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New home in Old Greenwich built out of Styrofoam

Published 10:53 pm, Thursday, January 16, 2014

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  • Diane and Chris Murphy's Old Greenwich home, which is being built with styrofoam and concrete, on Wednesday, January 15, 2014, on Shore Road. Photo: Lindsay Perry / Stamford Advocate
    Diane and Chris Murphy's Old Greenwich home, which is being built with styrofoam and concrete, on Wednesday, January 15, 2014, on Shore Road. Photo: Lindsay Perry

 

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The white walls of the home at 15 Shore Road in Old Greenwich are rising quickly as contractors stack one block on the other, building an entire home's exterior out of Styrofoam the way a child would build a fort from Legos.

It's a curious sight, the kind Greenwich has seen only a couple times in the past, if at all. But while it may look a bit strange as the large foam bricks reach two stories above the ground, the idea of building a house from Styrofoam makes some real sense, the builders say.

"It's incredibly energy efficient and environmentally responsible," said Michael Murphy, of Murphy Brothers Contracting, the firm building the home. "People think of Styrofoam as bad for the environment, but that's because it doesn't deteriorate. It's bad to throw away. For building something meant to last for a long time, Styrofoam is actually great."

And it seals out the elements, which in turn means that the new home on Shore Road will require much less energy for heating and cooling.

"This is the stuff they make coolers out of," said Chris Murphy, the owner of the construction company (though he is not related to Michael Murphy) as well as the owner of the home. He and his wife Diane are in the process of downsizing from a home in Rye, New York, and decided it was time to build a home for themselves that truly benefits from technological advancements.

Styrofoam buildings aren't entirely new, even though they've been rare in this area. Mike Trolle, a member of the Connecticut Green Building Council and co-owner of Greenwich-based BPC Green Builders, said that while the technology for ICF -- insulated concrete form -- building blocks has been around for a couple decades, it has never truly caught on in residential buildings.

"It's never really become mainstream, at least here in Connecticut," said Trolle. "I don't know of anybody in Connecticut that specialized in this."

Trolle said much of the reasoning for this is that traditional contractors have mostly worked with wood forms. "People are most comfortable with things they're used to, and this is completely different," he said.

The walls are not completely made of Styrofoam; the blocks themselves are actually hollow, with teeth on their top and slits in the bottom that allow them to be stacked on top of each other like Legos.

"Everything stays in place, and then you pour concrete down the middle of the cavity," said Troy Gibson, a marketing manager at Fox Blocks, the company that created the blocks Murphy is using in the building. There's no need for plywood, said Gibson, who noted that the external siding can be directly affixed to the outside, while the drywall can be screwed into the Styrofoam.

"You're taking away steps for the builder, and you're also creating an air-tight wall," Gibson said.

But even though the house now looks different from other new constructions dotting the streets of Greenwich, once the home is finished, it will be impossible to tell it from other houses in town.

"It used to be the perception that green buildings had to be modern and contemporary," said Diane Murphy. "It was one of those stereotypes that it had to be a modern house. This house will be green, but it will look very traditional, like the coastal Colonial you're used to seeing."

Plans show a 2,556-square-foot Colonial house with a finished basement and two additional floors, which will include four bedrooms and three bathrooms. With a cupola and a "captain's walk" -- Chris Murphy refuses to call it a "widow's walk" -- and clapboard siding, the home will fit in seamlessly with the character of its neighborhood.

On the outside, the only difference will be the solar shingles on the roof -- they're a new product that contains solar technology within an actual roof shingle, allowing homeowners to make energy without having to add bulky solar panels on top of their roofs.

maggie.gordon@scni.com; 203-964-2229; http://twitter.com/MagEGordon