The Greenest Little House in America
It’s probably not what you think
Close your eyes and conjure up an image of what you think the most eco-friendly home in the country would look like. Do you imagine a foliage-covered bio-dome surrounded by photovoltaic solar arrays? Or an off-the-grid cob and straw hut nestled in the woods? Or do you think of a 1915 craftsman-style bungalow in the heart of Oakland, CA? One of these options seems like it couldn’t possibly be true, right? What does an old house have to do with being environmentally friendly? But when it’s the home of the founder of the US Green Building Council (USGBC), you probably wouldn’t expect anything less than the greenest home in America.
David Gottfried is a pioneer in the green movement in the US. He masterminded the LEED program – the set of standards for green building, founded the USGBC, the World Green Building Council, has recently written a book and has his own green building consulting firm. He’s basically the George Washington of eco-friendly construction. So you would think he would live in some exotic, high-tech home, high atop a pristine mountain. But instead he and his wife decided to buy an old fixer-upper at an auction and transform it into a green dream home.
The Gottfrieds, David and his wife Sara (a Harvard-educated doctor with a distinguished resume of her own), decided that they loved the Rockridge area of Oakland. They had lived there previously and loved the neighborhood. Coffee shops, a farmers market, local shops and a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station were all within walking distance of where they wanted to settle down. They found a little old house in the area that hadn’t been touched in over 60 years that was going to be sold at a public auction. They outbid the competition at the county courthouse and set out on an ambitious remodel.
The goals set forth by the Gottfrieds for this project were ambitious: to generate all electricity on site, make the home 70% more energy efficient, reduce water usage by half, eliminate construction waste, cut down on transportation by half, achieve green ratings and showcase the home to educate the public on how to build green.
A team of contractors was hired to assess the Gottfried home in order to make it a modern, livable space, but maintain its craftsman charm – basically turn it into a veritable stealth super-eco home. They removed interior walls to open up the choppy floor plan, extended the kitchen, made the enclosed porch into a mud room(WHAT IS A MUD ROOM???) and turned the basement and attic into livable spaces. They added cellulose wall insulation, low-e windows, locally-built green cabinets, water-efficient toilets and fixtures, a solar hot-water heater, photo voltaics, a gray-water system, pavers in the front to reduce runoff, a rainwater collection system (that feeds the toilets for flushing)… the list goes on. Also, they built a new, self-sustaining office in the back yard so David’s commute could be reduced to walking out the back door. This new office and the home’s proximity to the train station and local shopping contributed to their goal of reducing their personal transportation costs by half.
The end result was the highest LEED and GreenPoint rated home (its scores are about to be surpassed by a new-construction, luxury home in the same neighborhood). The Gottfried home scored an amazing 106.5 points on the LEED scale, 26.5 points more than what was required for the highest rating of Platinum and 179 points on the GreenPoint scale, which was the highest by 51 points. More importantly to the Gottfrieds, they had a showcase home that illustrated how other people could make their own homes greener.
Not everyone can afford all of the features put to use in the Gottfried home, as construction costs and the overall price of the renovation were not revealed, but even assuming this work was far from inexpensive, the Gottfrieds have shown that you don’t have to live in an exotic bio dome covered in foliage to have a super-eco home. And over time, as these techniques become more mainstream, green living at this level will become far more accessible to the average American family.