European Inspired Mountain Chalet

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European Inspired Mountain Chalet-summer exteriorWhile traveling in the French and Swiss Alps, the owners of this European inspired mountain chalet became captivated by the rustic charm of the over 200-year-old chalets they had seen there. They perused numerous books about chalet design, becoming both well informed and even more enthusiastic with the building style. Working with architect Paul Robert Rousselle of Stowe and Steve Sisler of Sisler Builders, they incorporated design cues from traditional chalet construction, their own carefully cultivated theme ideas, and state-of-the-art energy usage desires to bring their unique European inspired mountain chalet to fruition for the 21st century and beyond.

European Inspired Chalet-north side windowsThe couple and their three children, ages 13, 18, and 20, are originally from Long Island. They moved to Stowe for its quality of life, easy access to sports, and the outdoor activities they enjoy. They rented a home while beginning the process of designing their house, finding an architect, and deciding on a builder. After meeting with Steve and checking with a variety of reference sources they chose Sisler Builders. Steve had done similar chalet-style construction, and they felt that besides his reputation for perfection and integrity, he and his team were well suited for the job. They also knew that Sisler Builders is committed to building highly energy efficient homes, a priority for them.

European Inspired Chalet-living roomEuropean Inspired Chalet-dining room view

Beyond being committed to the chalet aesthetic, the couple’s primary objectives were an open and functional layout, natural flow, and ease of use. They wanted to maintain a timeless look, so the house never felt dated. They also wanted to take advantage of the fantastic sloping site, situating the house so that it made the most of the jaw-dropping views of Stowe’s ski trails. The floor-to-ceiling windows all across the main living areas did the trick for this last desire!

“There was a lot of collaboration during the building process,” said the husband. “Every square inch of the house was discussed with the architect and builder, weighing all factors of design, engineering, and the actual building process.”

Energy efficiency

The nearly 4,500-square-foot structure is extremely air tight and energy efficient. It is heated with geothermal wells connected to electric heat pumps, which are partially powered by photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. A wood stove, cleverly connected to duct work that is part of the air conditioning system, allows heat to be distributed throughout the home, instead of being concentrated to the area close to the woodstove. The structure tested out at 0.82 ACH50, which means it has a nearly Passive House air exchange level, and is remarkably air tight. It has radiant heat tubing embedded in the concrete slabs of both the lower and first floor levels. This is a well-thought-out system, as the heat pumps can readily produce water at just the proper temperature for optimal radiant heating. With the exceedingly low natural air-exchange rate, a mechanical heat recovery air exchange system was mandatory.

Sisler Builders optimized the amount of insulation installed by computer modeling the front-end cost of different thicknesses of insulation versus the operating cost associated with those thicknesses. With this proper engineering and holistic mechanical system approach, the owners have found that the wood stove heats the entire house, and are ecstatic about the inexpensive heating costs and comfort they feel year round.

European Inspired Chalet-dining room European Inspired Chalet-bedroom

Staying local

European Inspired Chalet-kitchenLocally sourced materials strongly influenced the house design. A significant contributor to its look and feel was the use of native hemlock beams and paneling that were procured and milled nearby. Sisler Builders took special care to purchase and sequence their installation in order to facilitate proper drying of the wood. The wife’s favorite aspect of the interior is the mix of rustic and modern design themes throughout the house, which were achieved with materials such as the native hemlock beams juxtaposed with refined tile and crisp sheetrock detailing, finished in striking colors.

The husband’s favorite aspect is the kitchen, which he says is the house’s focal point. “I like to cook. I wanted a kitchen that is functional. We put a lot of thought into multiple work stations and the layout works well for us. I like all the systems and finishes we integrated.”

European Inspired Chalet-winter exteriorThe owners would have preferred to take a year up front to flesh out the house’s design, but they did not have that luxury, so decisions were made almost daily during the building process. “The project manager, Matt Rouleau was brilliant,” the husband said. “He coordinated everything and it was a pleasure working with him. He is extraordinary. Our experience with Sisler Builders has been great. They stood behind everything they did and we continue to have good relationships with Steve and Matt and all the carpenters and subcontractors we met through the process. We’re very happy with our Vermont chalet.”

