutions. It had a propane back up for creating instant heat when coming inside, it had zoned baseboard heat (rarely used, but on thermostats, convenient and efficient) and it had a wood stoves.  All this combined to a very inexpensive heating source. We were also weekender’s and the old home was 1100 square feet as opposed to 2000. It is something to seriously consider when looking for a home, especially larger homes than 2000 square feet. I just think back to the old mansions I had been pondering!

Fast forward to full-time living and working from home, with a more expensive oil based central heating system, and you are slapped with $800.00 a month during the winter. Well considering our mortgage payments are not much more than that, we cannot “wait” to make the changes, we have to do it…well…NOW. I needed to get a woodstove insert for our large fireplace to act as a furnace/primary heat source.


I recently visited a local shop, and was quite disappointed by the lack of modern or contemporary wood stove inserts for your fireplace. I assumed I may have to pay more for a design that would aesthetically work in our modern home- but I assumed there would at least be one option.  Though not at this store, there are some cool modern free standing wood stoves and fireplaces, see my URBAN JANE post) At this local store I found country wood stoves (great for a different style home) heavy cast iron stoves that protruded far out of the fireplace, and then typical wood stoves with scrolling and ornate details. The salesman suggested I just place one of these wood stoves in front of my fireplace. These solutions are fine for a farmhouse, or an older home- but a home that is about clean lines and modern minimalism an ornate wood stove sitting in front of a linear limestone fireplace, just can’t work.

I was then shown gas fireplace inserts to use propane with. Now propane is the more environmentally friendly option over wood (to some)since it burns cleaner and less carcinogenicity, but it is not necessarily a renewable “green” resource.  It costs about the same to heat as with wood, (Unless you scour for your own decent fallen trees and cut it all yourself and stack 50 cords out back for years down the road.) These models were much slicker looking, and granted they come with no muss or fuss, less maintenance, and can be controlled by a thermostat and timer just like a regular furnace. However, you don’t get that real fire feeling or sound or smell. Is it worth it?

I decided there must be a more attractive wood stove insert out there than this shop was showing me (even though they claimed there was not) When I asked him  about Wittus (whom they did not carry)  he claimed they did not make a wood stove insert like that, and that in Europe they will heat with 3-4 free-standing wood stoves. I then realized I needed to do more of my own research since I knew for a fact that there were some great models in Europe, and there must be some available here to purchase in the U.S.

Below are a few models I have found that are contemporary to modern and offer a high BTU output. They should be able to heat a 2000-2500 square foot home in the winter. However, remember they will not heat your water, so you are still left with your oil heater if you don’t replace it for a propane or electric hot water heater.

The first model is a Wittus wood burning insert- and though expensive (I have read approximately $4,000.00) At $800.00 a month for oil, it would be worth it.

The Optifire Zero Clearance Fireplace (up to 50,000 BTU and heats up to 2500 square feet in the greenest manner possible)  and the H530 insert (up to 30,000 BTU and heats up to 1500 square feet respectively)

The next is Morsø 5660 NA woodstove Fireplace Insert (up to 50,000 BTU and up to 2200 square feet) The viewing window for the fire is smaller and the surround is larger, but this is also a more environmentally friendly stove. It runs approximately $3100.00

They also make another less expensive model which has the same BTU and space heating qualities but it slightly smaller for $2750.00

The last woodstove insert is the FPX 33 Elite Plus Wood Insert wood insert (heats up to 2000 square feet) but does not seem to display all the green qualities. The price seems to be a bit lower though, in the $2000.00 range before add on’s.

Now for the Gas Fireplace’s. These typically cost less money but depending on whom you speak to are more environmentally friendly, are more fuss free, yet also don’t kick out the jams like the wood stoves do, although they claim the same BTU and square foot coverage.

The FPX 34 DVL GSR Insert (up to 40,000 BTU and heats up to 2000 square feet)

two different surrounds with decent looking fronts, both the same fireplace

The next is the Avalaon 33 DVI Gas Fireplace- heats up to 2000 square feet and 40,000 BTU’s

Avalon Gas Fireplace

The last is the Napoleon Inspiration GDI44 heats up to 2500 square feet at 44,000 BTU’s- Remember these are just the inserts you see (not the “fireplace hearths”)

Still for Sale: The Kerhonkson Dome, $375,000

Inspired by the New Paltz dome (now on the market), we spent some time last year looking at dome houses for sale in upstate New York. And since we’re concentrating on Kerhonkson this week, we peeked in again on this super-green monolithic dome. 105 Dymond Road hasn’t gone down in price, but, heck, it hasn’t gone down in originality either. Been listed for about six months. Three beds, two baths, 3.2 acres, 3,200 square feet. For the hippie in all of us. Some estimates I saw of sale prices were in the $325,000 range.
105 Dymond Road (Westwood Metes & Bounds) GMAP

Claverack Passive Solar $285,000

I have to admit, I’m kind of a sucker for an open floor plan. Sure, it’s not always the best choice if you have children or you live with someone but enjoy your privacy, but I still love the airiness of it all. But then again, I was born and raised in Alaska, and it’s well known that we Alaskans love our open spaces.

Speaking of space, the property also features a nice and roomy 6+ acres to stretch out in, plus a waterfront view of the Claverack Creek. And although Route 23 is kind of the main drag in Claverack, it’s more of a country-fied main drag, which means less bumper-to-bumper and more farmland views, and it’s set far enough off the road to make this property quite the nice little get-away, either as a second home or a year-round residence.

The exposed posts and beams are not too shabby, either, if you’re into that sort of thing, and I am totally into that sort of thing.

Oh, and another thing: There are organic fruit trees! The land is suitable for keeping horses! The seven year old in me seems to be really excited about that.

