YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Living green, by design

One home is cost-effective; one is opulent. Both are eco-friendly.

July 29, 2007|Abigail Goldman | Times Staff Writer

DONNA SIDER painstakingly renovated her 1,000-square-foot Pasadena home to be more energy-efficient as a way to save money and help the environment at the same time.

Jeffrey Eyster built an eco-friendly, 2,200-square-foot dream house in the hills above Laurel Canyon, in tune with his appreciation of fine architecture, superior materials and healthful living.

Eyster's home demonstrates that luxury and cutting-edge design can be integral to environmental construction.

Sider's is proof that going green doesn't require a lot of gold. Their efforts can serve as examples to homeowners who want to fight global warming or trim their household expenses, or both. And the payoffs in both areas are substantial, environmental leaders say.

"Forty percent of America's carbon emissions comes from buildings -- almost half -- and utility bills are a major factor in household bankruptcy," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "You can reduce your utility bill by 50% or 60% relatively easily. That's one-fifth of the total carbon emissions today. It's a huge part of what we have to do."

Making those eco-friendly changes at home has become simpler and more affordable.

"Five years ago, the environmentally healthier or higher-performing building materials and products were harder to find. It was still a niche market, and they were more expensive," said Charles Lockwood, a Santa Monica-based environmental real estate consultant. "Now, you see Home Depot offering eco-options.

"This brings it down to everyday Americans. You don't have to go to a special place to find it. It's right there and at a good price."

Home builders and buyers also have a better way of identifying environmentally friendly homes, thanks to the U.S. Green Building Council's seal of approval.

The group's residential Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System will be formally launched this fall after a two-year pilot program. It was designed to encourage builders to keep the costs of green homes similar to those of traditional new houses, the council said.

To get the group's most basic certification, a builder would have to spend about 3% more, or $10,000 on a $300,000 home, the national average price for a new house. Amortized over a 30-year mortgage, that extra $70 a month is easily made up in energy savings, said Jay Hall, acting director of the homes program.

"If they cost the same on a monthly basis, which one would you rather have?" Hall asked.

Sider already has answered that one. "I wanted to be a part of doing what I could in my own home to make these changes," she said.

Sider's long road to transforming her two-bedroom home began shortly after she bought it in 1999. With a limited budget, the 49-year-old registered nurse saved up and attacked her projects as she could afford them, doing much of the work herself and enlisting the aid of friends and family.

When she began her energy-saving projects, she paid about $200 every two months for water and power. When she finished, this summer, her bill had dropped to about $60.

Eyster, a 36-year-old architect, became a green believer when he was evaluating the costs of building a home on a 5,700-square-foot lot just off Laurel Canyon Boulevard near the Mount Olympus neighborhood. His wife, real estate agent Alla Furman, bought the lot five years ago for $30,000.

Eyster opted to save money by constructing beams from small pieces of Douglas fir pasted together with environmentally friendly glue. The engineered wood was easily carried up the steep hill, unlike large, old-growth timber, which would have required a crane.

"It didn't start from a philosophical position," Eyster said. "It just made sense."

His bright and airy but compact house is all about making sense. The tiny 6-by-3-foot downstairs powder room with low-flow electric toilet maximizes space and water efficiency; LED track lamps throughout the house will last 40,000 hours, as opposed to old-style 2,000-to-5,000-hour bulbs.

By the time the couple and their two children moved in two months ago, the house's cost had swelled to about $1.2 million, financed with a $600,000 construction loan and round after round of refinancing to free up cash for the project.

"I feel better knowing that paying for building and installing green products leads to a healthier lifestyle for my family, the greater community and the environment," Eyster said.

Sider began her eco-renovation with the front yard. A landscape architect friend charged her a couple of hundred dollars to draw a plan that included adding more drought-tolerant plants and putting in trees to better shade the yard and the house.

Later, a landscaper added sod and sprinklers for a total cost of about $2,500

"Even that happened in stages, for affordability," she said.

Los Angeles Times Articles