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Best Green Houses:

An Integrated Team Achieves Sustainability Without A Surcharge

Paul McKeever
Savannah, Georgia

David Sokol
January 2014
Photo © Angela Hopper Photography

Old adages die hard, or so Tommy Linstroth has found. The former developer and current principal of Savannah-based Trident Sustainability Group has interacted with eco-enthusiasts running the gamut from individual homeowners to Fortune 500 executives (whom Trident advises on LEED certification and organizational sustainability, respectively). All expect to pay a premium for going green. “I really wanted to demonstrate what could be done when you get down to fundamentals,” Linstroth says, and the almost-year-old nest he built for his family helps banish sustainability’s luxury reputation. This first LEED Platinum–certified single-family home in Savannah was constructed for $150 per square foot.

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The site is a double lot, rare for Savannah, and it allowed Linstroth to indulge his preference for modern construction over rehabilitation. Yet the property’s location in the Victorian Historic District demanded exercising sympathy to local heritage, too. “Because this block contains century-old houses clad in brick to siding to stucco, we weren’t required to rigidly follow an aesthetic. But in terms of height, mass, and window alignment, it had to fit in,” Linstroth says.  

Other restrictions were self-imposed. One of the two lots was to remain open as a yard completed mostly in edible landscaping, and mature oak and sycamore trees in the front and rear had to stay put. Linstroth also had some firm ideas for building systems, even if they demanded a little extra cash. “I didn’t want to regret decisions about efficiency and comfort,” he says. So LED lighting, spray-foam insulation, and a 20 SEER variable speed heat pump paired with energy recovery ventilation all were necessities, “and the rest of the house would shake out from there.”

Local architect and longtime friend Paul McKeever designed the 1,988-square-foot residence according to these criteria. “Paul was able to articulate the concepts I had in mind, not to mention make sure everything I wanted could fit within four walls,” Linstroth chuckles. Because site-related parameters like tree position and historic setback forced configuring the house along a north–south axis, McKeever minimized west-facing glazing, maximized the low-E windows and doors on the north and south sides, and shaded openings on the east elevation. 

To harmonize with the urban fabric, Norman brick and tongue-and-groove wood siding offer a sleeker take on traditional local materials. McKeever notes that he also employed a side-hall plan with 2-story bay window to achieve more commonality with the adjacent rowhouses, while also taking advantage of vernacular passive-design strategies like covered porches and daylight harvesting via transom.

Linstroth’s must-haves demanded some compromises elsewhere. A crawl space was nixed from the original design, thereby removing a whole underside of the house to insulate; thereafter, the concrete slab foundation was stained to eliminate flooring costs on the lower level. A custom kitchen became an Ikea kitchen. Instead of brick and wood, Hardi Board clads exterior elevations less visible from the street. 

Working with contractor R. Peacock Construction, another colleague of many years, Linstroth and McKeever figured on further, small adaptations that added up to big savings. A 4-inch recessed reveal characterized the first floor of the house, but not its second. Cheaper-than-budgeted LEDs were sitting on the shelves of Home Depot. And by requesting competing bids from subcontractors, the team saved 30 percent on open-cell foam to spray into the 2-by-6 framing, and fabricated a floating stair for a third of its estimated price. A rainwater cistern is on hold, meanwhile. It may be added at the same time Linstroth expands his 3-kilowatt rooftop photovoltaic array, for which R. Peacock already flashed in additional brackets to avoid future penetrations. 

The sacrifices are minor, and they certainly have no bearing on first impressions. “We’ve hosted some tours, and people walk in and immediately see and feel a difference,” Linstroth says. While visitors are also immediately wowed by the news that last summer’s utility bills averaged only $100 per month, their host wants them to think long and hard about the prejudices they may hold against sustainability. “You give me any budget, and we’ll give you a green building. You can’t always have everything, and here are the tradeoffs we made.”

 

 

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