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A Minneapolis Green Remodel
Peter Lytle has always been interested in sustainable building. While growing up in the 1950s, he was inspired by the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. More recently, he founded Live Green Live Smart, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based educational organization that promotes green building practices. It should come as no surprise, then, that Lytle would become the first in the nation to complete a remodeling project that received Platinum-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green rating system.
Lytle is quick to admit that the greenest house is the one that isn’t built from the ground up, because it is better to make use of an existing home, rather than build a new one. That’s exactly what he did with his Sustainable House, a post-war rambler in the Twin Cities.
Last year, he began remodeling the suburban home to make it comfortable for modern living while increasing its energy efficiency. Lytle says he and his wife live in the 2,300-square-foot Sustainable House for about $1.50 a day.
“It’s very much a lab home,” explains Lytle, who has opened the house for tours. “It has multiple power and heating systems.” Those systems include a WaterFurnace geothermal HVAC system, linked to four 135-foot-deep geothermal wells, and a Honda/Climate Energy Freewatt system, which runs on natural gas and generates both heat and electricity. Solar photovoltaic panels, added to an outdoor patio arbor, generate additional electricity, which is stored in battery packs in the garage or sold back to the utility if unused. Separate solar thermal panels, located in the backyard, are used to heat water, and radiant in-floor heating provides uniform heat and comfort to the homeowners.
To reduce waste of building materials in remodeling the 1948 ranch house, Lytle reused or recycled 90 percent of the structure. “When we took out 2x4s, we pulled out the nails and reused them,” Lytle says. “We used the rotted wood for mulch.”
Much of the new wood in the house is actually salvaged from landfills. Lytle used reclaimed lumber for flooring, old recycled doorknobs and installed a slab of used granite as a countertop in the laundry room. The home’s lamps and light fixtures were also reused. “If you didn’t tell somebody these items were reused,” says Lytle, “they would never know.”
To reduce energy costs, Lytle installed triple-pane, argon gas-filled windows and updated the residence’s insulation. Solar tubes provide natural light to rooms without windows as well as to the basement. All light bulbs in the house are compact fluorescents or LEDs. “We estimate 70-80 percent savings on energy costs,” Lytle says.
Outside, Lytle used permeable materials for the driveway and walkways to reduce run-off and potential negative impacts on storm sewers and waterways. In addition, the Sustainable House’s landscaping requires no irrigation other than that provided by collected rainwater. “A good green home incorporates the exterior site,” Lytle points out.
Lytle plans to live in the house for a year to accurately record its energy savings and then sell it. The house is on the market for $1.3 million, though he claims it cost about $2 million to purchase and remodel the structure. To date, 4,500 people have visited the demonstration house.
“Green homes sell quicker and for more money,” Lytle says. He expects to see the same result with the Sustainable House, which features Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design elements like deep eaves and natural landscaping. “We wanted a timeless design, so this home would still be here in 100 years,” Lytle adds, indicating that good design decreases the likelihood of structures being razed or rebuilt.
Major metropolitan areas are known as hotbeds of activity for many facets of life. But traditionally, green home building has not been one of them. That's starting to change, however, as a growing number of eco-friendly projects are breaking new ground in big cities.
There are many ways to build a green urban home. Some are noticeable to the untrained eye, while others are less so. What's interesting is that in addition to using cutting-edge green building materials, many of these urban residential projects are incorporating such technologies as solar energy, geothermal heating and cooling, and rainwater catchment systems - which are not the types of technologies and systems you'd typically associate with a home in the city.
To explore the many options available to urban homeowners who are ready to go green, we focused in on four projects in urban areas across the country. Although each project takes a different approach to sustainable building, they all have something in common: They tend to break with tradition in creating homes that are healthy, efficient and eco-friendly.
What others saw as a blight on the community - an overused tract of land once home to a junk dealer and a waste materials facility - Juli and Mike Kaufmann saw as the perfect spot for their dream home. They were attracted to the property because of its location in a historic neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisc., and by the fact that it was within walking distance of the city center and most necessary amenities. But the project proved to be a challenging one. "Building an ideal green home in the city is not a simple undertaking," Juli says matter-of-factly.
The Kaufmanns purchased the desolate site, known as a brownfield because of its pollution levels, in 2005 from the city of Milwaukee, which had owned it since the early 1980s. Environmental testing found that the lot's previous owners had left it heavily contaminated.
"Contamination was pervasive, and in some spots elevated to hazardous levels," says Juli, who, in addition to being the homeowner, is one of the principals of Pragmatic Construction, the Milwaukee-based company that undertook the decontamination of the lot and the subsequent building of the home.
The extensive cleanup began with the removal of the top six feet of soil from the lot; it was replaced with clean soil, which was procured at a minimal cost. The contaminated soil was trucked to a freeway reconstruction site, where it was used as fill.
