Michelle: What are some elements of designing and managing a sustainable home that you are most excited about?
Scott: One of the most enjoyable parts of doing what we do is getting to work with people who, like us, just want to live a little smarter. That can mean many things, but to most of our clients it means making a place to live that is comfortable and beautiful, yet simple and useful, without wasting a lot of energy, materials, and money. So we really enjoy finding those solutions with our clients, and delivering a design that is simple and elegant, with natural, durable materials, useful spaces, and energy-efficient features.
Michelle: What are some of challenges of remodeling a green building?
Scott: At the back of your mind is always the question – How far do you go? There’s a balancing act when you’re trying to incorporate reduce-reuse-recycle into an existing house…how much do you replace, add, or subtract to make the home more eco-friendly, and how much can you keep as-is to avoid the waste of over-building; all while providing a beautiful and comfortable place to live? It’s a special kind of client who wants to take things as far as we did with this project.
Michelle: What would you recommend to home owners who are interested in building or remodeling a green home?
Scott: depends on their situation. If you’re looking to buy a new lot or existing house, there are a number of site-dependent factors that contribute significantly to the potential level of sustainability. These include climate, solar access, prevailing winds, site topography, site geology, site orientation, and the list goes on. There are stacks of books that talk about this stuff, so it’s worthwhile to do a little research and/or to consult with a professional before committing to a site or building.
But many clients are just wanting to improve their current situation, whether it’s remodeling, adding-on, or building a second unit. So in these cases there are many more constraints on the available options. When we approach something like this, we try think in terms of life cycle cost – what materials and spaces are worth keeping, and which ones need to be changed out (or added) to improve the ‘green’ picture? We try also to keep an eye on the point of diminishing returns, in terms of both immediate and lifetime costs. We are firm believers that improving energy efficiency and lowering maintenance costs doesn’t have to break the bank.
Michelle: What items do builders and home owners need to consider when going through
the LEED process?
Scott: Having a project team that is well-versed in the LEED process or building sustainably can make a world of difference for the project. Good collaboration between the design team, contractor and home owner throughout the design and construction process is paramount to the success of the project. While most projects in California now (thankfully) have some sort of green standards requirement associated with them and a lot of builders in our area thus have some experience in building sustainably, the LEED process can still be quite demanding. That said, most of the LEED “points” have choices associated with them, so it is important to exhaust the
possibilities while keeping in mind the various up-front and lifetime costs associated with each. An experienced project team will help to identify and prioritize the proper solutions in each category in a timely manner which will lead to the ultimate success of the project.
Michelle: What are your favorite sustainable aspects of this project?
Scott: While we are excited about many of the project’s sustainable features (and the LEED platinum-rating goal), we are especially proud of the variety and number of systems that are being implemented to reduce and reuse water. Rainwater from the entire roof is being collected and stored. This stored water is pumped to the toilets and to the clothes washer. The greywater from the laundry is then used to irrigate a planting area nearby (so the rainwater is essentially used twice!) and the remainder of the greywater from the home’s sinks and showers will supplement the site’s other irrigation demands.
We are using bioswales, which are a sort of natural water treatment system for surface runoff. So in normal conditions, there should be no
runoff leaving this site – water will infiltrate into the ground. However, if there is runoff in more extreme conditions, it will be clean water.
Another water-related system we are using is solar thermal heat. Water is pumped through rooftop panels where it is heated by the sun, and the heat from this water is transferred to supplement both the domestic hot water and the central air heating systems. This is a closed-loop system, so little water is consumed…some electricity for the pump, but the rest of the heating from this system is passive.