European Inspired Chalet-aerial

Coast to Coast on a Vintage Harley

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Coast to Coast on Vintage HarleyBy Richard Duda

Retired Sisler Builders employee

In September 2014 I had the honor and pleasure of taking part in the Motorcycle Cannonball, a coast-to-coast race for antique motorcycles. The Motorcycle Cannonball began in 2010 and is run every other year. The route—3,938 miles from Daytona to Tacoma—is mostly back roads and takes 17 days to complete, including a rest day in Kansas.

There were 102 riders; 25 were from foreign countries, 4 were women, and one was a sidecar with husband and wife. The rules are fairly simple. Bikes are divided into three classes, based on motor size. Riders have to leave the start every morning by a certain time, and finish the day within a specified time.

Coast to Coast on Vintage HarleyFor this race I had decided to build a 1924 Henderson, and started working on it 16 months ahead of time. I finished the day before shipping it to the start in Daytona, but at the last minute I decided it was not ready. Instead, I took my 1936 Harley VLH, which I have owned for about 12 years. The vintage Harley is my daily rider and an old friend.

Coast to Coast on Vintage HarleyI teamed up with a friend, Dan Emerson, from Connecticut. We bought a 1988 Ford van as our chase vehicle and loaded it with bikes, spare parts, gear, and clothing. Dan and his wife, Karen, drove it to Daytona. I flew down, and once there had two days to get my Harley ready.

During the day, riders were on their own. We could help each other or get help from someone along the way, but nothing from our crew. On the sixth day, 30 miles from the start, I lost my rear brake at a stop sign in the middle of farm country. Within five minutes a farmer stopped and asked if he could help. We went to his barn and welded my rear brake rod back together. It put me behind, but I still finished that day on time.

Many of the bikes were well prepared and riders had lots of spare parts and experienced mechanics, but old bikes and old parts will fail. Riding between 250 and 320 miles each day will test the skill of anyone. It is a difficult race physically, emotionally, and mechanically.

Coast to Coast on Vintage HarleyThe day after the rest in Kansas, my motor of my vintage Harley seized. I was in trouble. One of the sweep vehicles was a new BMW bike with a flat side car for hauling bikes. Feeling like the grim reaper, the driver stopped for me. I asked for a few minutes and pumped oil into the cylinder. Fortunately, the piston loosened up and the bike started!

I loved the ride through the East and was surprised with the Midwest’s rolling hills. The West felt stark and barren. One day we rode over Loveland Pass, and at 12,000 feet elevation it was formidable, but everyone running that day made it. The Northwest was great, with huge hay farms and wheat farms and then into the fruit orchards of the upper Northwest.

We ended at the LeMay car museum in Tacoma. The winner was the rider from South Africa on a 1922 Indian Scout. Twenty five bikers, including Dan and me, finished with perfect scores. Afterwards we loaded our van with the bikes, gear, and dirty laundry and shipped it back to the East Coast while we flew home.

It was an amazing experience and thankfully I had a few sponsors: Hiedenaur tires, Spectro oil, and Ande Rooney, Inc. Sisler Builders was a generous supporter, allowing me to take three weeks off from work. I could not have done it without everyone’s help, and of course the patience and support of my wife and family.

Meet Sisler Builders’ Custom Woodworking Division

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Sisler Builders' custom woodworking division
Claro walnut coffee table.

Seth Allen and Glen Waller make up the core of Sisler Builders’ custom woodworking division. Allen was hired in early 2012 as a carpenter and soon moved into the wood shop to build furniture for Sisler Builders’ clients. Shortly after, Waller was brought on to help collaborate on a large order of custom furniture that included three separate pieces—an architecturally designed, high-end walnut master bed with AV cabinets, drawers, and an oversized headboard; a claro walnut (Juglans hindsii) coffee table; and a black walnut (Juglans californica) dining room table. Sisler Builders’ custom woodworking division was launched!

Sisler Builders' custom woodworking division
Custom kitchen shelving.

“We are not set up for high volume,” notes Waller. “We do specialty things, such as master vanities, full kitchens with interiors made of poplar, not plywood, for non-toxic houses, built-in cabinets, and furniture.”

