Green building is another good reason that investing in a small, older home can make sense. The Austin Energy Green Building Program (the nation’s first local green building program launched by a city-owned utility back in 1991) awards points for sustainability certification to projects located near the city center and its existing amenities. But location is just the tip of the green iceberg for this project. Among its many green attributes, the renovation and addition included a tight, but breathable, building envelope, the use of no VOC paints, employed an extremely durable fiber cement siding, which was installed in a fashion to allow moisture coming from within the home or from outside of it to quickly wick away from the building. It was also constructed of engineered lumber and sheathed in part with a layer of steel roofing material, both which have sustainable lifecycles.
Well before there was LEED for Homes, or the NAHB Green Building Guidelines, or the NARI and NAHB green professional certification programs, there was a collection of local or regional, mostly voluntary, green building programs. The programs in Portland, Ore., and Colorado stand out, but The Austin Energy Green Building Program was the first, and it is thought by many to be the most comprehensive. The rating system awards one to five stars based on points generated for adherence to dozens of optional green and sustainable attributes. This remodeling project achieved a five-star rating at its final testing in March of 2008.
To achieve the base level of certification, one star, 12 requirements must be met. These range from a maximum of 10 percent duct leakage and a home design that achieves 500 sq. ft. of living space per ton of cooling capacity to the use of low VOC paints and sealants and the use of cooling equipment that is 14.0 SEER or greater, and more. But a much higher degree of rigor is required to achieve the remaining four stars.
Extra points are available in the areas of site selection, home design, construction and waste management, building structure and enclosure, thermal and moisture control, plumbing appliances and mechanical selections. All told this project was awarded 165 total points. Anything over 150 is enough to garner five stars under the program. Webber attributes the winning of a five-star rating to the homeowner’s commitment to support the many options required. But a good bit of it goes back to a deep interest, in a geeky detailed way, on the part of the architect and contractor to see that all of the possible green features get added properly to a good solid design.
“The thing about green remodeling and sustainability is that a lot of it is not very glamorous. Most of it is very boring. There is a lot of technical stuff that architects and construction nerds really get into,” says Webber. “For example, we love engineered wood. As long as it does not have formaldehyde-based glues, we just love them because they are straight. They are clean. There’s not a lot of waste. So we use them everywhere in our projects.”
Looking at the bigger picture of competing green standards, Webber is less concerned about possible moving in the wrong direction on green. He encourages others to jump in and that over the long-term, programs that call for a decent amount of green rigor, like the one in Austin, will ultimately find ways to merge or develop reciprocity with the emerging national programs.
“We were doing green building as thoughtfully and as resource-efficient as we could before we ever thought of calling them green,” says Webber. “It goes to the point that the overall goal is to be careful and thoughtful about the way we build, and if you are, you are probably already involved in green and sustainable building.”
Roofing: Prefinished, standing-seam metal roofing
Siding: James Hardie fiber cement
Siding: Cypress (regional material) rainscreen siding (on remodel)
Windows: Marvin Integrity
Doors: Marvin Integrity
HVAC: Trane 17.25 SEER
Flooring: Pecan (local hardwood) downstairs, vertical cut bamboo flooring (upstairs)
Cabinets: Custom kitchen drawers and enclosures by Architect
Refrigerator: KitchenAid side-by-side refrigerator (Energy Star)
Kitchen sink: Elkay, LFGR-3322, self-rim, stainless steel
Kitchen faucet: Grohe “Lady Lux Plus,” chrome
Cooktop: Fisher & Paykel 36 in. GC912-SS
Range hood: Euro Kitchen Spana Vetro 36-in. hood with remote blower
Dishwasher: KitchenAid I-Series, stainless steel (Energy Star)
Oven: KitchenAid I-Series, 30-in. thermal oven KEBC101KSS (Energy Star)
Wine chiller: KitchenAid – undercounter, stainless steel KUWS24RSBS (Energy Star)
Shower valve: Kohler “Stillness,” polished chrome
Toilets: Toto “Aqua” dual-flush
Light fixtures: Kichler “Well lights”; BEGA, exterior lights