You may remember Dr. Seuss’ legendary tree-protector and earth-lover, the Lorax. Five years ago, Mike Kerwin, Pat Loughran, and Joel Micucci founded Lorax Development with a Seussian mission “to build environmentally responsible homes with renewable materials, energy efficient systems, and smart technologies.” Today, they are doing just that.
At West Coast Green, we were lucky enough to be invited on an exclusive tour of a Lorax home that has been dubbed “the greenest home in San Francisco.” With the increasingly reckless use of the term “green” to make things more marketable, you might suspect this is just eco-hype, but there’s no greenwash on the Clipper Street Residence. This is smart, ecological design taken mainstream and modern.
Just imagine a home for a family of five with all the amenities one could ask for: integrated wiring, gourmet kitchen, radiant heated floors, wine cellar, and spacious rooms totaling 2600 square feet — all under one 18’ x 50’ roof that produces more electric energy from the sun than is needed, and harvests enough rain water to flush toilets, wash clothing, and irrigate the garden.
Lorax estimates that the Clipper Residence payback for the solar power system is just 6-7 years. With rising utility costs and the demand for solar power increasing, the payback time will likely decrease further. This year, the roof harvested about 28,000 gallons of water, and currently has about 2000 gallons left as we approach winter.
In addition to showcasing many of the materials described in Green Building 101 Materials and Resources, the Clipper Residence was thoughtfully designed to feel open and gracious, despite its narrow 19’ wide lot size. The 9’ and 14’ tall ceilings and open stair and hall make the rooms feel larger than their footprint.
Thoughtful planning also went into the three rather large rain catchment cisterns hidden from view, beneath the Trex deck off the lower family room. The walls are insulated with Ultratouch cotton fiber insulation (basically recycled blue jeans) and the foundation has 40% flyash cement substitute.
The many built-ins from Zwanette Cabinetry are all FSC certified woods with formaldehyde-free substrates. The family room bookcases have an Ecoresin backing along the stair, backlit from skylights above to further lighten up the space.
The floors are TerraMai reclaimed Teak from 100-year old railroad ties imported from South East Asia. A TerraMai representative at the house explained that with the help of Pink Floyd played loudly, they ‘hammered square pegs into round holes’ to smooth over the scars left by the iron ties. The result is a one-of-a-kind spectacular array of rich wood tones, durable enough for many generations of family wear. In addition to the teak flooring, the upstairs bedrooms have hemp carpets and Warmboard radiant heating to combat San Francisco’s colder days.
West Coast Green had another trend among its learning sessions: the ever evolving ‘green building incentives’ of LEED certification at the municipal level. Mike Kerwin of Lorax remembers the tedious process of getting the SF building department to accept the first ever residential rain catchment system. It involved bringing a representative from Wonderwater, Inc. to the building department to convince the City to issue an $18,000 variance for the new system.
Times are changing, but City Building Departments are generally slow to accept new technologies. Nevertheless, extra effort and upfront costs don’t change the fact that the payback is profitable.
The U.S. Green Building Council estimates that “an upfront investment of 2 percent in green building design, on average, results in life cycle savings of 20 percent of the total construction costs — more than 10 times the initial investment.” Stats like that should speak for themselves; but if that’s not enough, seeing a house as beautiful as the Clipper residence, which has been gracefully slotted into a tight urban lot and greened inside and out, could make any doubter start spreading the gospel of the Lorax.