LEED is Alive and Well!

Although I am never one to pass up any excuse to jump on a Showhouse caravan, after all any invitation to get into rich peoples'  houses is better  than not being invited at all, I managed to surprise both myself and my husband at just how motivated I was to check out the City of Santa Monica's annual LEED Platinum Home open house.  My interest was co-generated  (yes, pun intended) by some urge to validate my green design choices from a decade old renovation and my husband's seemingly ambivalent  feelings toward the LEED designation to whose birth he bore witness to when he was a real-estate-finance-environmental hybrid business man learning about The Cause while hanging out on the board at the U.S. Green Building Council.  

 Central Station LEED Certification
photo via Eridony


Because by now, a mere 10 years later,  the acronym LEED was everywhere! LEED certified homes, architects and materials.  LEED which stands for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design " was the first well known and accepted designation for buildings to return a more energy efficient foundation as a primal source of shelter.  Architecturally honest function within form, building or renovating a property to achieve any level of a LEED certification, acknowledged the challenge of incorporating the contradiction of conservation efficiency with the usually outrageously  expensive design innovations.  In other words, years ago, when I looked into making my suburban tract home just a little greener, I found out I had neither enough style nor money to be either cool or passively  cooled.


There were five houses open to the public– Dan nixed the first address, it was across the highway and through the the traffic and too far and decided again the second address, grumbling something incoherent along the lines of "I know that development, it will make me sad…" very well meaning that when you've spent 35  years in the real estate business you know some of these innovative developments and all of the national projects inside and out, gossip and truth as you would understand and follow and root for the children who've grown up with your children. Sad?  How could anyone be sad of the first day of Spring in Santa Monica California– so blithely crossing off the first address and done.  Next up The Moss Residence.

My first impression was that the front was beautifully landscaped with simple yet identifiable native plantings as a very informative and chatty docent nabbed us in the front hall of a compact cottage.  As this was a renovation with the original house footprint intact, the first upgrade had to do with the recessed lighting and because the bamboo floors did not  seem to absorb sound as much I would have liked, I couldn't quite figure out what was so special about the lights.   

Australian Chestnut Heirloom Flooring
photo via ecotimberflooring
They looked like regular can lights, dimmable and cool to the touch with little golden chips in the center. Always instantly attracted, as Dan liked to point out, to anything shiny and/or gold, I asked why the lights were so special, the docent eager to participate, rained numbers and facts and way too much information about their specialness which seemed to excite everyone else but failed to explain what was up with the chip. The greeness of my greenes apparent , I pretended to have an a-ha moment and let myself be swept along to see the rest of the house.

 

Up through what I used to call an enclosed circular staircase but is now called a cooling chimney, we stepped outside onto the master bedroom patio and looked up at the roof-line, where I did in fact have a real a-ha moment and didn't have to fake it.  Instead of re-tiling a regular cross-gabled roof, the roof had been rebuilt and slanted toward the southeast at the perfect pitch to then install solar panels.  Maybe it was a little A-frame 70's looking, but it was clear that the panels would synthesized well with the structure and in my mind, planning ahead for the day when you could afford an expensive green upgrade finally made LEED goals achievable and believable.  The rest of the house, including the kitchen, presented  all the top 10 green features hits:  sleek packaging efficient Ikea cabinets, Ceasar Stone recycled glass counters as well as farmed Brazillian hardwood to name a few.  The owner/architect Kyle Alastair Moss had a clean minimalist aesthetic that framed out some impressive stand-alone antiques and oil landscapes creating a very warm though contemporary and undeniably LEED family home. Dan thought it was nice and wished our house could look as uncluttered.


At the second house announced unapologetic function upon your arrival by incorporating stylish poured cement vegetable planters for the front yard landscaping.  The owner, architect and mechanical engineer, Glen Boldt was in attendance to point out the original 1926 cottage featured thick walls and strategically placed windows to allow maximum light and air flow, proving once again that before air conditioning was invented, air managed to flow and condition itself just fine.  A recent add-on extended the floor plan toward the back.  It had everything the Moss house had, including but not limited to gold chipped light bulbs and an extensive variety of reclaimed woods from every sort of forest imaginable.
 


photo via treehugger
Boldt also managed to reveal  a very playful side of mechanical engineering with a wide assortment of flooring and wall materials including mdf tiles on the floor for a boys room, polygal opaque plastic up the stairwell and some kind siding panels inside and out whose name I couldn't pronounce and was un- 
Googable but very cool looking.  He also incorporated Thermalcore board, a very snazzy looking gypsum board where the wax in the middle melts and hardens to retain or release heat as needed.  Of course there is more to it, but all it did was remind me of how much time and money it took to get an active beehive out of our wall when had I known I was such a green innovator I could have applied for LEEDS certification on that alone.


Boldt also managed to reveal  a very playful side of mechanical engineering with a wide assortment of flooring and wall materials including mdf tiles on the floor for a boys room, polygal opaque plastic up the stairwell and some kind siding panels inside and out whose name I couldn't pronounce and was un- 
Googable but very cool looking.  He also incorporated Thermalcore board, a very snazzy looking gypsum board where the wax in the middle melts and hardens to retain or release heat as needed.  Of course there is more to it, but all it did was remind me of how much time and money it took to get an active beehive out of our wall when had I known I was such a green innovator I could have applied for LEEDS certification on that alone.


