Real Estate

Creating a really green home

Giving new meaning to 'reuse, reduce, recycle'

It's no surprise that Tom and Darlene McCalmont are passionate about the environment. But, a year after selling their company, Regrid Power, and starting McCalmont Engineering, which designs solar-power plants, the couple has finally moved back into their now very energy-efficient, sustainably rebuilt Palo Alto home.

The McCalmonts bought their Barron Park home in 2004, after attending social events there for years.

"I had such good memories of this house," Tom says, while acknowledging it was in terrible shape. "All the systems were starting to fail," from electrical to plumbing.

They lived there for three years before making significant changes.

"We liked the karma," Tom says, noting that the owner did a good job capturing sunlight. As "solar, green people," Tom says their goal was to keep close to the original character while updating.

But while the couple knew tons about solar, they weren't as knowledgeable about green.

"Everybody talks green, but few know what to do. We wanted to learn ourselves," he says.

It took awhile to find the right contractor, who agreed to accept their guidelines:

1) deconstruct, re-use as much as possible;

2) keep the walls where they are; re-use foundation;

3) keep as many windows and doors as possible.

"We wanted the ultimate house to use no fossil fuels, no natural gas," Tom says. Today even the two eco-fireplaces burn alcohol, an easily replaceable fuel.

"Our architect had a nice sense of style, but he was too modern," Tom adds, so they turned to Sue Harrison and Heidi Lane of Vision Design in San Jose to do the finish work.

Much of the framing, including studs and rafters, was re-used. The original old-growth redwood siding was stripped and re-used in the interior. The old Sheetrock was ground up for re-use; nails were sent to a steel recycler. Appliances, fixtures and cabinets went to The Reuse People in Berkeley.

"Some waste is unavoidable," Tom says, but while a typical project might require 11 Dumpsters, theirs only needed three.

"And deconstruction added about six weeks to the time," Darlene adds.

Every decision was made based on what green products were available. Instead of using a gas water heater, the McCalmonts opted for two electric, tankless "instant on" units. For insulation, they chose foam ("It's warm, quiet," Tom says), as well as some recycled blue-jean material that deadens sound between bedrooms.

All appliances are EnergyStar-rated, and the wood is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified. And, all paint is low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compound), with the exterior pale gray made of recycled paint. Flooring is mostly bamboo, carmelized to resemble dark wood.

The great room/kitchen was once mainly the old garage, but termite damage and a weak foundation forced them to tear it down. Today it features a cathedral ceiling with a large beam wrapped in a redwood veneer. A large island is topped by IceStone, made of recycled glass and concrete.

Cabinets are made of alder, and most of the lighting is from recessed LEDs in ceiling cans. More light streams in through skylights, offering both natural light and better airflow, Tom says.

The kitchen features a GE Monogram induction cooktop plus a combination microwave/convection/broiler/bake GE Advantium oven and a second conventional/convection oven.

Darlene, who's been known to bake 800 cookies at Christmastime, reports that the convection oven allows her to put in three cookie sheets at once, cutting baking time by at least one-third.

Push-out metal trash chutes lead to recycling and trash cans outside.

The home is heated via an energy-efficient heat pump.

"We had a perfect roof for solar," Tom says, with very few panels visible from the street. A heat-recovery ventilator exchanges air but retains the warmth, he adds.

A half-bath uses one of the few stone counters, but it was made from a remnant, what Tom calls "post-industrial waste." A bigger challenge was finding a reasonably priced bowl sink made of recycled glass.

"We didn't get the $3,000 bowl," Darlene says.

Although the flooring looks like slate, it's actually ceramic tile and functions as a passive solar area in the hallway.

One bedroom functions as a home office for both McCalmonts, since they work at home. Each has a fold-up desk, and a wall bed sits in the middle, courtesy of Valet Organizers.

For privacy, they added a turn into the master bedroom suite, which features more exposed ceiling beams with redwood veneer. The well-organized closet, again by Valet Organizers, includes a built-in ironing board, a retractable rod for dry cleaning, built-in hamper and skylights.

"This was our indulgent bathroom," Darlene says of the master bathroom. The counter is made of Vetrazzo recycled glass, and the ceramic floor (Casa Dolce Casa) is heated. Design elements include a tile pattern resembling a flow of rocks and glass-brick windows in the double shower, while practical touches include a seat in the middle and a wall niche for sundries. An exterior door leads right outside to the hot tub.

Much of the house is oriented to the back yard, with LaCantina architectural folding glass doors leading out to the patio, which is made of stamped concrete that resembles slate. The fence is made of FSC-certified cedar.

The McCalmonts had their Prius hybrid re-fitted as a plug-in electric vehicle, and they've pre-wired their garage for future all-electric vehicles.

"We made decisions based on long-term use," Tom adds.

The McCalmonts' home was featured on the 2009 Build It Green Tour and recently earned 188 green points.

"You only need 50 to be considered green," Tom says.

Resources:

Building contractor: Peter Lyon, Campbell, 408-871-8665

Interior designer: Sue Harrison, Heidi Lane, Vision Design, San Jose, 408-590-1499,

Goal of project:

Remodel and update using green materials; deconstruct and re-use materials

Unexpected problems:

Needed to replace foundation in one room

Year house built:

1951

Size of home, lot:

Added 300 sq ft to 2,600-sq-ft house on 0.25 acre

Time to complete:

20 months

Budget:

About $350/sq ft

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