Making the great room and other rooms cozy are Energy Star-rated gas fireplaces, creating a zoned heating arrangement. In fact, there are five gas fireplaces located throughout the house. “We actually reduced our gas bill because, rather than turning on the central heating, we turn on the gas appliance where we’re sitting and within five minutes it heats up the space and we turn it off; we’re not heating up the other square footage,” Harrell says. The zoned heating decreased gas usage considerably, enough that Harrell received a rebate from the local utility, she notes, adding that upgraded insulation was also a factor in the energy savings.
One needn’t go far to discover additional green and accessibility features. The kitchen was designed specifically to accommodate the needs and different cooking styles of two cooks. Two smaller refrigerators replaced a single larger model. A two-drawer dishwasher allows the user to load the upper drawer without bending over and allows smaller loads to be done, saving water and energy. Aisles are wide, and appliance and counter heights are varied for accessibility in the seating and cooking areas.
Another example of the array of features to be found in every room is the guest bathroom, which features a 60-inch space to accommodate a wheelchair turning radius, curbless shower and motorized lift to adjust the height of the vanity from 30 to 34 inches. Different-size floor tiles delineate the shower floor from the floor in the rest of the bathroom. A hands-free faucet reduces water use, and the low-voltage electric radiant-heated tile floor is controlled by a timer. Lighting is controlled by an occupancy sensor, a requirement per California Title 24. Grab bars adjacent to the toilet are discreetly concealed by a short wall next to the vanity.
The home has a host of universal design features that have been subtly, and as a matter of course, integrated into the design. “Universal design; green; long-term, low-maintenance products; and planning are so much a part of our DNA that’s it’s all one with us,” Harrell says. “And I think it is the future. Think about the Baby Boomers who say they’re absolutely not going to leave their houses.” She explains that although clients may not ask about universal design and low-maintenance products, “we know they’re going to need them, and a good designer has to anticipate [those needs] and bring it up as an option.
“It’s better to [install universal-design features and low-maintenance products] now and be prepared than do it later, when it’s inconvenient, when you need it immediately and when maybe you don’t have the resources. In the long run, spending the money upfront for energy efficiency and accessibility saves money,” she continues.
“Homeowners don’t think about green as something that’s attractive or sexy. They think it costs more, and that is a myth, “Harrell says. She points out during the initial remodel of her home in 1992, she specified engineered hardwood flooring that had enough thickness so it could be refinished. “It’s greener—and less expensive—to refinish something than to take it out and put something else in,” she says, “although I wasn’t thinking about ‘green’ as a word in 1992. It’s just part of my thinking from when I grew up on a farm in North Carolina.”
These days, green is much more than a word for Harrell. Oakland, Calif.-based Build It Green, a nonprofit organization that promotes energy- and resource-efficient homes in California, meets at Harrell Remodeling’s Mountain View office once a month. “There are things we can all learn to do better no matter what level of green we’re at,” Harrell says.
Keen on the need to keep abreast of changes, Harrell is nevertheless cautious about being on what she calls the bleeding edge of green versus the leading edge of the movement. Being on the bleeding edge of green means one is a beta tester for new products, she explains. “We want our clients to be on the leading edge without being on the bleeding edge; we want to be second or third, not the first. I want to know how it works, whether it has lasted and whether it has been problematic. There are some new products and techniques we haven’t embraced yet because we are waiting for the data,” Harrell says.
Harrell’s feelings about the relationship between universal design and green are further summed up by the term “forever home,” a term she uses in the title of her book.
“We came up with the expression ‘forever home’ because we felt it was the best description of what people say they want. To be a forever home it has to include universal and green,” Harrell says.