Camp Kanfer: the House of Green Gables

The Kanfers are a brave, innovative bunch. Not only is the family’s home in Chautauqua — located at 88 North Lake Drive — arguably the most environmentally responsible home on the grounds, but the Kanfers have undertaken to live together in that house — more than 40 members of their family, all under one roof.

Akron, Ohio, natives Joe and Pam Kanfer started designing the home in 2009 with help from their four adult children and their children’s spouses. Built by the Chicago-based architect Marty Serena, the home is the first in Chautauqua to receive LEED certification. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a rating system that recognizes environmentally responsible buildings.

The home serves as a summer gathering place for the grandparents, children, 12 grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and great-grandparents in the Kanfer family.

“Since we’re lucky enough to have children that want to spend some time together and with their family, I wanted to make an opportunity to do that,” Joe Kanfer said. “I have two daughters with sons-in-law who live in Brooklyn, a daughter in Cleveland and a son in Miami. We all work in various businesses together, but obviously we’re geographically spread out. So we decided we would try to spend the summers here in Chautauqua.”

Completed in spring 2014, the home consumes 61 percent less energy than a standard, code-compliant home built in 2015, according to Serena, who had the home analyzed by an environmental impact testing agency. Dozens of solar panels line the south-facing roof and generate 20-kilowatt hours of solar power per year.

In addition, the orientation of the house allows it to absorb the maximum level of sunlight to regulate the temperature inside. Around the time of the summer solstice, the solar shades above the windows are designed to block sunrays from entering the house, keeping it shaded and cool. Around the winter solstice, when the sun is much lower in the sky, sunlight pours in through the windows and is absorbed by stone floors in the corridors, which act as heat sinks and reduce the amount of energy that must be used for central heating.

Justin Stewart, Joe and Pam’s son-in-law and the home’s project manager, said the home exclusively uses captured, recycled rainwater for its toilets, dramatically reducing water usage.

“We have a lot of bathrooms and a lot of people using them,” he said. “Toilets use a lot of water — a gallon and a half per flush. We haven’t used any city water this entire season to flush the toilets.”

The home also captures an estimated 50 percent of the rainwater that reaches the property, thus preventing runoff into the lake. When rainwater lands on the roof, extra-large gutters catch it and divert it to one of nine rain chains. The chains carry the water into rain barrels and send it through pipes underground, where the water infiltrates into rain gardens.

Joe Kanfer, who has come to Chautauqua with his family for about 10 years, decided to build the home here because of the educational opportunities the community provides for his children.

“It’s not only about the opportunities with the classes, Boys’ and Girls’ Club and all the things they can do here,” he said. “The kids they’re meeting here are also terrific kids that tend to be interested in learning. If you believe in learning, what a great place to be.”

He said his children and their spouses were instrumental in incorporating sustainable practices into the construction of the house. It was their idea to hire Serena, who specializes in designing environmentally responsible buildings, and they have taught Kanfer the importance of reducing one’s environmental impact.

“I give credit to the next generation,” he said. “I just got out of their way.”

Serena, who is now designing the Amphitheater project for Chautauqua Institution, has worked on environmentally responsible architecture since he started his own architectural firm in 1983.

“It’s been part of our ethic from the beginning,” he said. “My family has a construction company, so it’s a simple matter of economics to be frugal with materials and reuse what you can.”

Serena said it took several years to design the Kanfers’ home, receive approval from the Architectural Review Board and build it.

“It was a very interactive process,” he said. “All members of the family participated, from the beginning all the way to the end.”

Stewart, a real estate developer who builds energy-efficient, multi-generational homes in Brooklyn, believes reducing energy usage — and by extension, energy costs — can be accomplished even on a tight budget. He recommended that anyone building a home make sure it is fully insulated and airtight, as both of these things can be accomplished with limited added costs.

“We’ve all lived in places where you feel the A/C blowing on you because that’s the only way to keep the temperature down in your living room,” he said. “In this house, we don’t have that, because of the quality windows, the insulation and the air tightness.”

He also recommended that people build their homes so that they face south in order to absorb heat in the wintertime.

“That’s a no-cost item that can decrease your energy bills,” he said. “It’s just about how you arrange your house on the property.”

Kanfer said though the home’s design reduces energy costs, he is more proud of its minimal ecological impact.

“As a society, we know we need to reduce our environmental footprint,” he said. “But if nobody steps forward, it’s never going to happen.”

He noted that solar energy, for example, is now approaching the cost of fossil fuels, thanks to individuals who invested in it even when the returns were low.

“By sustaining the movement, even if it doesn’t have an economic payback, what you’re doing is fostering the lowering of costs,” he said.

Kanfer said he would gladly speak to anyone who is interested in designing an environmentally friendly home like his family’s home.

“We think it’s important that move in that direction as a society,” he said.

There are 3 comments

  1. Alison Hodd

    Love hearing how a family worked collaborative to create a sustainable structure. Are there any pictures (or links to pictures) of the home’s interior or exterior? As an interior design professional, I’d love to see those.

  2. Alison Hodd

    Thanks Joe. I would love to. I hope gain approval to teach a Special Studies course on getting Colour Undertones right in Interior Design next year. Maybe then? -Alison

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