The woodworking shop is modest, completely kitted out with Powermatic tools. The only element that is off-site is a spray room. “We do mostly natural oil finishes. A lot of present-day finishing systems only require one or two coats, so we rarely need a spray room,” Waller adds.

Sisler Builders' custom woodworking division
Glen Waller and Seth Allen doing their thing in Sisler Builders’ woodworking shop.

Waller and Allen both became interested in woodworking when they were kids. Waller’s father was an aerospace engineer with a woodworking shop at home. This in itself was enough to inspire young Waller to take woodworking classes throughout his school years. He also enjoys metal fabrication. He moved to Vermont from California, and prior to joining Sisler Builders owned a custom door-making business in Moscow, Vermont.

Sisler Builders' custom woodworking division
Cozy reading nook.

Allen modestly claims he received his own training from the school of hard knocks, but he also attended Vermont Technical College’s architectural design and engineering program, as well as wooden boat school. After graduating from high school he worked for a high-end construction company in Southern Vermont, where he built homes from the ground up, getting involved in all aspects of building.

Allen later moved to NYC to chase his girlfriend, who he eventually married. “I didn’t want to build houses and lug tools, so I started working in wood shops in New York City and that is where my love for furniture and woodshops began,” says Allen. Woodworking also runs in his family. His father owned a construction business and his father-in-law is Johannes Michelsen, a world-renown wood turner known for his amazing wooden hats.

Most of the custom woodworking projects come from Sisler Builder clients who are having new houses built or major renovations done. “Our clients don’t usually want to stick with a set design. They want the flexibility to make changes along the way,” Allen explains. This gives Sisler Builders the ability to achieve anything their clients dream up. So instead of contracting out furniture and custom projects, he and Waller do the custom work in house.

Sisler Builders' custom woodworking division
A miniature prototype of a custom bench that can be raised and lowered according to snow depth.

“We get some interesting projects,” says Waller. “We recently did an outdoor bench that can be raised and lowered, according to snow depth, using a marriage of steel and wood to create a gear mechanism that is operated manually with a hand crank.” Waller was able to employ his metal fabricating skills to design the gearing.

Sisler Builders' custom woodworking division
Staircase treads and railing.

Other creative projects the two have completed are a suspended outdoor shower enclosure made from a reclaimed hot tub, a shuffle board table, a bamboo-cladded front door assembly, and a custom live-edge Douglas fir bench.

“We can do almost anything custom,” says Waller. “If we can’t do some aspects of a the project we will find someone we respect who can, but for the most part we do everything in house.”

 

Air Source Heat Pumps – Renewable Resource Heating

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Air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps are gaining a foothold in the construction industry for their energy efficiency and cost effectiveness. For decades, Sisler Builders installed propane (and sometimes oil) heating equipment as a matter of course. The advent of heat-pump technology and, to a lesser extent, rising fuel prices, has changed all of that.

For the last few years, Sisler Builders installed air source or ground source heat pumps in almost all of their buildings. The technology for heat pumps, which are essentially air conditioners that run in reverse, has improved drastically in the last 20 years. On average, the systems are now four times more efficient than traditional electric resistance heat, operate well (even in Vermont winters) and cost less to operate than propane or oil.

In 2013 Sisler Builders installed air source heat pumps in one of their apartment buildings in Waterbury, Vermont. It replaced an old and outdated oil boiler. The annual heating and hot water costs of the building have gone from about $8,000 to $2,500 annually! And, since almost all of the electricity comes from a rooftop solar array, the system is much better for the environment, too.

To learn more about air source and ground source heat pumps, go to GreenBuildingAdvisor.com and search for Nick Sisler. Nick is co-founder and lead engineer at Ekotrope, a building energy software and consulting company. This essay is adapted from an article in Green Building Advisor.

Two Energy Efficient Vermont Homes

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Here is an up-close look at two energy efficient Vermont homes built by Sisler Builders in Stowe, Vermont.