In addition to reclaiming the building site, the Kaufmanns wanted to heat their new 1,800-square-foot home using a geothermal system. In this type of alternative energy system, a series of closed horizontal loops of tubing are installed at a minimum of five feet below the earth's surface. Liquid circulating from a geothermal heat pump inside the home through the underground tubes exchanges heat with the earth, so that in the winter the liquid is heated by the earth, which in turn is used to heat the home; in the summer the liquid loses excess heat to the cooler earth. The system was more costly to install than a conventional heating system but the payback period is relatively short - "about five years," says Juli.
The Kaufmanns chose their interior building materials carefully. They used insulation made from recycled denim, and non-toxic paints, adhesives and sealants that contain little or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can affect indoor air quality. Reclaimed flooring from a salvage yard gave the interior a warm, distinctive look. Helping to conserve water are dual-flush toilets and a rainwater retention system that stores rainwater in barrels for later use in irrigation. http://www.pragmaticconstruction.com ; 414-221-9548.
Self-Sufficiency in the City
San Francisco, Calif.
Five years ago, Mike Kerwin, Joel Micucci and Pat Loughran, partners in the San Francisco-based contracting firm Lorax Development, came together with a single goal in mind: "To build environmentally friendly homes with renewable materials, energy-efficient systems and smart technologies," says Kerwin. Since then, the three contractors have worked together on a number of building and remodeling projects, including Clipper House, a recently completed green home located in the Noe Valley region of San Francisco.
Clipper House is unique not only because it is one of the greenest homes in the Bay Area but also because it is the first residence in the city to include a rainwater catchment system on its property. The system catches rainwater (18,000 to 20,000 gallons a year) as it runs off of the specially designed roof, then cleans and stores the water for later use. "All water needs can be met for non-potable [non-drinking and bathing] uses," Kerwin notes.
To install the system, the contractors first had to receive approval from the city, which proved to be a tricky process. Initially, city building officials were tentative about providing a permit for the system because they were not familiar with the technology and had concerns about cross-contamination with the drinking water supply. However, after a number of meetings and discussions, officials finally approved the system.
Kerwin hopes that rainwater catchment systems similar to the one installed at Clipper House will soon become standard on all new homes. "There will come a time when architects and engineers will include a location for the catchment tanks in the early stages of home design and development," he predicts.
In addition to harvesting rainwater, Clipper House also harvests sunlight. Solar photovoltaic panels on the roof generate enough electricity to power the whole house. "In theory, the home could sustain itself with minor modifications to allow for the storage of energy," says Kerwin. Rooftop solar thermal panels also heat water both for domestic use and for the home's Warmboard radiant floor heating system.
The home's green components also include recycled insulation made from denim, low-VOC paints, reclaimed hardwood flooring, fiber cement siding, skylights for daylighting, eco-friendly kitchen cabinets, low-e windows and energy-efficient doors.
New York, N.Y.
You wouldn't know just by looking at it, but a recently remodeled apartment in the swanky Upper East Side of New York was designed using sustainable practices. The project's architect, David Bergman, is also the owner of Bergworks, a multi-faceted firm that specializes in lighting and furniture design in addition to remodeling. He uses a design style he calls Transparent Green when remodeling apartments for clients.
His hope, he says, is to bring his green design style to the mainstream. "An eco-design might not look any different from a non-eco one, and that means it can appeal to anyone, not only a niche audience," he explains.
Combining green materials, vivid colors and contemporary elegance into one neat package is not easily done, but when these aspects are mixed the right way, as they are in this case, the end result is something that is both eco-friendly and aesthetically pleasing. Green materials used in the 900-square-foot "Eco-apartment," as Bergman has dubbed it, include cork flooring, recycled glass tiles, recycled-content resin panels and wheatboard cabinets. In addition, Bergman used low-VOC paints and finishes.
Originally, the project - which involved the renovation of the apartment's kitchen, living room, dining room and office - was not supposed to incorporate green building materials, but after some gentle coaxing and a guarantee that it would not affect the price or the quality of the finished product, the owners agreed. "I brought up the subject and asked them, "If we can include sustainable elements without adding substantial cost or compromising design, would you be interested?' Phrased like that, it's pretty hard to say no," says Bergman.
Despite the obvious upside of incorporating sustainable products into a renovation, Bergman notes that he still has a ways to go in winning over converts to eco-friendly building. "The interest in and awareness of sustainable design is growing and becoming more mainstream, [but] it's still not on enough people's radar," he says.
It's also difficult to change accepted practices that have become ingrained, Bergman notes. Many builders feel pigeonholed into using outdated methods for renovating and remodeling homes because, he says, "It's easier to do the same old thing than to learn new methods."
