In It's Not Easy Being Green, Curbed pulls back the curtain on cutting-edge, environmentally friendly design, from urban passive houses to green tweaks on suburban living. Have a suggestion for an upcoming column? Pass it along.
Nearly a decade ago, finance bigwigs Linda Yates and Paul Holland decided they were going to build from scratch a house that would meet their incredibly high (though amply funded) conservationist expectations—when construction ended in 2011, the net-zero-energy, zero-carbon emission spread just so happened to earn the highest LEED rating for a custom residence of its stature, allowing Tech Crunch to dub it "The Greenest Home in America." Holland and Yates wanted a place that went beyond energy independence, one "that fits seamlessly into the ecosystem, and restores the land as if it were 200 years ago," Yates says in the press release (PDF). The pair recruited HKS Hill Glazier Studio to build their 5,600-square-foot abode, which, until this year, reigned supreme in LEED ratings for a home of its size and budget. They called the project Tah.Mah.Lah., from the Native American Ohlone phrase for "mountain lion" and a nod to the project's reverence for the prehistory of the land.
To make the home not only passive (little impact) but actually restorative (positive impact) the firm brought on more than four dozen consultants—artists, engineers, energy specialists, wildlife biologists—to build a structure that "generates more energy than it uses, rebuilds habitat, saves and repurposes water, and reduces and reuses waste," per the release. It's a tall order, but even now, some seven years after initial research began, the place seems to deliver: the yard is irrigated with treated waste water and rain that's collected into a 50,000-gallon underground cistern, and most of the materials were salvaged, including the recycled steel roof, reused limestone fireplaces, and kitchen hood and hand railings swiped from a 102-year-old granary.
The structure itself is made of cedar "harvested from woodlands certified according to guidelines of the Forest Stewardship Council," while the wood floors were salvaged from old barns. What's more, there is no paint, ducts, or fossil fuels. Heat comes from geothermal energy—a system pumps water deep underground, where it's warmed by the Earth's thermal energy before being pushed back up to heat the floorboards. "Its not about a checklist; it's about changing the way we think from beginning to end and beyond," says Michael Booth, the interior architect for the project.
Outside: "sustainably built" pool, revitalized wetlands, and a willow-weed playhouse by Australian artist& and bona fide weed expert Patrick Dougherty. "Tah.Mah.Lah. is just a pebble in the pond that we hope creates a ripple," says Yates.
The house earned 122.5 points in the LEED for Homes rating system, garnering it a platinum rating, the highest. While recently ousted from the country's No. 1 spot, David DaPonte, one of the project's architects, says that if LEED didn't cap Innovation & Design (ID) Credits—"bonus points" that aren't explicit, like how Tah.Mah.Lah. uses no copper—at four, the project would have earned a whopping 153 points, blowing the competition out of the water. (The math is calculated as such: the home earned roughly 35 ID Credits but according to LEED stipulations only four were able to be counted in its overall score.) Per the release: "To be clear, the greenest dwelling place would be a tent or a yurt, but we feel it is equally important that we continue to have the gathering space to support causes and people who are making a difference in the world."