When people think of green remodeling, they imagine homes composed of biodegradable materials with solar panels and lots of weird angles — homes where aesthetics take a back seat to function. So it follows that people are surprised when green design involves a wood-frame home from the 1830s, complete with a classic front porch.
But deep green is precisely what Michael Klement, AIA, of Architectural Resource in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Doug Selby of Meadowlark Builders delivered to their clients — a couple, engaged to be married, who were merging households and who settled on the task of remodeling an 1837 home for their first residence.
Klement, who teaches a class on green remodeling, says that preconceptions about deeply green projects like this home, which was the first LEED Platinum remodel certified in the state of Michigan, are often very different from the reality.
“When I teach a class on creating the green house, the first question asked is whether the house will look like a science experiment,” says Klement. “We worked very hard to make sure that the part that faces the street meshes with the historical profiles so that it will be a good neighbor to its surrounding homes. But once you enter the house and go beyond the electric-blue front door, the house shifts to the client’s preferred design sensibility. It has this urban-chic feel to it.”
This project upends most of what people think they know about green remodeling. Green design can be both traditional and design forward, not strange or awkward in any way. Green design does not need to involve active or passive solar power. And green design does not require unique massing in order for it to perform well as a green building. At the same time, says Klement, there does seem to be a changing aesthetic associated with green or high-performing homes.
“Slowly, there is this shift in what we consider to be beautiful. Aesthetics are driven by cultural norms. These norms are the things that made Classical Revival (style) important, the things that made Tudor important, Italianate important, etc. In our era, our new norms will increasingly involve sustainability and that is going to drive our aesthetic consideration of what is beautiful. Having said that, we worked very hard to keep this house looking traditional.”
Reducing size but not scope For all of its perception-breaking green achievements, this project did not start out to achieve such lofty aims. In fact, say Klement and Selby, there were times when the project was in danger of not getting a green light at all. The clients initially consulted with Selby who was hired to do design and build work. Selby brought in Klement because he knew that Klement offered the best shot at getting their entire list into the package.
Klement says the project was a classic case where “the pile of cash was one-fourth the height of the pile of dreams.” In short, where once the project involved adding about 1,000 sq. ft., it ultimately had to be scaled back to only a slight increase in total square footage. Borrowing techniques put forward by Sarah Susanka in her book, The Not So Big House, Klement ultimately proposed only a 500-sq.-ft. increase based on the clients’ vision of a “scaled back lifestyle centered closely on using their bikes as a primary means of transportation.”
Selby and Klement remember the day they met with the clients to review the more compact plan. They thought that the shrunken scale, despite a fairly comprehensive response to their wish list, might be rejected.
“This was kind of a make-or-break moment because the project was in jeopardy of not happening if we could not come up with some kind of design that got everything within their budget parameters,” Klement explains. “So we came back with a design and showed them our ideas about how it was going to function. And I will never forget this: John looked up from the plans and said: ‘Michael, I don’t know how you did it, but you got it all in there.’ ”