Ernie Ruskey and Laurie Wood had three primary objectives when they built their house in Morrisville: simplicity, energy efficiency, and harmony with the site. They achieved their goals with a minimalist modern design, a home that is super tight, has excellent air exchange rate results, and heats easily with propane and supplemental wood. The house is nestled on a gentle, wooded hillside, with mountains views to the west, and blends unobtrusively with its surroundings.

energy efficient vermont homes  energy efficient vermont homes

energy efficient vermont homes“One goal in all of our work is to have a house that fits into the site and landscape. It’s always about the view and topography,” says Ernie, architect and owner of Tektonika Studio Architects in Stowe. He designed their house, which has a wedge shape that is, shall we say, wedged into the site’s natural topography. The garage is a half-story down, connected by an open, covered walkway leading to the staircase and main entry. Passing through the mudroom and kitchen to the light-filled great room you notice the subtle widening of the space. In consort with the nine-foot ceilings, expansive west-facing windows, well detailed maple stairwell, and natural stone hearth, this is a truly inviting space. A deck and screened porch off the wide end enable outdoor living close to nature.

energy efficient vermont homes  energy efficient vermont homes

As a Stowe architect, Ernie knows many local builders, and choosing one to build a house he designed for his family was a difficult decision. “I gave several builders a shot,” he says. “Sisler Builders was on the short list of three companies. Their bid was the middle number and it felt realistic. I also felt good about the company’s project-management skills and their deep energy-efficiency knowledge.

energy efficient vermont homesSisler Builders’ core tenet is building the tightest envelope possible at a cost that doesn’t break the budget. Their seven years of focused home energy analysis and retrofits has shown them where typical problems are, especially for air and heat leakage. Whether building a new house or an addition, their crews know what to do to make sure there are no egregious air leaks in places that are difficult, costly, or impossible to fix later.

energy efficient vermont homesAesthetics were also important for Ernie and Laurie. “Sisler Builders made the right matches with their subcontractors. The craftsmanship is superior and from a design standpoint it really worked for me,” Ernie explains. “The costing piece, team, scheduling, and experience are all important, but most important in any building process is a good rapport. Steve communicates well and our personalities clicked. Laurie and I both had, and have, a good feeling about him.”

 

Jo and Jonathan (JP) Poole of Concord, Mass., had similar goals when building their house in Stowe. Simplicity was their primary objective. They wanted a modern design, small enough to feel cozy, yet large enough to accommodate guests. They also wanted a house that was ecologically friendly and sustainable, which led them to a solar-powered geothermal heating and cooling system which uses only renewable resources.

energy efficient vermont homes  energy efficient vermont homes

When the Pooles moved from the United Kingdom to the United States, they first came to Stowe. They ended up in Concord, Mass., where JP works in biotech and Jo owns Concord Fitsquad. They continued visiting Stowe, and when it was time to build their house they reached out to Sisler Builders, whom they had heard about around town, particularly in the context of highly energy-efficient, ecologically friendly construction.

“We set up a meeting with Steve Sisler and liked his practical approach,” JP says. When it was time to find an architect, Steve recommended Ernie Ruskey of Tektonika Studio Architects. “Steve thought Ernie would be a good match for us. His tastes, design perspective, and core interests were aligned with ours.”

energy efficient vermont homes  energy efficient vermont homes

At both the Poole and Ruskey-Wood residences, Sisler Builders implemented a combination of recently introduced energy efficiency building products and practices. When building the envelopes they used Huber’s superior Zip-R wall-sheathing panel and proprietary tape. With careful application of the tape at all seams you can cost-effectively ensure a tight building envelope even before insulation is applied. Sisler Builders did that at both homes, achieving air exchange level’s really close to the rigorous Passive House Institute US best practice standards, and they did it cost effectively.

energy efficient vermont homesThe Poole house begins with the main-floor mudroom, which includes a huge, open-riser, three-story, steel-supported staircase. Beyond that is the heart of the home, a spacious and airy great room/kitchen/dining room. “The mud room and open-plan living area were primary for us. We focused our resources there and on the staircase,” JP notes.

The house is entirely electrically driven, with LED lighting throughout. Radiant heat is powered by a closed loop geothermal system supplemented with a modern Hearthstone soapstone wood stove. Their 4.9 kW solar array provides about 70 percent of all the electricity the home uses.

