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A study in concrete, steel, green technology & style

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by Starke Jett

With its spectacular view of the Chesapeake Bay, the new 4,000-square-foot home of Randall Kipp and Alison Drake on Windjammer Lane at Windmill Point in Lancaster County is like a dream come true. Kipp, an architect, designed the two-story, 40-by 50-foot home over many years, incorporating many “green” building concepts.

“We pinch ourselves every morning,” said Kipp as he held his Scottie dog, Dolley. “This house is about transparency more than anything. We wanted to live in a very open floor plan with as few walls as possible.”

The modern, white, “rectilinear” concrete and steel frame structure faces the Bay to the south on an acre and a half of tidal marshland next to the beach. Its southern exposure is mostly comprised of glass to take advantage of the view and for passive solar heating. A long balcony deck traces the second main living floor from one side to the other.

A flight of maple stairs leads up the western side from the front entrance and garage hallway to the living area. At the top, a large living, dining and kitchen area is broken only by Kipp’s signature “square doughnut,” black, white and glass furniture, the kitchen counter and a small porch sitting area on the western side of the balcony. The doughnut is a large decorative design element on the railing at the top of the stairs.

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The living room is on the second level.

Included in the home’s creature comforts are multiple flat screen TVs, one for almost every room, LED lighting and a propane fireplace in the living room that provides a warming ambiance and supplemental heat. Wrap-around sofas in the fireplace area and chaise lounges on the balcony bring softness to the house’s harder edges. 

A short hallway down the center of the house leads past an elevator and into the master bedroom on the beach side and bath area on the land side. They are separated only by gauze curtains.

The bathroom features a free standing modern tub reminiscent of antique claw foot tubs. There is also a glass enclosed shower stall next to a walk-in closet that holds Alison’s jewelry, clothes, shoes and a large disco ball (that rotates) hanging from the ceiling.

“We actually designed the whole house around this closet,” said Kipp, who uses a smaller closet.

The bed is surrounded by windows to the east and south overlooking the beach and front balcony. Two sets of floor to ceiling window shades for each window provide privacy as needed. The black-out set is totally opaque and the solar set is semi-opaque.

The first floor center room serves as Kipp’s home office. There is an extra kitchen area in the office and two bedrooms on the beach side. A two-car garage on the eastern side of the house and a laundry/utility room next to it complete the first floor plan.

In the garage are some of the components for the geothermal heating and cooling system. Its main components are four 250-foot deep wells, said Kipp. Water at that level is a constant 55 to 60 degrees year ‘round, providing heat in the winter and cooling in the summer.

Geothermal systems are estimated to generate savings of 50 to 70 percent in electrical costs over conventional systems and have lower maintenance costs, according to industry information. Kipp said the electric bill averages about $100 a month, but he hopes to reduce that further with the addition of solar arrays on the slightly sloping cool membrane roof, which is already white to reflect heat. Kipp also employed a structural insulated panel system (SIPS) for the walls of his home. These prefabricated panels are sheathing over insulation and another layer of sheathing for superior insulating capability.

Because of its exposed and low lying location, the design for Kipp’s new home keeps weather factors such as flooding and high winds in mind. He said the house was “philosophically designed like a screw pile lighthouse.”

The building lot is only three feet above sea level making it vulnerable to flooding, one reason why he made the second floor the main living area. Kipp built up the lot to make the bottom floor eight feet above sea level, but in the event of higher water during a storm surge the concrete and steel elements can get wet.

“I conceived it as a house that could get wet,” said Kipp.

To deal with high winds Kipp made the concrete footings for the main structural steel columns eight feet by eight feet by 30 inches deep. He also designed the first floor as vertical cantilevers, meaning that the walls are not part of the structure supporting the second floor.

“The whole first floor could wash out and not affect the second floor,” said Kipp. “The house exceeds all building codes. I think we will be okay.”

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posted 03.24.2011

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