As a woman surrounded by three sons and a husband, I was almost embarrassingly interested in the new toilets with dual flush systems. A  divided tank enables the user to choose the appropriate amount of water you need to either  just rinse out the bowl or power wash content through the pipes.  I was willing to wait to see if test drives were going to be offered but Dan was already out the door and getting his shoes back on. Although in a slightly better mood, he insisted on remaining unmoved by what I saw as great "movement"  in the progress and innovation of green active systems.  "Renovations are hard especially when you have to preserve some historical context– you are always compromising." 

 

cobblestone
photo via Billy A Chant
In fact his interest is not even remotely sustainable, until we approach the third property, which we had been warned, was still under construction and we would have to sign waivers to enter.  Green as dangerous was slightly thrilling and we tread carefully over reclaimed concrete slabs positioned but not yet cemented into a cobble design pathway.  And there, built from the ground up, the whole plan unfolded in a way that God's great mysteries never will.  Designed for LEED Platinum certification,  every macro idea of active and passive systems were incorporated, any mundane detail  was considered.  The Kanok house was positioned in staggered cubes to maximize ocean breeze airflow and sun light, with a water cistern  for storm water management, rain water harvesting and the utilization of potable water for the minimal landscape requirements.  Like one of those old progressive game shows, this house had everything before and more and then added some extras: cooling chimneys, many slanted & whitened roofs, thicker framed dual paned windows, reclaimed cabinets, re-used floors, water stingy faucets.  The gem in the crown, the king of the hill, the piece de resistance or what I like to call, the "primo de poo-poo", afforded only by the luxury of much money and the opportunity of a ground-up construction was what we thought was 2×6 construction.


My husband was intrigued.  We had not seen walls that thick since viewing a custom home in Las Vegas 20 years ago.  The insulation qualities of thick walls is basic and well known whether it is filled with pink fiberglass stuff or bales of hay.  Having been only slightly humiliated by still not understanding why the gold chip light bulbs were of course in abundance everywhere, and basically wanting to show off, I knowingly asked the construction manager about the wink, wink 2bysixer walls, and to my crossed-eyed total humiliation, the answer was: no way is it 2×6, 2×4 or any regular construction! And with that he pointed to a stack of 3 gray looking t-rails positioned like a modern sculpture in the breakfast nook. Apex blocks.  80% polystyrene, those little styrofloam-like bubbles , 20% old fashioned cement they each weighed less than 50 lbs and looked more like dappled castle paper mache blocks for a school play.  A little Hollywood theatrical ingenuity finally triumphs! 

Not only is the polystyrene reclaimed and kept from the landfill, it provides a 4 hour fire wall for us Scarecrow Californians who are silly afraid of fire storms, as well as providing the scratch coat or first layer for both sides as a stucco exterior or a plaster interior.  Of course with a little pigment and a glass of wine, you can pretty much swirl and burnish a Venetian LEED Palazzo in no time.  Passing a young LEED architect coming up the cooling chimney, I asked her what was it that she thought made the LEED movement so accessible?  The fact that the materials were more attractive or they were the returns on construction finally were so much greater?  And she answered all of the above and the fact that materials were more widely available– that the average DIY can now green-up their environment at Home Depot.  Oh yes, and by the way, the nice LEED architect finally explained the gold chip IS the lightbulb, or more correctly the LED light source– that small and able to withstand 10,000 cycles and also readily available to anyone with electricty.

So while Dan is clearly impressed with the Apex blocks and I am certain my house is right in there with if not a full LEED certification, at least qualifies for a hearty green pat on the back, he is not giving one inch to LEED worship and LEED mutual recognition society, he finally fesses up, reminding me of his recent visit to the Rocky Mountain Institute: "These houses are all in a very favorable climate zone; try a house built into the side of a mountain to withstand extreme temperature fluctuations with less then 4cm of underuitlized space in 2000 square feet, that has a biosphere of a tropical forest integrated as part of the air "conditioning." 

Box Boy
photo via steev1976
All the stove tops were gas, they should be radiant heat.  All the low-flow toilets, especially in a boy's bathroom should have been no-flow urinals and…" pausing for maximum effect to invoke an Amory Lovins-ism: "'if people where meant to live in boxes, we would all have square edges.'   These green homes are all in their teenager years– very excited by their future and destiny but still very concerned with how they look, as in does this system make me look greener?



How the LEED movement matures, hopefully into something non-exceptional, so pedestrian that it is an every day given that it is a given that a pretty house can be comfortable and energy efficient and that it is no big deal — that is when I will belly-bump and high five and chortle to your heart's content.  Until then there is a lot more work to be done."

Well one thing is for certain, I'm not inviting him to go with me for a lovely afternoon out at the Pasadena Showhouse this year because frankly, I don't think there are enough urinals in all of sunny California to make him happy. 

Learn more about Allisyn & Become part of the community & learn more by visiting The Climate Community

Related posts:

Sophia Bush & Austin Nichols - Young, Famous & Eco-conscious
Andy Griffith dies at age 86
Homemade Insect Repellent using Essential Oils

13 Comments