It’s the only modern style house in their neigh-borhood, yet it’s inconspicuous and unassuming. JP and Jo concur that at the end of the day they were really happy with the final product. “Steve quickly found solutions to challenges and was sensible and direct. Our house is simple and clean and that means the quality of work is extra important. Sisler Builders, their crew, and subcontractors provided excellent craftsmanship. It was a good team.”

Celebrating Sisler Builders 30 Year Anniversary

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Sisler Builders 30 Year AnniversarySisler Builders 30 year anniversary. What a milestone! As I reflect on this achievement, I am proud and humbled by what an idea has turned into. President and Vermonter Calvin Coolidge once commented, “…Persistence alone is Omnipotent,” a phrase which has consistently motivated me, especially during the tough moments. The upcoming years motivate me even more.

The promise of our talented people, the ongoing technological progression charging into the construction field, and the new palette of building materials all make this an exciting time to be a builder. I look toward the future with the same sense of wonder, trepidation, and anticipation as I did when I embarked on this journey.

I’ve been thinking lately about the “connectedness” of things. Our company, now 30 employees strong, became what it is by honoring basic principles that apply in many endeavors. Whether it’s coaching or competing, being a parent or building a home, the values of respect, preparation, challenge, and follow-through work every time. I’m struck, looking back, by how similar the obstacles and outcomes can be, at the hockey arena, the dinner table, or the building site.

Generally I’m not one for mottos or mantras, but if pressed I would say we endeavor to build efficiently, with a long view, utilizing materials and techniques that champion that view. We value respect for people, quality products, and the planet.

Sisler Builders 30 Year AnniversaryRespect for people

I see a good example in the recent economic downturn. At Sisler Builders, we made it a priority to honor the commitments made to and by our employees. During the worst housing market in several decades, we adapted our work to keep our entire staff not just employed, but continuing to contribute to their families, their communities, to the recovery, and to a resilient business. One of our carpenters described the changes in his commute from a nearby town – from bustling, to sparse, to lonely. At its worst, he felt that he was the only one from his community heading anywhere. Now, the roads are filling again, but I know the driver of one silver Sisler Builders pick-up appreciates the drive a little more and that means a lot to me.

Just like our employees, loyalty on the playing field comes from investing in the team when times are tough. Below zero morning practices at the old outdoor Jackson Ice Arena forged some great teams, built character and life skills that endure for all participants.

Sisler Builders 30 Year AnniversaryRespect for quality product

A local theater group recently performed “It’s a Wonderful Life.” There’s a line where Pa Bailey explains to his son, who wants to do greater things, “You know, George, I feel that in a small way we are doing something important. Satisfying a fundamental urge. It’s deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace, and we’re helping him get those things in our shabby little office.” I don’t find our office shabby, but I do find the same sense of satisfaction Pa expressed. We’ve been privileged to have been chosen to build and remodel many awesome homes for many wonderful people. Yet I believe the home includes so much more than a roof and walls and fireplace. It provides peace and security, identity, self-expression, family, community—attributes I know our buildings will deliver for decades.

Respect for planet and future

How we build is critical to how we will live, and it is for the long term. We are committed to building with respect for the planet. Sustainability includes not just energy use and consumption but emissions and our overall footprint. We build aware of the life cycle analysis of the resources we employ. We will always seek to optimize our people, through training and support, the technology we use and install and in creating custom living solutions with style, quality, and respect.

From here, we will build on the values we have forged and embodied. I plan to help guide our talented people to continue to live up to the high standards we have set and delivered in our first 30 years and raise the bar, as energy issues demand, for the coming decades.

Thanks for your support, past and future!

Steve Sisler, Owner

Foraging for Fresh Food in Vermont

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foraging for fresh food
Author Peter Merrill with chaga.

Foraging for fresh food is a common Vermont pastime once the snow is gone. Just when it seems like spring won’t come at all, it arrives in a rush here in Vermont, as steel-gray skies and damp days give way to an explosion of green. Hope springs eternal as we pour through seed catalogs, map out our gardens, and tend our seedlings, all the while dreaming of the bountiful harvest to come. Unfortunately, by mid-July this dream all too often becomes a nightmare, as we realize that we are no match for the late, killing frosts, drowning rains, and interminable weeds that annually conspire to derail our gardening plans.

foraging for fresh food
Morel mushrooms.