With eco-apartment renovation a financially feasible alternative to customary design, Bergman hopes to lead the way for others to follow in his green footsteps. "I consider it a part of my personal and professional responsibility," he says. http://www.cyberg.com ; 212-475-3106.
Creating a City
Building a green, efficient home in the city is a challenging, time-consuming undertaking. Building 300 such homes is even more of a challenge. Welcome to Glenwood Park.
Located in the heart of Atlanta, Ga., Glenwood Park is a housing community comprised of 325 condominiums, town houses and single-family lots. The community also includes retail stores, office space, civic buildings, parks and recreational facilities.
In an effort to build a sustainable community, most homes in Glenwood Park will be certified as eco-friendly and energy efficient by the EarthCraft Program, which ensures environmental best practices are followed during construction. Office buildings will be certified under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Although individual contractors are ultimately responsible for which green factors go into the homes they build in Glenwood Park, most of the properties in the community will contain the same sustainable components, such as high-efficiency HVAC systems, cellulose insulation to ensure a tight building envelope, windows with low-e glass, Energy Star appliances and efficient lighting fixtures.
In addition to the homes and commercial buildings, the landscaping of Glenwood Park will contribute to the natural environment. Trees and bushes are strategically placed along the streets to accentuate the small-town atmosphere. The trees also will help to shade homes and eliminate the heat island effect, keeping temperatures in the community bearable. "The more green space, the cooler the environment is going to be," says Paul Boat, a spokesperson for Green Street Properties, developers of Glenwood Park.
To help keep the area green and lush, a rainwater retention system was created to capture nearly all of the community's rainwater, which is stored in a culvert and used for irrigation.
Glenwood Park was constructed out of the footprint of the New Urbanism movement, which aims to intermingle residential and commercial areas to reduce reliance on automobiles and combat sprawl. The goal is to create a walkable "city neighborhood" of tree-lined streets, homes, stores and parks, just two miles from downtown Atlanta. The developers believe this will give Glenwood Park an advantage over other developments because, according to Boat, it will be a place where you can raise a family safely, socialize with neighbors and enjoy your surroundings. "You don't just whiz by it in your car," he says. http://www.greenstreetproperties.com ; 404-879-2230.
While the overall housing market remains sluggish across much of the country, builders are turning to products and systems that will give them an inch up on the competition until the market corrects itself. Basically, in terms of products and construction practices, anything green goes. But the NextGen Ultimate Value Home, displayed at the 2008 International Builders Show in Orlando this February, demonstrated an additional theme: that today’s green and efficient systems and products can add value to any home.
Each year, the temporarily built NextGen demonstration house showcases the latest products and practices available to make homes stronger, greener, more efficient and digitally well connected. The modular Ultimate Value Home, which extended to 2,700 square feet over two stories, showcased cutting-edge technologies in such areas as fortified building practices, sustainable products and home automation.
Three of the home’s more prominent features, in particular, caught our attention: weather-resistant construction methods, a web-based product that can help seniors sustain their independence, and a safety-oriented weather and hazards warning radio system. These features, along with many others, can make a home more durable, more comfortable and safer.
An Open Joist 2000 floor truss system uses less lumber than conventional systems and provides space to run
The 2008 NextGen Ultimate Value Home incorporated building materials and systems designed to improve its strength and durability, meeting criteria established by the “Fortified…for safer living” program. Developed by the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), based in Tampa, Fla., the program provides guidance for increasing a home’s resistance to natural disasters.
In many ways, the Fortified program resembles the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, says Wendy Rose of IBHS. “We don’t specify how the house is built,” she notes. “We specify what criteria a home needs to meet [to be a Fortified house]. Then, whichever materials and practices the builder chooses, as long as it meets our disaster-resistant criteria, it will be Fortified.”
Under the Fortified program, points are awarded for specific construction practices and materials, which are selected based on where a home is built, Rose notes. “If it’s in California, [the home will] be fortified against earthquakes and wildfires. If the house is up North, it’s fortified against severe winter weather. Along the Gulf Coast, it’s [built to withstand] hurricanes and flooding.”
The Ultimate Value House can withstand winds of up to 130 miles per hour, thanks in part to engineered roof trusses, which tie the roof, walls and foundation together. As a result, all of the home’s elements, rather than a single component, absorb the force of the wind equally, making the structure stronger, according to Rose.
Several other components earned Fortified points. For instance, the builder used stone-coated steel roofing from Corona, Calif.,-based Decra. The steel roofing is resistant to corrosion and fire, and carries a 50-year warranty against high-wind damage.
|Thanks to its high R-value, Icynene expandable spray foam insulation can cut energy costs by up to 50 percent.|
Pearl Protected’s emergency escape ladder also helped the home comply with Fortified standards. Built to easily recess into a wall beneath a window on a second or third floor, the ladder folds and unfolds conveniently from a niche that is barely visible when closed. During emergency situations, such as a fire, occupants on the upper stories of a house can easily evacuate by simply tossing the ladder out the window and climbing down.
