The only LEED Platinum home in California north of Monterey began as charred ruins from a 1991 Oakland Hills wildfire that destroyed 3,000 homes. A young builder believed the site would be perfect for the family home he had envisioned for years, so he purchased the property in the spring of 2006.
The reality of the builder’s vision is the spectacular home you see on these and the following pages. It is certified LEED Platinum and is GreenPoint-rated. Both impressive accomplishments, made even more so considering the home is 4,700-sq. ft. in size.
Surprisingly, the builder’s goal was not to create a LEED platinum home; it just evolved that way. Mike McDonald, president, McDonald Construction and Development in Oakland, Calif., says the plan was to incorporate as many green components as possible into the design of his family’s home. “We wanted a green roof; we wanted a rainwater and groundwater cistern; we wanted passive and active solar elements; we wanted an efficient building envelope, an efficient HVAC system, and we wanted to use nontoxic, sustainable materials in the process,” he explains.
As plans for the home began, the LEED for Homes program was in its pilot stage. McDonald thought it would be great to have a third party hold his team accountable for what it was doing. “We certainly didn’t think we would qualify for LEED Platinum,” he recalls. “In fact, we started out negative 11 points on a 100-point scale due to the size of the home (4,700 sq. ft.). However, we began to get excited about what level of LEED certification we could meet, and it became a game of sorts.”
Criticism of this green home’s size is rare. “From a ‘program’ perspective, the home is the appropriate size. And from the client’s perspective it’s appropriate, and that will always rule the day. Clients are going to want what they want and what they can afford. As a design and build community, we can take on the desire for larger homes as a challenge and look for innovative ways to make them more sustainable,” McDonald says.
As stated, the project began 11 LEED points in the hole, a deficit overcome with innovation such as: using recycled materials; beating California’s tough Title 24 energy efficiency requirements by 55 percent; creating educational opportunities throughout the project; using 99 percent drought-tolerant landscaping; creating a hardscape that was 90 percent permeable; capturing and reusing all ground and rainwater; and utilizing advance framing and construction waste-reduction techniques.
The green nature of the project made it easier from the standpoint of limiting decisions on materials, but difficult from the standpoint of documentation of the green process and testing, McDonald says. “Ultimately, however, we created amazing partnerships with national material suppliers like Whirlpool, Western Red Cedar Lumber Association, and Lutron, plus dozens of local artisans and suppliers. They were attracted to it because the home was so sustainable, and we were trying for such a high certification level. Our partners found our excitement contagious.”
McDonald believes the local community is a huge part of sustainability. It’s important to support local businesses, buy locally and eat locally, he says. “Buying locally doesn’t just build strong community, it also cuts down on the massive carbon footprint created from producing and shipping product from all over the world. Local suppliers, whom we now consider friends, essentially have their own keys to the project and are constantly bringing clients and colleagues to view the project and talk about their contribution and how the project inspired them” he says.
Ultimately, green did not seriously affect the home’s cost. “We spent more on some of the active systems like solar PV and thermal solar, but in general green doesn’t cost much more, especially with thoughtful design.”
A list of the home’s sustainable features can be found by visiting rdbmagazine.com/margarido.