Classic Platinum Green

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.’ ”

Green Features

With the smaller size and massive scope of work approved, Doug Selby recalls that it only then dawned on them to check into LEED certification for the home. LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a rating system administered by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“The LEED Platinum certification was actually kind of an afterthought,” says Selby. “Michael and I were walking down the street after our meeting with the clients, and I told him I thought this would score pretty highly on the LEED certification program. I went back and found out that the project was LEED Platinum by a significant margin. So, I think the broader beauty of this project is that we planned on remodeling their house to these stringencies all along. It wasn’t like we had to go through a lot of extra stuff, or the clients had to spend a lot of extra money to get this done. It is just where the project ended up.”

The design solution required that the rear portion of the building, constructed in 1924, be removed with all salvageable materials repurposed for inclusion in the new addition and other new structures. It involved a new basement, as well as a new rear first and second floor shaped in a T. This form worked well as it created the perfect location for an L-shaped wrap-around porch.

The specific green features included: a basement foundation created from insulating concrete forms or ICFs — advanced framing techniques that use 20 percent less lumber replaced with more insulation; geothermal heating and cooling; an on-demand tankless water heater with a PEX manifold water distribution system; low-flow and ultra-low-flow plumbing fixtures; low- and no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) finishing building materials; a heat-recovery ventilation (HRV) system with HEPA filter; spray polyurethane foam (SPF) air-barrier insulation and Energy Star appliances and fixtures.

Another important feature was a “hot-roof” assembly using Demelec open cell insulation on the underside deck of the roof deck. Most attics are vented, notes Klement, which subjects those spaces to extremes in temperatures. By insulating the attic, water pipes and HVAC equipment can be run through the space without the added cost of heating and cooling losses caused by the air or water passing through extreme temperatures.

In the category of repurposed building materials, perhaps the most fitting were old-growth 2-in. by 12-in. timbers that Selby reclaimed from a commercial building renovation on the same street 10 years prior. Selby could not bear to send them to the waste heap, so he kept them. They were used as stair treads where their color and character added a lot to the execution.

Going Green

When it comes to designing and remodeling green, Selby and Klement are ahead of the pack. What they find particularly satisfying about this project was the unanticipated nature of the certification. It was the result of a fortunate marriage of clients and a design/build team and the natural outcome was a deeply green, classic American home. To that end, Klement feels other remodelers contemplating going green should focus on energy conservation as a starting point.

“Before you worry about the energy you create (solar), worry about what you conserve,” says Klement. “So we did a super-performing insulation package. We used advanced framing techniques and a hot-roof assembly. We spent a lot of time focusing on reducing the amount of energy lost. And that is the kind of focus that helped us earn this certification.”

Fast Facts About the Project:

  • Architect: Michael Klement, AIA, Architectural Resource
  • Remodeler: Doug Selby, Meadowlark Builders
  • Project location: Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • Date remodel began: December 2007
  • Date remodel completed: January 2009
  • Square footage before: 1,330
  • Square footage after: 1,864
  • Total project cost including materials and labor: $420,000

Specified Products

Bath cabinets: Custom, Meadowlark Builders
Bath fixtures: Diamond Spas, Uforo stainless steel soaking tub
Bath fixtures: Toilet – Toto, dual-flush toilet
Brick/masonry: Reward Wall Systems, insulating concrete forms (ICFs)
Decking: Trex Co.
Doors, exterior: Pella
Flooring, vinyl: Marmoleum brand linoleum
Flooring, wood: stranded bamboo
Flooring, tile/stone: Walker Zanger, Zen Garden
HVAC: Earthlinked DX Geothermal
Insulation: Demelec, .5-lb. open cell “Sealection”
Kitchen cabinets: Meadowlark Builders
Kitchen countertops: Paper Stone
Kitchen appliances: KitchenAid oven, Gaggenau induction cooktop, Kenmore refrigerator
Lighting fixtures: Halo, Juno, Progress, IKEA
Roofing: CertainTeed, Sealdon
Sheathing: Plywood
Siding: LP SmartSide, OSB
Skylights: Velux
Solid surface: Soterra Stone
Structural materials: TrussJoist McMillian, EWP, LVL, Wood I
Trim work: Cedar
Windows: Pella, Pro-line, Architect Series