Looking back at the completed project, Ethan Landis, principal of Landis Construction Co. in Washington, D.C., says that everything about the finished project is well done.
“This was an A-plus job,” says Landis. “The quality of construction, the attention to detail, the finish selections, the performance of the home, the comfort of the home for the homeowner, all of those things are very good.”
Indeed, Landis’ gut-rehab of a town house in the historic Georgetown area of Washington achieved nearly all of the objectives set forth by the homeowners when they embarked on the project more than two years ago. The owners had intended to purchase the home on a speculative basis, renovate it to a very high green and luxury standard, and then sell. One financial crisis and a number of logistical challenges later, the owners now live in the home along with other members of their extended family.
“They are extremely happy with it,” says Landis, “with almost no regrets.”
The owner’s desire for a deeply green renovation, perhaps one that would ultimately achieve LEED Platinum certification, stemmed from her career as a realtor. LEED is a designation offered by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) that was first introduced for commercial projects. LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. This owner had developed a specialty in selling “green” homes. “Even if they broke even on the project,” says Landis, “they wanted to learn about the process and gain from the experience professionally.”
Even though Landis Construction is a design/build firm and co-owner Chris Landis is an AIA accredited architect, they were brought in after another architect, Erik Hoffland, AIA, had already been engaged on the project. It was his drawings and schematics that were used to secure financing for the project and to later build it out. Both Hoffland and Ethan Landis are LEED accredited professionals, so once the funding was in place, the project began in earnest.
Because the goal was to achieve LEED certification for the home and because the design and construction responsibilities were split among two firms, the first step, says Landis, was to hold a design charette where many choices and courses of action were determined well ahead of time. Involved in the charette were the owners, the architect, the general contractor and key trade contractors.
“Though we had walked along the LEED pathway with other projects,” notes Landis, “this was to be the first time we planned to earn LEED certification and possibly LEED Platinum, so we really needed to get everyone on the same page.”
Embarking on a deeply green project required the knowledge and a commitment from the owners that it would undoubtedly cost more than a conventional remodel, particularly since the scope of the project was large. They took a 2,200-sq.-ft. town house, tore off the back, built a three-story addition and dug a deeper basement, all while gutting and preserving the façade in accordance with strict guidelines set forth to preserve the historic streetscapes of Georgetown. The finished project added approximately 1,000 sq. ft. to the home for a total of 3,300 sq. ft. All told, the project cost about $1 million with an estimate $30,000 to $40,000 of that cost attributable to green and sustainable aspects of the project, or 3 percent of the total cost, Landis estimates.
He explains that many of the key product selections that helped the project along the green pathway would have been selected regardless of whether the intent was to earn points toward LEED certification or not, so the exact cost of green features can be fuzzy. Case in point was the decision to lower the floor of the basement in order to gain more ceiling space in what was to be an in-law suite. They could have poured a normal basement slab floor but opted instead to make it an insulated slab.