That’s what I love about foraging—no planning, no planting—just that moment of surprise and the instant gratification of finding something in the woods that you can actually eat. Just the other day I was weeding my blueberry bushes and came across a beautiful morel mushroom. Morels come only in May, and then they’re gone, which make them even more highly prized. I spent an hour crawling around my garden on hands and knees looking for more and found one other, just enough to sauté and savor.

Foraging for fresh food brings me back to my youth and fond memories of birthday party treasure hunts and looking for Easter eggs. At a recent mushrooming class I attended, the instructor gave each of us a bag and sent us into the woods to gather as many different mushrooms as we could find. Picture two dozen people fanning out in all directions, bags in hand, many in their 60s and 70s, and you will understand how foraging can become a passion for children of all ages and a skill that is passed from generation to generation.

Sisler Builders’ Randy Pratt remembers his mother’s passion for mushrooming and honors her memory in the naming of his dogs, Shiitake and Chanterelle. Upon learning of my own interest in mushrooming, a 90-year-old friend recently bequeathed me his late wife’s extensive library of mushrooming books simply because he felt they would be more useful in my woods than on his bookshelf.

foraging for fresh food
Chanterelle mushroom.

Anyone who knows Sisler Builders carpenter Shannon Kinneson knows he’s a man of few words—unless you get him talking about hunting or mushrooming. I can remember showing Shannon a bright yellow mushroom that I had proudly misidentified as a chanterelle. The next day a plain brown bag filled with freshly picked chanterelles showed up in my mailbox, no note, no explanation. Shannon has also helped me to find and identify chaga, a woody fungus that grows on birch trees; looks like burnt charcoal, and can be steeped to make a tasty and therapeutic tea.

foraging for fresh food
Chaga on birch tree.

Sisler Builders master woodworkers, Seth Allen and Glen Waller, are also chaga fans and often have a fresh pot of tea brewing on the woodstove in the Sisler Builders woodworking shop on cold winter mornings.

Perhaps the best part about foraging for fresh food is it helps to extend our short Vermont growing season. Where I live, ramps (wild leeks) begin to appear in April followed by fiddlehead ferns and morels in May.

foraging for fresh food
Fiddlehead fern.

Chanterelles can be found all summer long, and wild blackberries begin to ripen in July. Indian cucumbers—a wild root that has the crunch of a water chestnut and the taste of a cucumber—can be found well into the fall, and chaga can be found year round, but is easiest to find once the leaves have fallen and snow is on the ground.

foraging for fresh food
Wild leeks, or ramps.

A word of caution: foraging for fresh food is not without its risks. Destroying Angel, Angel of Death, Death Cap, and The Sickener aren’t video game villains, but some of the mushrooms that can make you sick or worse. At the end of our mushrooming class, we spread the mushrooms we had collected onto a table. Our instructor selected one and said, “If you eat this, you’ll feel sick for three days, then fine for three days, and then you’ll die.” My rule of thumb is forget about the guide books and only eat what you pick after someone you trust has identified it and is willing to eat it with you.

This article is by Peter Merrill, a former employee of Sisler Builders.

Communication in the Construction Industry

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It’s a well-known fact that good communication in the construction industry is crucial to a project’s success. This couldn’t be truer than in our business, where the success of each project depends heavily on the careful management of hundreds if not thousands of small details. Having the right materials and equipment, the right crew and subcontractors, and the right architect and other professionals are very important, but it’s the coordination of these various people and elements that typically make or break a project.

I tell our people that they should never be afraid to ask a question or to speak up if they don’t understand something, or if they see something that doesn’t look quite right. I try to do the same in my own dealings with our customers, their architects, and everyone else involved in our work. It’s a policy that has kept us out of trouble and allowed us to grow our business and to continually expand our skill set.

Good communication in the construction industry includes everyone

The owners, the architect, structural engineer, landscape architect, and many of the  vendors for a specific project may be new to us. By creating efficient, open lines of communication, we are able to gain the owner’s trust and confidence and to reduce the stress of all involved.

