An ‘Hawsome’ Hideaway: A Q&A with the Homeowners

Nestled along the banks of the Haw River, in stark contrast to its untamed surroundings, is Scott Zimmerman and Kate Paradis’ modern, green home. For these University of North Carolina alumni, their 21-acre piece of land is their paradise. The Propane Education & Research Council spoke to Scott about the features they love most about their “Hawsome” home and propane’s role in making their secluded sanctuary possible.

What drew you to this specific location that some might have shied away from?

You have to be there to see it. The view is unbelievable, literally that was it. The closest neighbors are a mile away, my driveway is a mile long, you’re not here unless you’re meant to be, so there is privacy. The property is full of projects and I am retired so I have my woodworking shop, and also normal land maintenance every day. We looked for a place close to Chapel Hill that felt like it was out away from everything  — rather than buying a beach house or mountain house which we’d use two or three times a year  — but that was still close to town without feeling like it. We found this piece of property on the river and that’s where we are. It’s been a five-year project to get where we are now. It took 537 days to build the house, and we moved in late January before the coronavirus shutdown started.

What is your favorite feature of your new house?

The view. We built and designed the house to look at the river. It’s a ‘green’ house and we had to order all the doors and windows from Europe, and one of the doors is a 20-foot sliding glass door that is in the great room. Literally you walk in the front door and see the sliding door and then see the river. That would be my favorite part of the house. You can sit at the breakfast table and watch the river. It’s beautiful.

You mentioned having a designated bedroom for your family to visit – have you been able to get together and create some memories? 

Our youngest daughter is a chef in New York City, so she came down for a while when the New York shutdown started. Three out of our four kids are local and are part of our quarantine group. One of the children, our eldest daughter, has a 3-year old daughter, and then our two sons are over on the property any time they’re not working. They help me with projects and go kayaking. My eldest son is a big fisherman who kayaks and fishes any chance he gets, so I’ll either drop him off up-river and let him float down to the property or he’ll get in the river at our property and float down to a bridge a couple hours down-stream and I pick him up when he calls me. But that’s why we’re out here, so it’s pretty cool stuff.

What was the most important thing to you when building your home?

It was most important to make sure it took full advantage of where it is sitting on the river, but part of that is that the architect we used only designs green homes. Our goal was to produce a ‘net positive’ house, meaning it produces more energy than it uses, but that was difficult because the river faces west so the setting sun hits the back of the house. The sun heats the house and makes the house work harder to cool, which uses more energy. But the river is where it is, so we had to build our house facing west. I’m not sure if we are net positive based on calculations, but we are certainly net neutral. We have no utility bills. We have a geothermal heating and air unit, a solar array on the roof, and we have a water catching system that collects and purifies the water. We have these very cool shades that come down on the 20-foot door at the push of a button to keep sun out in the afternoon and they totally keep the house cool. Being green was very important, and we wanted to be able to get off the grid if we needed to.

How does propane fit that green lifestyle?

We have two propane tanks, one 1,000-gallon tank and one 500-gallon tank. The 1,000-gallon tank serves the house and backup generator and the 500-gallon tank serves the pool heater. We are trying to run a line from the 500-gallon to the back of the house for a grill. It’s been my experience down here that power does go out two or three times a year, so it’s nice to keep the essentials running.

What would you say about the quality of your propane range? Do you enjoy cooking with propane?

Certainly. If you cook enough you want a gas stove to be able to control the temperature better. We’re not very happy with the range itself; once it gets down to the lowest setting it’s still not low enough, and there is too much heat coming out. We are totally happy with a propane gas stove, though. Our only options were electricity or propane, and for the stove top, which for me and Kate is very important, we definitely wanted propane. It’s a no-brainer for cooking and works much better than electric.

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