Jim Senter is a renaissance man who lives on Potluck Farm in Person County near Red Mountain, just about 35 miles north of Chapel Hill. He is a writer and photographer whose fields of interest range from the historical ecology of North Carolinas Outer Banks to the economic history of our countrys utility industry.
He is a political activist who supports diversity, inclusiveness and the use of renewable energy sources. He is the president of Potluck Power Company, which sells solar electricity to Piedmont Power Company, the rural electric co-op in Person County.
He is supported in his sustainability efforts by other homeowners at Potluck Farm, a 350-acre intentional community whose property owners individually work toward energy and food self-sufficiency.
Other than a general commitment to developing sustainability, the photovoltaic panels at the farm are the result of individual effort, Senter says. There are four solar systems in line, and one property owner has a 600-square-foot home that is entirely off the grid.
Senters Potluck Farm home has 54 photovoltaic panels that were installed by Southern Energy Management and supply much of the power for his electrical needs, including two ARS installed Trane heat pumps.
His 3,160-square-foot house has two electric meters. One measures the electricity Senter uses from the grid, and the other measures the electricity Senters photovoltaics generate and put back into the grid. The house is designed with the goal of an annual net zero electrical buy/sell effect.
This is the core issue in a deregulated electricity industry, Senter explained. Anyone can generate electricity and sell it anywhere. The problem is how to distribute it. Who owns and maintains the grid? In this area, that is Piedmont Electric Company. Because they are required by law to generate 15 percent of their total capacity from renewable resources by 2015, they are the ones who buy what I sell. They also buy from Duke Power.
One set of Senters solar arrays is atop a pole barn. The other set is more conventionally mounted on steel masts. He also has roughed-in a place on the roof with a southern exposure for two solar thermal panels that will heat the water in a Marathon 91-gallon super-insulated, dual-fuel solar electric hot water tank.Respecting traditional architecture
Senter spent much of the time on his farm living in a single-wide mobile home while he was building his current house. Now, thanks to Michele Myers of M Squared Builders and Designers, Senter has achieved his goal of living in a classic Triple-A I-house. The style is typical in many Southern landscapes, including New Orleans, where Senter was born and still has family living there.
Growing up in New Orleans I developed a respect for traditional architecture and its adaptation to the southern climate, Senter said. When it came time to build a house for myself in the North Carolina piedmont, I wanted a place that looked like it belonged where it was.
On drives through the Triangle countryside, Senter said, he started noticing old farmhouses, whose upright profile, symmetry and proportions he found attractive. Later he found out that these were known as I-houses, or triple-A houses, one of the most popular vernacular styles of architecture in the southeast between 1800 and 1920.
Once I noticed them, I started seeing them everywhere, Senter said.
Except for the cupola, the house Myers built for Senter is a classic Triple-A I-house. It has the signature double-leaf entry doors but simpler Craftsman-style eave brackets, window surrounds, porch columns, balustrades and spindles. The kitchen is in a rear ell, as are many Triple-AI-houses built in the late 1800s.
One of the many elements of the house that Senter says he especially likes are the 10-foot ceilings on the ground floor that echo the houses in which he grew up in New Orleans.
There is plenty of space for the hot air to rise into, Senter said.
Cross ventilation and passive cooling are provided by the positioning of many windows throughout the house which, Senter says, will cut air-conditioning bills in the summer as will spending evenings under the ceiling fans on the front porch.
On the south side of the house, we took a bit from the passive solar playbook, Senter said. The overhang over the kitchen windows is built in a way to shade the windows in the summer, while allowing the winter sun to warm the interior.Building over time
When Myers signed on to build Senter a home in the farming country of Red Mountain, she and Senter had no idea what a long haul they were in for.
The plan in 1995 was to pour a cement foundation and basement walls with radiant tubing embedded; buy large yellow pine logs as the structure and thermal mass for the main and second floors; and then use drywall on the interior and clapboard on the exterior to create the classic Triple-A I-house look.
Myers and her subcontractors built the foundation and poured the basement walls in the mid-1990s. But life got in the way. It took Senter a few years before he could afford to buy the pressure-treated, roughly five-and-a-quarter square yellow pine logs from Mike Sykes at Inertia Homes of Wake Forest. Then the illness and death of a loved one of Senters put building the house on a back burner.
It was 2007 before Senter returned to building his dream. He put up some of the solar arrays that were to power the radiant tubing in the basement walls. By that time, the basement walls, having been exposed to the elements for so long, had developed fine cracks, and the radiant tubing didnt work. He would have to rethink the heating of the house. And a new love, massage therapist Glaeshia ORourke, meant rethinking the different spaces that would be needed in the new house.
In late 2010, Senter and ORourke contacted Myers to redesign and then finish what Senter and Myers had started 15 years earlier. Myers had saved the Triple-A I-house plans. She tweaked them to fit the new couples needs and contacted Inertia Homes who provided Conrad Andy Turcot to help Myers framers assemble the logs. Solving puzzles
Myers loves puzzles, and one of the big ones for this house concerned the logs: Figuring out how to arrange the logs before assembly, and then finding the 9-inch screws that go into the logs, using huge hand circular saws to cut the logs and placing the vertical splines that hold the logs in place and cut air infiltration. There is an art to building a log home that Turcot had years of experience in doing. Myers took full advantage of that experience.
Another big puzzle to every building project is organizing the work so that it comes in on budget and on time. And it did.
I knew it was going to take a month longer than it would have taken me to build a standard stick and truss home, Myers said.
The actual building started in April 2011 and finished in December of that year. Myers said the heat of the summer months was brutal and the deer ticks abundant. She credits her clients patience and temperament with making it all work out.
He is extremely pleasant to work with, so it wasnt hard for me to go the extra step and enjoy it, Myers said.
Myers said that there are three things she loves about building this house: the structure, itself; making it as energy efficient as could be; and the challenge of meeting building code changes that had occurred during the 15 years between the time the foundation and basement walls were poured and the main floor logs were erected.
I love that structure, Myers said. I love the way that house looks. I kept the plans all of these years because I really wanted to build it. We redesigned it for two people instead of just Jim. We have had three or four code changes since he bought the logs. It was a challenge to meet the new code and to make it as energy efficient as could be. I thoroughly enjoyed Jim and Glaeshia as people. After we finished, Jim recycled almost all of the single-wide mobile home he had been living in while waiting to build his dream home.
Myers estimates building a similar home would cost around $600,000 excluding the cost of land, septic/well and driveway. Myers can be reached at 919-620-8535. Additional photos can be seen at www.msquaredbuilders.com.
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