While the home we designed in the East Bay (which is due to be the first LEED platinum home in Piedmont) is under construction, it is great to check in with people on the team to learn from their experiences. Today we check in with Alex Hodgkinson, of McCuthcheon Construction, the builder of the project.
Me: What are some elements of building a sustainable home that you are most excited about?
Alex: Building sustainably has the incredible advantage of being interesting and good for the planet, both at the same time. There are more challenges than conventional construction in some ways, since sustainable projects usually require us to learn some new things. But learning new things is also incredibly stimulating. Also, clients and architects who are deeply interested in sustainable building tend to be forward-thinking and innovative, which makes working with them a whole lot more interesting and consequently more fun.
Me: What are some of challenges of remodeling a green building?
Alex: Remodeling is inherently green, because we are, in a real sense, recycling buildings. Giving new life to an older home is a great satisfaction. If we do it right, and truly take advantage of the opportunities present when we have the house torn apart for remodeling, we can create a snug and comfortable home that will serve several more generations well into the future.
Some of the challenges are due to the changing structural requirements—for example, existing unreinforced concrete will usually not meet modern engineering requirements. Another set of challenges is in design—older homes typically do not have the kind of open and welcoming floor plan that modern families crave. They also were not well connected to the outdoors. Since they were designed in an era when energy was cheap, we see single-pane windows, minimal insulation, antiquated and inefficient mechanical equipment, etc. On the other hand, it does not take much to make great improvements. Just updating the toilets to modern HET units can save an enormous amount of water. Improving the insulation and weather-stripping saves energy. Adding energy efficient appliances, lighting and mechanical equipment is a no-brainer. There are many such basic improvements that reduce the environmental “footprint” of the home while also saving money and giving more comfort and better health to the occupants.
Me: What would you recommend to homeowners who are interested in building or remodeling a green home?
Alex: 1. Start with efficiency first. Grab the low-hanging fruit of better insulation and weather-stripping, for example.
2. If you really want to do energy work correctly, have a home energy audit to identify and prioritize all the opportunities.
3. Don’t forget to include water conservation as well, for example, specifying water efficient fixtures throughout.
4. Right size the home. Only add square footage if you really need it. Make every square foot count.
5. Spend time and money on good design, which will give the most long-lasting results and save the environment by not having to be re-done for a long time
6. Hire a qualified contractor who is experienced with green building—certified by an independent organization
7. Hang in there—remodeling can be challenging!
8. Get the help of a good team of architect and contractor to help you navigate the process.
Me: What items should builders and home owners consider when going through the LEED process?
Alex: 1. Documentation is a big key—it’s not enough to do the right thing, you have to be able to prove it in writing and photographs.
2. Hire a good LEED consultant to help oversee the process to make sure you get all the points you need and want
3. Plan for extra points, so if you can’t get the all the points your expected on one item, you can still get the points somewhere else.
Me: What are your favorite sustainable aspects of this project?
Alex: 1. We have a great client who is truly committed to building a showcase LEED platinum project, which is a really fun challenge
2. We have a great architectural team which means we will have a beautiful and timeless home which will provide genuine satisfaction for many years to come.
3. The water conservation aspects are extensive, with graywater and rainwater systems at a high level of sophistication
4. I believe this is the first LEED platinum home remodeled in Piedmont, which we hope will inspire others to do the same.
5. It’s exciting to finally see LED lighting coming into its own.