On one project we were challenged to explore and utilize new structural techniques and new and different approaches to custom door construction, timber framing details, main stair construction, and interior trim detailing. It felt good to be pushed; to demonstrate the extent of our skills and to build upon them, something we never would have been able to do without the confidence of all involved. I like to think that our enthusiasm for pushing the envelope is part of our company culture.

Custom homes, large or small, often contain fresh sets of challenges to make our lives interesting, and after 30+ years we have a pretty good base of experience to help us make sense of the new challenges and opportunities that each project presents.

Listening is half of good communication

Of course, the other key to good communication is being a good listener. We try very hard to listen to our customers and their design teams and to understand their needs. Again, this not only helps us to avoid mistakes, but it’s also led to some very interesting opportunities for us. Our new custom woodworking division is a perfect example of this. In recent years we’ve seen a growing interest among our customers in things like custom built-ins, freestanding furniture, and other intricate woodworking applications. The woodworking division allows us to meet this need while broadening our overall skill set and offering a creative outlet for some of our most talented people. And besides, it’s FUN!

Contemporary Stowe Mountain House

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Contemporary Stowe mountain houseDoug and Toni Gordon had a vision for building a contemporary Stowe mountain house. They wanted something that would fit with the reasons they love Stowe—mountains, wilderness, nature—blend in with the surroundings, and be modern and energy efficient

Gordon, who works in money management in Boston, took their vision for a contemporary Stowe mountain house to Steve Sisler. What did the Stowe-area builder make of this? Dreams. That’s how many conversations begin with Sisler. “We try to create synergy between the owner, architect, and builder to make ideas come to reality,” Steve says.

Gordon and Boston architect Marcus Gleysteen met with Steve and ultimately selected Sisler Builders to build the 8,500-square-foot country contemporary Stowe mountain house. Gordon says of his choice of builders, “Steve certainly had the experience, and then some, having built some other homes that had a similar look, feel, and magnitude of what we were after.”

But there was more. “Steve helped ground the whole project. He’s highly intelligent and practical—but not, frankly, too practical. Because you want really nice stuff. Steve understood that.”

The Gordon house combines elegance and innovation, and uses a mix of local and imported materials, while featuring state-of-the-art energy efficiency. Outside, the Champlain valley stone veneer and the Douglas-fir timbers have the feel of a ski lodge. Inside, giant windows are oriented toward the mountains, bringing the grandeur and beauty of the landscape into the living room.

Contemporary Stowe mountain house Contemporary Stowe mountain house

The master bedroom is connected to the house via a bridge over a dry river. Downstairs is all about fun: there is a TV and spacious rec room with bleacher seats and cozy nooks for the three Gordon children to hang out.

The kitchen has large concrete countertops beneath cathedral ceilings clad in Douglas-fir and surrounded by warm natural-hued southern yellow pine cabinetry. A stone fireplace rises two stories and features an interplay of Woodbury granite and timbers. It’s striking, but not too massive.

Contemporary Stowe mountain house Contemporary Stowe mountain houseSteve explains that there is a story behind the fireplace. He, Marcus, and mason Matt Parisi traveled to the defunct Woodbury quarry, the oldest quarry in the country, to pick out the perfect slab of granite for the lintel—the large stone over the firebox. As they spent an afternoon hiking around the quarry, balancing different stones on each other, they sent picture messages to Doug to get his real-time input. The end result is a fireplace that is a striking centerpiece of the house.

“I love the fireplace,” Doug Gordon says about his favorite detail, then adds, “I love the bridge to the master bedroom. And I love seeing down the valley from the bedroom.”

A dining room table made of reclaimed American walnut with ebony inlays, complete with old nail holes, was another Sisler Builders creation, as were a number of built-ins and custom cabinets.

Contemporary Stowe mountain house Contemporary Stowe mountain house

Steve stands in the entryway, which features a beautiful granite staircase, and points to the inviting and airy view into the living room. The plans originally called for a wall that would have blocked this view, until Steve proposed an alternative that allowed light in. It was one of many on-the-fly design changes that required close communication.

“I enjoy a team approach with the owner and architect where we all have a willingness to share,” says Steve. “I’ll put my ideas out there whenever I see a way to make a project work better.”

