Nestled in the hills of Mill Valley, California, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, this spectacular custom home has just received certification as the first LEED for Homes Platinum custom home in Marin County, and one of only a handful in Northern California.
The LEED for Homes rating system, administered by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), is the nationally recognized standard for the design and construction of high-performance green homes, and a platinum ranking establishes this home at the pinnacle of sustainable design and construction practices.
Designed by San Francisco-based SB Architects, an international firm well-known for the design of site-sensitive resort and mixed-use projects around the world, and built by well-known green builder McDonald Construction & Development, this project represents a unique approach to the design process. In a truly collaborative effort, a visionary team of sustainable designers, product manufacturers, local craftsmen and community members worked hand-in-hand to bring this first-of-its-kind project to Marin County. Scott Lee, President and Principal of SB Architects, designed this home as his own residence and, in the process, produced a definitive statement of what is possible in combining high design with high sustainability.
"When I met Mike McDonald, there was an instant understanding that, between us, we could work together to move the process of designing and developing a sustainable home to a new level. By pulling together an outstanding group of partner companies, we were able to work together to push the envelope of what is possible," declares Lee. "Most of the sustainable solutions were carefully planned, but some came about simply through the synergies created by bringing all of these innovative designers, suppliers and artisans together with a singular mission."
Carefully carved into steep hillside, and set amid towering oaks, this house is first and foremost a response to the site. "An authentic response deeply rooted in the site is absolutely the first step in sustainable design for any type of project," says Lee. The four-story home steps back into the hillside, working its way around the trees, driven by the views, and defined by the intimate relationship between indoors and out. Private and living zones are set on their own floors, every space has its own private terrace, and every window embraces views of the surrounding trees or the San Francisco skyline in the distance. A covered terrace acts as an indoor/outdoor family room off the main living level, visually and psychologically expanding the space.
Built on an infill lot close to town, the house is designed to maximize solar orientation for the photovoltaic panels, as well as passive heating and cooling. The surrounding hillside provides the lower floors with natural insulation, solar power supplies electricity and hot water, and radiant floor heating and an innovative air re-circulation system condition the interior. A whole-house automation and lighting system, LED lighting, Fleetwood super-insulated doors and windows and indigenous, drought-tolerant landscaping conserve resources.
Local availability, recycled content and sustainable production drove the selection of each material, appliance and detail – including Western Red Cedar siding, Energy Star-Rated Whirlpool appliances, Kohler low-flow plumbing fixtures, Mythic zero-VOC paints, high-recycled content interior concrete from Concreteworks, sustainably produced stone veneers from Eldorado Stone, sustainably harvested floors and cabinetry from Plantation Hardwoods and New World Millworks, reclaimed timber and recycled metal roofing.
"An important part of minimizing the impact of a project involves selecting products, like Western Red Cedar, that minimize the carbon footprint from manufacture to end use," says Mike McDonald.
Design elements crafted locally from reclaimed materials – such as hand-crafted tile from Sausalito-based Heath Ceramics and steelwork from artisan Brian Kennedy – give this project deep roots in the community, making it sustainable from a community standpoint. Every inch of this LEED Platinum custom home has been designed to maximize its sustainability, in direct response to the site, trees and views. Consequently, this home lives far larger than its actual footprint, but with an impact that is far less.