Impact-resistant doors, garage doors and windows were also part of the home’s Fortified package.
The Ultimate Value Home was built using modular construction, which reduces construction time by as much as two-thirds, when compared to a traditional stick-built house. In addition, modular construction proves more sustainable, because the modular sections are built in the controlled environment of a factory. As a result, it’s easy to reduce construction waste by recycling building material scraps, and the building materials aren’t exposed to extreme weather conditions, which can cause warping and mold.
For more information about the “Fortified…for safer living” program, homeowners should ask their builders to contact the Institute for Business & Home Safety at 813-286-3400 or visit www.disastersafety.org. The program is available nationwide and certifies homes built conventionally or using alternative building systems such as panelization, modular sections or insulated concrete forms.
Baths are well-ventilated and incorporate eco-friendly countertops and flooring.
Another innovative component of the Ultimate Value Home is Telehealth, a remote patient monitoring system that can help extend the independence of elderly homeowners, according to the system’s designers.
“It takes your weight, blood pressure, glucose levels, blood oxygen and ECGs [echocardiograms] and transmits that information to your doctor,” explains Paul Rice, vice president at the Citadel Group, a Charlotte, N.C.-based company that developed the system in conjunction with Bayer and Panasonic. “It really supports people with heart conditions, diabetes and long-term medical conditions that can require more management. That’s really where this device shines. It’s designed to work in conjunction with your doctor, who can monitor you remotely. It [enables] better duration of care.” The system often serves as supplemental care for those with in-home care professionals, Rice adds.
The homeowner can self-administer required tests daily at home with a machine that’s about the size of a laptop, so it can sit on a countertop. The user plugs the system into a phone line and an electrical outlet, and then navigates via touch screen and voice prompts, which direct patients through the process.
Medical information is then uploaded to a website and accessed via password by the user, family members and doctor. The doctor, who can track a patient’s medical charts over a period of time with Telehealth, can use a webcam on the computer to conduct an in-home teleconference with the patient.
The system offers a number of proactive features as well. For instance, if the homeowner misses a scheduled test, a reminder pops up on the device. If the homeowner doesn’t respond within a certain period of time and administer the proper tests, the system sends up a flag for the monitoring center to contact the homeowner. If necessary, someone in the monitoring center can call for an ambulance, Rice explains.
The system has two core benefits. “You’re able to minimize medical expenses because you don’t have to go to the doctor’s office or hospital as frequently,” Rice notes. “It also expands the amount of time an individual can live independently.”
Citadel is working with a number of builders and developers, who will lay fiberoptic lines throughout new and existing communities, thereby equipping each home in those communities with Telehealth. For more information, contact Telehealth at 877-702-3397 or www.citadelgrp.net .
The home’s TV, music, lighting, security, thermostat and appliances are all integrated.
When the National Weather Service coincidentally broadcast tornado warnings in the Orlando area during the week of the International Builders Show in February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s All Hazards Radio Weather Network had a chance to demonstrate its effectiveness.
NextGen representatives affixing finishing touches to the house said that throughout the building they heard the radio’s shrill, loud noise from its place on a kitchen counter. They knew that should a tornado actually touch ground in the surrounding area, they could take shelter within a DuPont StormRoom, which was built into the Ultimate Value Home.
StormRooms not only function as a normal part of the house — a laundry room or, in this case, a walk-in closet — but they also shelter residents from Category 5 hurricanes or F5 tornadoes. Built with Kevlar, the same material used in bulletproof vests, StormRooms provide structural protection from weather and human intrusions.
|The Carrier HVAC system provides energy-efficient heating and cooling while maintaining good indoor air quality.|
In addition to providing weather and disaster alerts, the All Hazards Radio has a weather display, which can help homeowners determine how to dress each morning, and provides traffic information, so homeowners can seek alternate driving routes.
Mark S. Paese, director of Operations and Homeland Security Activities with NOAA, believes the radio will likely become as commonplace in homes as a smoke detector, especially because it’s priced at around $20. It’s not only for residential use, however, he says, and offers this anecdote: In January, a high school in Caledonia, Miss., equipped with the All Hazards Radio had enough time, as a result of a radio alert, to move all of its 2,100 students to safety before a tornado tore through the town, destroying the school’s gymnasium and some classrooms, and leaving school buses flipped on their sides. It’s a powerful demonstration of the effectiveness of the weather-alert radio system.
|The PowerTower backup power |
system from Gaia ensures that surges or interruptions in power won’t damage the home’s high-end electronics systems.
Nichole L. Reber writes about architecture, interior design, green building and land planning. She’s based in Sarasota, Fla.