Once finished, the greenest home to be built in Santa Cruz will produce as much energy as it uses, if not more. Located on the sunny Westside at 325 John Street, the home complies with Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards—the absolute highest certification for green buildings. The LEED certification is based on a stringent rating system set by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization promoting sustainable design and construction (and the fastest-growing nonprofit since 2005).
It’s an extremely ambitious project with long-term benefits.
The green factor begins with the building materials, explains the project’s contractor, Pete Testorff of Testorff Construction, Inc.
Advanced framing techniques use 35 percent less wood (Forest Stewardship Council-certified, of course) than standard construction, and concrete floors polished to a sheen and inlaid with sea glass require extracting far less energy and resources than your typical wood or tiled floor.
“It seems sort of silly to be building something that’s a perfectly good floor just to put another floor over it. There’s just less embodied energy building the house,” says Testorff, using the term to describe fossil fuel energy that has gone into a piece of building material.
Solar panels installed by a local company, Solcon Solar Construction, will cover the surface of the south-facing roof to maximize energy absorption and convert sunlight to electricity. Testorff estimates the panels will produce 12.3 kilowatts, while average homes use about 3.7–5. kilowatts. A recent law requiring PG&E to buy back excess energy produced by homes means that the system will pay for itself in 12 years and start reaping benefits.
“Once we figured that out, we maximized the entire solar system,” says owner Marcus Pohlmann, who doesn’t yet know the exact PG&E rate, but estimates that it is between 8 and 30 cents a kilowatt/hour. The garage is also being wired to charge an electric car.
Two-thirds of the water used inside the house will be diverted from the sewer through a graywater system designed by the Oakland-based company Hyphae Design Laboratory, that filters it into the surrounding landscape. At the same time, an underground cistern will collect rainwater from the roof of the house and pipe it back into the household water supply.
Pohlmann moved to the area because of the more forward-thinking mentality, which he found less of while working as a developer in Ohio and the Midwest.
“I really believe that it’s the way it’s going to go for the future because utilities are so expensive and resources are getting rare,” says Pohlmann. For him, the most important component of a green house is location. “You can build green all you want and put panels on it and recapture the water and everything, but the one most important thing that makes a house green and cut down on the carbon footprint is the location. Here we can pretty much walk to get groceries, walk for entertainment, and get away from the lifestyle where you’re stuck in a car,” says Pohlmann. “In Ohio, we had a very green house but in the end we spent on average an hour and a half in the car driving around.”
Testorff estimates that the 3,200-square-foot project costs about $250 per square foot, while standard non-green construction is around $210-$220 per square foot.
“As a builder, I think it’s a completely admirable thing to do even when someone says maybe this won’t pencil out right away, or you could do it for cheaper. The green thing is not out of touch anymore. This is finding out where that price point is and finding out will people pay for this. I think yes, everyone is going to want this. It makes sense. It’s good for the planet,” says Testorff.