The stats:
300 Route 23, Claverack (Beach & Bartolo) GMAP
Asking Price: $285,000
Beds: 2 (if you put up a privacy screen)
Baths: 1
Square Feet: 1300
Land: 6.45 acres
Year Built: 1989
Taxes: $7678
Features: Studio/guest room above detached garage

Five Figure Fridays! “Green” Cabin Breaks the Magic Barrier

For all the years I’ve been trawling Catskills Craigslist looking at properties, this place has been on there, hoping for someone to appreciate its unique charms.  Over the years I’ve watched the price fall from well above $200k down through the upper and then lower $100s.  And today I saw that it has broken through into the purview of this column: $99,000 (as the seller points out in the ad, this is “not a misprint”).


It has been variously (self-)described as a “green” cabin and a “hippie” cabin, and the ad consistently refers to it as a “handmade one-of-a-kind work of art.”  And therein lies the rub, because Art is subjective.  There’s real design inspiration all through it (rough sawn plank shelves pegged to bark-clad logs, pull-out apple baskets in place of kitchen drawers), but sometimes the execution falls just short.  You look at the bathroom vanity, with a shower head supply pipe instead of a traditional faucet, and you think man, if I’d built that myself I’d be awfully damn proud of it.  But paying for it is something else entirely.  It’s like living in someone else’s hobby.  At the same time, it’s not so bananas that your critical eye is overwhelmed by sheer wacky charm.  So I can understand why it’s been a tricky sell.


That said, it is a truly striking property, with “massive log posts and beams” and lots of lovely flagstones.  Sure, the distribution of doors and windows on the wide front facade is a bit haphazard, but it’s got radiant flooring, a wood stove, solar (!), low-VOC everything, and 1.6 acres with a lake view.  And personally, I’m kind of in love with the charming Hobbit-chic design.  At $229k, the above quibbles seemed like reason to stay away.  At $99k, this is starting to look like a screaming deal.

Log Spiral Stair

More pictures and info after the jump.

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Woodstock Green Luxury, $915,000

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They’re calling this green home in Woodstock, NY  a French farm house. It was built in 2003, so has modern everything (kitchen, yum) including passive solar heating, radiant heat flooring, organic gardens, VOC-free materials. Just outside Woodstock, on a beautiful stretch of road, two acres of land. Stats on the jump.

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Kerhonkson Green Dome, $375,000

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This one is the real deal — a sustainable home that actually looks the part, the Prius of green architecture (or maybe the biodiesel-converted Mercedes?). This is a hyper-insulated dome, passive solar (hard to imagine how that works, given the ratio of wall to window — there should be a whole lot of south-facing windows), made from timber cleared on the property itself, radiant heat floors (to die for), no-VOC paint. It’s also, as they point out, disaster-proof — should survive the next Irene or terrorist attack. The kitchen looks nice, including the dome-shaped cutout in the cabinet. Too kooky for my taste, but I can tell you from spending time in Earthships that being among rounded walls has a surprisingly soothing effect. There’s a swimming hole and a stream, and it abuts thousands of acres of state land. Annual utilities are $1,500, pretty good for more than 3,000 square feet of space. Certainly this place would be a serious respite from the city. Here’s the big question mark: What does 80% complete mean? Stats on the jump.

105 Dymond Road, Kerhonkson (Westwood) MAP
Asking Price: $375,000
Beds: 3
Baths: 2
Square Feet: 3,200
Land: 3.2 acres
Year Built: 2004
Taxes: $3,500
Features: super green!

“Green” Suffern Stone Cottage, $279,000

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Okay, this one threatens to be a case of greenwashing, but it’s a sweet pad and could be great for a person looking for an in-town property. It’s main green feature is that it’s in walking distance to public transit, in this case the Metro-North Suffern station (currently running on the NJ Transit line). Claims it’s a 45-minute trip to Penn Station, but that’s not true according to the schedule — closer to an hour, depending on the train. They seem to be confusing green with calming. There’s an art studio and lovely landscaping, all smooched into .13 acres. It has low-VOC paints inside, but other than that, not much on the sustainability scale, save for size: it’s a one-bedroom, only 400 square feet! Teeny retreat for almost $300,000!  Taxes are high for something so small — $4,300 — but annual utility costs are only $1,500. Walkable to downtown Suffern, a town I’ve not yet been to. Can anyone say what it’s like? Stats on the jump.

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How to Find a “Green” House in Upstate New York

Yeah, sure, we’d all like a house in harmony with the environment, lowered utility bills, clean indoor air…but where does one find such a place, especially in the age of greenwashing, when folks can claim a place is green just because it has locally-mined gravel in the driveway?

One place to start is with an Eco-Broker. Sounds like a scam, but I wrote about them years ago for the now defunct House & Garden, and even rifled through their curriculum materials, and I believe that they’re really useful. They can help you determine how inherently green a home might be, or show you what quick fixes can make a place greener. Here’s a list of the New York-based brokers. The problem is they’re downstate or way the heck upstate, in the Adirondacks, but the folks based in Cold Spring might be able to help with the search for a green home in upstate New York.

Listed Green is, as you can guess, a listing site for green homes. Easy to search, although I like a big map feature so I can place them all in front of me. When I last looked, there were four active listings: one in Long Island, one in the Adirondacks, one near Schenectady and one in Orange County. We’ll take a look at those later in the week. Does a decent job of rounding up the green features of a place, though leaves out both the taxes and if there are any tax breaks or other incentives for the purchaser.

Green Homes for Sale has the most New York State green properties — a whopping six — and is easy to use. I’ll be scouring it this week for listings. It includes taxes and annual utility costs, important stuff, especially with the expectation of green.

Green Home Finder exists. That’s all I can say about it. Doesn’t seem to have anything in New York State, although it does have rentals and green hotels…if you’re looking for something far from home.

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