Shady Side couple build a house to 'live lightly on the land'

May 23, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

When Richard Crenshaw thinks of a backyard fish pond, he sees a filtration system with edible inhabitants.

Mr. Crenshaw, 57, and his wife, Maggie Sansone, 44, are building a house along the West River -- one he designed to allow them to "live lightly on the land."

The environmentally friendly house on the Shady Side peninsula will fulfill a dream of Mr. Crenshaw, an architect and landscape architect who has studied under Paolo Soleri and other movers and shakers of the environmental building movement.

Ideally, Mr. Crenshaw said, he'd like to live creating no harm to the land. "The issue here is how we live, living lightly on the earth," Mr. Crenshaw said.

Meanwhile, the couple has a house next door as well as one in the Eastport section of Annapolis, home of their business, Maggie's Music Inc.

They have worked on the West River house for about nine months and still aren't sure when it will be ready for them and their dog. Mr. Crenshaw -- who was among the designers of Reston, Va., and Columbia in Howard County -- said he has yet to settle on some details. "It's sort of an on-going experiment," he said.

Mr. Crenshaw said that though they will hook the new 2,000-square-foot house up to public utilities, they hope to rely on the sun for warmth and some electrical needs.

The back of the house has an enviable river view, and floor to ceiling windows take advantage of that. But, Mr. Crenshaw said, those south-facing windows do more: they are specially glazed to capture heat. The sun's rays will fall on a tiled floor and slab wall, both designed to hold heat. The walls and ceiling have insulation dense enough for colder climates.

"For heating, you don't need such high temperatures. You have 90 degrees and you are comfortable. But you need high temperatures to cook," Mr. Crenshaw said.

He hopes solar cells will be able to power a microwave oven, lights and most other household needs. Other cooking will be done on a wood stove.

County codes do not allow the composting toilet that Mr. Crenshaw favors, so a more traditional bathroom will be installed. Eventually, he said, he may approach authorities about the composting toilet. The Maryland Department of the Environment regulates composting and other innovative toilets in a very small program, MDE spokesman Mike Sullivan said.

The basement, he said, will be a root cellar that he hopes to fill with potatoes and dried foods.

The house is designed so that rainwater will drip into pipes that will lead to a cistern-like 1,000-gallon tank adjacent to the house. He plans to filter the water through a fish pond and use it to irrigate a garden. The couple would like to grow their own food, he said.

He'd really like to be able to use that water indoors, but county health regulations frown on that.

"Physically, you can drink rainwater. It is not considered by regulation an approved potable supply of water," said Steven Witt, director of the division of community and environmental health in the county's health department.

That is because the government cannot attest to rain water's purity as it collects pollutants on its travels from the sky into a cistern, he said.

Similarly, another dream of Mr. Crenshaw doesn't mesh with county regulations. He would like to recycle "gray water" -- as water that dishes, people and clothes have washed in is known. But health codes prohibit any plumbing hookup that connects wastewater with the potable water supply, Mr. Witt said.

According to the building code, the third-floor loft is technically an attic, accessible by ladder.

But it is living space to Mr. Crenshaw and Ms. Sansone. "We plan to put a Persian carpet up there and meditate and do yoga. It's a private space," Mr. Crenshaw said.

He'd like to replace some of the lawn with plants that will attract more birds.

If he could do it, Mr. Crenshaw said, he'd have sheep or other domesticated animals graze so that he wouldn't have to mow, but the 7,000-square-foot lot does not meet county code for having a farm.

A dowel tucked under the eaves of the house eventually will hold bird houses, feeders, perhaps bat boxes, and bells, he said. A wind bell by architect Paolo Soleri is in the garage workshop.

Though this home isn't finished, Mr. Crenshaw is thinking of his next environmental project: "My next hope would be to build an eco-village," he said.

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