Contemporary Stowe mountain house“We made very significant changes as it was going, based on conversations with Steve,” adds Gordon. “Neither Steve nor our architect were shy in presenting alternatives.” Regarding the re-designed entry, “We all couldn’t be happier,” says Gordon. “It’s exactly what I was looking for in an entrance.”

Eighteen months after they conceived of their dream home, Doug and Toni Gordon and their three kids moved into their new contemporary Stowe mountain home. “It was a wonderful process,” reflects Gordon. “I never felt concerned that the project was going to weave off course. Steve kept me totally in the loop and he appreciated and acknowledged our feedback. There was a very healthy interaction. He kept us on task, but he also built excitement. It wasn’t a job for us, it was an exciting process.”

“At end of day,” muses Gordon, “our favorite part of the house is that we love the property. The house and the view all fit so well. You have this vast open view outside and the stone and woodwork inside. You get that feeling that you are in Vermont. You feel that you are up in the mountains.”

Vegetable Gardening in Vermont

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gardening in Vermont Over 20 years ago Sisler Builders employee Danny Young and two of his friends purchased 200 acres in Westfield, with the intent of gardening in Vermont. They divided up the land, built modest homes, planted crops, and raised livestock to meet their needs—no mean feat in this remote town less than 20 miles from the Canadian border. For most of that time, Danny worked for Sisler Builders, leaving and returning in the dark most months of the year in order to make the 40-mile trek back and forth to work.

gardening in VermontWhen Danny retired a few years ago, he said the thing he was looking forward to most was spending more time in his garden. It turns out Danny’s not alone in his passion for gardening. While it may seem improbable for such a seemingly rough and tumble group, it’s not unusual to find members of the Sisler crew in lunchtime discussions over pickling techniques, pest control secrets, and composting choices. And its not just chips and Twinkies in their lunch bags either, as many bring fresh vegetables, fruits, pies, and other dishes to eat and share.

Another Sisler Builders employee, Scott Langlois, put in some raised beds a few years ago and grows tomatoes in sheet rock buckets that he paints dark green to hold the heat in. “I’ve eaten more salads this summer than I ever have in my life,” he says. “The stuff just keeps on coming.”

gardening in Vermont“My garden is my therapy patch,” says Matt Rouleau. “It’s where I go to relax and unwind, and the fresh vegetables are just a bonus.” Matt has been gardening for over 20 years, and every summer he renews a friendly fight against the deer, squirrels, raccoons, and other vermin that threaten his garden. “They keep a closer eye on things than you do, and just when it’s time to harvest you find they’ve already beaten you to it. I used to tell my son that it was all right and that I would go after my vegetables in November, but it turns out I am only a marginal hunter, and the deer and the others usually get the last laugh.”

gardening in VermontNot all of us have skills equal to our passion. Ten years ago my wife and I purchased an old farm here in Morrisville, and I set about trying to reclaim an old vegetable garden. After much kicking and swearing, I finally managed to fire up the old Troy-Bilt rototiller that came with the place. The blunt tines barely dug into the hard ground, and the wretched machine dragged me around the garden before finally depositing me onto my stomach with nothing more than the plastic handgrips still in my hands. I’ve since gone to raised beds, and despite the never-ending weeding and an aging yellow lab who loves fresh broccoli and strawberries as much as I do, I never seem to tire of working in my garden. From the first asparagus in May to the carrots and parsnips I pull for Christmas dinner, my garden yields its rewards throughout much of the year.

gardening in VermontUp in Westfield, Danny is busy “putting food by” for the winter. He grinds his own grains, and he pickles, dries, or stores many of the fruits and vegetables he grows. Between the garden and the pigs and chickens he raises, he is able to meet almost all of his food needs. “Pretty much all I buy is coffee, flour, and sugar” he says. In all, he grows over 30 different fruits and vegetables including things I wouldn’t even attempt, like artichokes and melons.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be good at gardening to enjoy it. Here at my place, even my goats like gardening. Last fall we threw them some pumpkins to eat, and this summer a pumpkin plant grew up in their pen. They, and we, watched it all summer long. They waited for the pumpkins to ripen, and then they ate them plants and all, and that was that.

By Peter Merrill, blogger and former Sisler Builders employee.