How do you build a Texas deco-industrial home that features a professional recording studio and an indoor slide, and also qualifies for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes certification? GreenHaus Builders did it with such aplomb, the house became the only certified LEED-H pilot home in the city of Houston, and went on to join a list of only 21 residential projects to date in the entire country to receive LEED Gold certification.
The project was a collaboration between property owners Ann and David Ronn, designer Kathleen Carrier Reardon, and builders Michael and Tommy Strong of GreenHaus Builders. The Ronns requested the Texas deco-industrial style and had some definite ideas for the green elements they wanted to include in their home.
“This is really the homeowners’ house,” says Reardon, LEED AP and owner of Evergreen Design Studio. “The design follows their fun, whimsical aesthetic taste. From collaboration, you end up with a really rich design project. And by paying attention to details, you make sure the project is really going to sing.”
Besides including the slide for the kids and the recording studio for David Ronn’s rock band, the home has a bathroom with a copper-colored steel ceiling, a bedroom with a triangular window and an elevator shaft via stacked closets. Into this unusual home, Reardon included the most earth-friendly elements possible, and Strong contributed additional recommendations.
For maximum energy efficiency, the design called for insulated concrete form walls. The ICF walls create an equivalent R-value of 40 so the burden of air-conditioning is cut almost in half. But the installation of ICFs presented a unique challenge for the builder.
“We were totally beholden to the contractor to do it right because we had no prior experience with ICFs,” explains Michael Strong, vice president of GreenHaus Builders. “It turned out great though; the contractor did an excellent job.”
“Home building is a traditional practice based on methods that everyone knows, and the trades expect to interact with each other the way they always have,” Reardon adds. “So when you start putting in new things, it’s not going by the tried and true way. It takes time for everyone to stand back and think about what they’re going to do.”
The home sits on a private, wooded lot in Houston. The Ronn family wished to enjoy the area to the fullest, but severe allergies hindered their outdoor pleasure. The solution was to create a wall of windows facing the back yard to bring the outside into the house. “It really reinforces the idea that we’re designing with the environment in mind — not just people,” Reardon says.
“Our biggest challenge as a LEED project was reconciling the homeowner’s, builder’s and designer’s requirements and costs,” Reardon says. “You have to decide where to spend the money for the most value as far as green is concerned.”
The home uses a 3kW PV solar power system that provides 15 percent of the home’s power. A solar water heating system works with the home’s tankless gas water heater to supply hot water. Dual-flush toilets, water-efficient appliances and flexible PEX plumbing lines round out the system. Some of the bathrooms have recycled-content tile produced within a 500-mile radius.
Other green essentials include bamboo flooring, an FSC-certified sustainable wood floor, recycled rubber floors and locally produced aluminum windows. On top of all this is a reflective metal standing seam roof, while blown-in insulation covers the underside of the roof deck.
The Next Level
Strong’s definition of green building is products, materials, construction methodologies and design details that make a home healthier, easy to maintain and energy efficient.
Founded in 1990, Brothers Strong became one of Houston’s premier remodeling companies, renovating homes in the city’s most established neighborhoods. Responding to consumer demand, Michael and Tommy Strong founded GreenHaus Builders to create homes that are quiet and safe, and have lower energy bills and maintenance costs.
“We had a perfect jumping-off point for building green,” Michael Strong says. “We knew about things that didn’t work because we fixed them every day. So much of remodeling is fixing bad design and bad construction.
“We’re doing focused marketing to green architects and engineers in Houston,” Strong explains. “Architects are further ahead than builders. Designers are right behind architects. We’re trying to leverage our contacts within the design community and say, ‘We’re the guys to go to.’ The types of homes we want to build are LEED homes.”
But to build LEED homes, more building professionals need to step up to the plate and become better educated in green technology. “One of the challenges is that our bench of trade partners has [became] smaller,” Strong says. “We now have people on our team we never had before — geothermal and solar. Those trades didn’t exist in nongreen times. And in existing positions, we had to make them deeper.” Fortunately, GreenHaus Builders has successfully secured the services of tradesmen who embrace this changing landscape and have educated themselves in this new territory.
“Green is much broader than the public’s perception of it,” Strong says. “People have a stereotype [of green] but they don’t really know what it is.”
Industry memberships: NAHB, USGBC
Annual design/build projects: 50 percent
Residential new construction: 100 percent
Average annual revenue: $1.5 million