In any given area of Los Angeles, there seems to be plenty of constructions going on practically every block. I suppose it’s a good sign of strong economy and good for real estate business. I’ve been noticing as I go on broker caravans these days that more and more new constructions claim to have “sustainable design” as a part of their features. Yet I wonder how sustainable they really are. “Smart home” technology, certified windows, and insulation surely helps to keep the energy consumption more efficient, which is undoubtedly helpful to keep our air cleaner or reduce the green house gas emission. But there is so much more to sustainable design than energy efficiency and water conservation. Besides, it still feels like a “privilege” for higher end homes.
About a month ago, I attended the panel discussion on Green Design at WestEdge Design Fair at the Santa Monica Airport Hanger. While discussions of sustainable design hardly touched on the affordability at previous panels I attended, I was delighted that the main thread at this panel was exactly that, “affordability.”
Robert Fortunato, one of the panelists, an economist by profession, and self-proclaimed, “high tech hippie,” presented the renovation project he completed a few years ago called, “Green Idea House.” He and his wife, Monica, had a modest 1300+ sq/ft home on the hill of Hermosa Beach. When their son, Carter, was born, they decided they needed to add some space to their home. And they dared to do it differently despite various opposing forces. Their objectives were to reduce: 1) health impact via air quality management; 2) construction cost by using less materials, creating less waste, using standard construction process with off-the-shelf technology; and 3) utility bills by utilizing the nature: i.e., the sun so they’d use less energy. As a result, the home they created has net zero energy, zero carbon, and the best part is it cost them less than $200 sq/ft for the project.
I was utterly inspired by this presentation and promptly contacted him so I can interview him for more details and better yet to photograph this great home, which is now my ultimate dream home.
Everything in this house was thought through with a great team of like-minded resources. The first thing, and what I was most impressed about, was the fact that by working with the reuse expert, they were able to divert 97.5% of demolition waste from going to the landfill. That alone is a major feat. Robert and Monica not only used some of the materials from the old home for the new home, but also donated the rest and got tax deduction. Cha-ching!
The windows and interior walls were placed to maximize the sun light to control the indoor temperature as well as to minimize the use of indoor lighting. What a concept that you don’t have to turn the lights on as long as there’s sunlight outside! Overhang was modeled after the Native Americans’ cave in Mesa Verde, Colorado to keep the interior cool in the summer by shading and warm in the winter by allowing the sun to come deeper into the rooms. Staircase functions as a “thermal chimney” so that the excess heat can be released through the opening of skylights and windows. With the solar panels on the roof, they achieved net zero energy efficiency. No electric bill!
They opted to eliminate the natural gas all together as gas appliances produce carbon and formaldehyde, which are hazardous to human (and animals) health. Besides it is much safer not to have gas line in earthquake-prone California. Instead of gas stove top, they have induction stove top. Robert demonstrated how quickly the water boils on this, which was literally within a couple of minutes! They use the heat pump hot water heater by GE, which is less expensive and more efficient.
The floor is made of post-industrial wood scraps, his ceiling planks were purchased from the reuse expert that came from the demolished mansion in Bel Air. They also used the left over to make the headboard for master bedroom, the shoe shelf, and whimsical sculptures in the backyard. They made sure there’s no toxicity in the paint or adhesives. They have rain water capturing system to water the garden throughout the year as well as grey water irrigation to utilize the water from the laundry. The list goes on…
This is only the beginning. Robert and Monica have started a movement, not to say they were the first one to do something like this, but to have dared the established concept of affordable sustainable designs and put it out there that it IS possible. I hereby declare I am joining the movement. We can create sustainable community without being a part of an exclusive club one house at a time!