December 21, 2007
  Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth Helps Developer See Green
California spec house achieves LEED Platinum

by Heather Livingston
Contributing Editor

Summary: According to Melinda Gray, AIA, founder and principal of Gray Matters Architecture, it was Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth that led developer Tom Schey and his partner, environmentalist Kelly Meyer, to Project7ten. Named for its address, 710 Milwood Avenue in Venice, Calif., Project7ten is a 4,000-square-foot LEED® Platinum speculative house, with a detached garage on the alley and an office studio above.

Prior to Project7ten, Gray and Schey had worked together on other projects, including Schey’s residence and a solar village that’s located on the same street. “We had done quite a few spec houses by that time, and each one was sustainable in its design and materials.” But, she says: “It was after my developer client saw the Al Gore movie that he decided to make the commitment to go all the way with everything sustainable on the house.”

Varied and broad approach
One of the LEED for Homes pilot projects, Project7ten is one of only a handful of Platinum certified homes in the U.S. at this time. “It’s on a little lot in Venice … and very close to shops, public transportation, the beach—all those things that you get points for in the LEED rating system for making a more sustainable life when you can rely on public transportation and walk to school, the bank, and the post office. We were already doing all of that even before we knew that those were LEED points,” says Gray. Conceived in 2006 and completed October 8 of this year, Project7ten is the result of the design team’s dedication to creating a thoroughly sustainable speculative home.

To address the issue of energy conservation, Project7ten has an array of solar panels incorporated in the design of the house that will produce nearly all of its energy. The solar panels serve a dual purpose by also creating an overhang that will provide relief from the sun on hot days. Energy-efficient windows and Energy Star appliances and fixtures were installed throughout, and the team used radiant heating to warm the house, an approach that is highly efficient and significantly healthier than forced air. On sunny days, rooftop solar panels heat the water, while a second set of panels provides electricity to pump the warmed water throughout the house. In addition, a series of thermostatically controlled skylights open to allow hot air to escape when the house is warm and automatically close when the house is cool.

The team also showed a strong commitment to using recycled materials and recycling construction waste. Situated on an infill lot, the project required demolition and removal of the previous abode. During demolition, wood that had not been affected by termites was sent to Guadalajara for use in constructing homes for low-income families. The foundation slab also was removed and sent to a concrete recycling center. The new home was constructed using numerous recycled materials, including denim insulation as well as concrete with 30 percent fly ash.

As water conservation is increasingly a major concern throughout the country, all faucets are low flow and all toilets are dual flush. A graywater system was installed to filter and reuse water from the washing machine and showers for landscaping. Instead of installing an aboveground sprinkler, which loses a considerable amount of water to evaporation, a drip irrigation system was used. In addition, an underground cistern will collect and reuse 75 percent of the rainwater from the storm gutters for irrigation. Most of the landscaping plants are drought-tolerant and indigenous, and the hardscape is permeable so that rainfall stays on-site.

A cause célèbre
With Hollywood celebrities becoming increasingly vocal about sustainability, it’s small wonder that project7ten has become a fashionable cause. At the private opening party in October, celebrities, including Tobey Maguire, John Cusack, David Duchovny, and Pierce Brosnan, toured the home and toasted the possibilities. According to Schey, the home will be sold via an international Web auction hosted through eBay from December 15 through January 10. Schey also notes that the majority of the proceeds from Project7ten will be donated to Healthy Child Healthy World (HCHW), an organization that is dedicated to educating the public about environmental toxins that affect children’s health.

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