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La Jolla Shores Home Earns LEED Certification for Green Design [Photos]

It took three years to bring the minimalist home from blueprints to completion for homeowners Jill and Jack Nooren who pursued the highest levels of environmental design, water efficiency, and energy usage.

Submitted photo.
Submitted photo.

Written by Jan Percival/Scribe Communications


Passersby ogle regularly at the new custom home on Calle de la Plata, but it is unlikely they realize they are looking at the third home in La Jolla to achieve the highest possible rating in the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program.

While they may notice that a trellis on the patio actually supports photovoltaic arrays or that a bi-folding wall of windows opens to capture the coastal breeze, they can’t see the full LED lighting system, recycled fly ash in the concrete or the solar thermal system that not only cuts down on utility bills but also heats the floors. Nor do they realize the ultimate cost savings in a LEED design.

Built by Hill Construction Company and designed by domusstudio architecture, the home was recently certified as a Platinum LEED project by the U.S. Green Building Council which provides third-party verification of green building. The LEED certification, recently celebrated by the homeowners, architects, builders and neighbors, doesn’t come easily, noted Hill Construction’s Joe Diasparra.

“There is a series of criteria that must be met to certify a home through LEED,” said Diasparra. “Submittal documents must be reviewed and there must be at least three visits by an official LEED ‘green rater’ during the construction process.”

It took three years to bring the minimalist home from blueprints to completion for homeowners Jill and Jack Nooren who pursued the highest levels of environmental design, water efficiency, and energy usage.

Not only is the four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath home a trendsetter on the energy front, it won a 2013 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Merit Award for its “classic mild-climate approach that seamlessly meshes outdoor and indoor spaces that fold into each other ... the entire project delivers big impact in a very tight package.”

“When we moved to California in 2008, we looked for ways to become better stewards of the environment, such as downsizing our living space to avoid wasting resources,” said homeowner Jill Nooren, a singer-songwriter who teaches music at Kate Sessions Elementary School. “We’ve always been intrigued by the idea of building a home that is truly sustainable, so when we bought this property five years ago, we committed ourselves to building a LEED-certified home.”

In addition to Jill’s creativity and vision, her husband, Jack, contributed his expertise in real estate and development to the planning process. The pair hired David Keitel of San Diego-based domusstudio architecture and Hill’s Diasparra, respectively, to design and build their new LEED home.

“The Nooren’s commitment to live in a sustainable home drove most of the design solutions,” said David Keitel, senior associate at domusstudio architecture, who started work on the project in August 2010.

Situated on the corner of Calle de la Plata and Paseo Dorado, the lot presented an opportunity to combine efficiency with aesthetics for power generation.  “Typically the photovoltaic panels are just an add-on to the roof, but here we used them as a trellis to provide filtered natural light” said Keitel.

In the end, the team was able to meet 30 percent to 40 percent of the family’s power needs through the 2.2KW of renewable energy the system produces and the use of Energy Star-rated appliances, ceiling fans, and LED fixtures. Since they moved in, the Nooren’s electric bill has averaged about $36 a month.

Part of the challenge was fitting a 2,350-square-foot home on the 5,000-square foot lot and steering the design through the La Jolla community’s planning process.

“The domusstudio team designed a great room concept with a wall of glass that completely opens up to a seamless expanse of indoor/outdoor living space,” said Jill Nooren. “All that space in one large room makes the house feel cozy and comforting despite the fact that the architecture is ultra modern. It was a brilliant solution.”

During construction, Nooren updated friends and neighbors via Facebook, keeping them informed with news and photos about details such as the groundbreaking and installation of geo grids in the foundation and the radiant heated floors “that will keep our toes toasty during the winter months.”

Every energy-saving and resource reuse detail was considered: Drywall used is made of recycled materials and  100-year-old redwood from a demolished Temecula water tower was replaned, remilled and refinished for an upstairs bridge. A 100-gallon hot water tank fed by the solar thermal system provides about 60 percent of the family’s hot water – and heats the floors.

The Noorens, Diasparra and Keitel met weekly during the project, looking at options and issues as they arose, and the LEED homes rater was kept informed through email and weekly conference calls.

“We made the decisions together,” Diasparra said, adding that the collaboration resulted in a home filled with “wow” factors as well as one that paid immediate benefits for the homeowners.

“People too often think that building a LEED-certified home adds to the price of the project,” he said. “But in reality the efficiencies implemented through building a LEED home result in cost savings in the building process for both the builder and homeowner.”

By using studs on 19.5-inch centers instead of the traditional 16 inches they were able to use less wood to frame the house, requiring less material. They also were able to be very specific on materials ordered, cutting waste by 10 percent.

Not to be overlooked are the federal tax rebates for an energy efficient home, which Diasparra said will amount to $8,000 to $10,000 for the Noorens this year.

Reflecting on the process of building the award-winning La Jolla Shores home, he said, “People shouldn’t shy away from building a LEED home. If they engage the design team and the builder as early as possible in the project, the payoffs are worth the investment on the front end.”

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