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A Sustainable San Diego Home Remodel with German Sensibility

By Camille LeFevre Rise Home Feature Editor
Jun 27, 2019

The active Heinz family had always dreamed of building or remodeling a sustainable home in the San Diego area. Having moved to the U.S. from Germany, Antje and Udo Heinz shared a vision of replicating the outdoor lifestyle they’d enjoyed in their home country, and living within walking and biking distance of the beach, shopping, and entertainment. It was a dream they also wished for their children, Mia and Jan, who are now teenagers. 

When Udo died in a bicycle accident five years ago, Antje decided that realizing the vision she’d shared with her husband would mark a new beginning for her and the children—and their two cats and pet bunny. “I like sustainability, it’s close to my heart,” Heinz says. “Udo and I always knew we wanted to build a sustainable house in the sun. When he passed, it was one of my creative goals to construct a green house.” A sustainable home, she added, that also had clean lines, spacious living areas, and plenty of spaces open to the outdoors. 

She found a location: A house on a quiet street in Encinitas with an ocean view and easy accessibility to “old Encinitas.” The house also had, she says, “good bones.” She assembled her team, including general contractors Jeff Adams and Rich Williams of Alliance Green Builders (AGB), who specialize in LEED certified, environmentally friendly design and construction. 

neuhaus exterior
Photo Courtesy of Alliance Green Builders

They soon realized that all of Heinz’s requirements—including an energy-efficient home illuminated during the day by the sun, wrapped tightly with insulation (“no Swiss cheese,” she says)—met LEED Platinum specifications. Completed in 2017, the home has won the San Diego Green Building Council’s Sustainable Design Award and been featured on San Diego Green Homes Tours. Heinz has named the home Neuhaus (German for new house). 

Deconstruction, Not Demolition

The team, which included JLC Architecture, took the existing 35-year-old house, down to the studs. Heinz asked that AGB deconstruct rather than demolish the house. “The process was slower than demolition, and pricier,” Heinz says, “as the existing house was taken carefully apart, its components wrapped up, and donated for use in other homes—everything down to the doors and hardware.” 

Most everything in the house was in good condition and could be reused or recycled. “It was important to me that we not create a lot of waste that would fill up a landfill,” she adds. “I wanted to find a new use for as much of the existing house as possible.” The team kept the house’s existing structure, and sustainable design principles were placed at the forefront of the remodel’s design process alongside functionality and aesthetics. 

remodel expansion
Photo Courtesy of Alliance Green Builders

The team retained the house’s basic footprint with minor modifications, expanding the house to just over 3,000 square feet. The original 2,300-square-foot structure, built in 1980 with a 1993 master suite addition, came with a few limitations. For instance, the builders couldn’t change the envelope or shape of the garage because it was encroaching on the front setback. 

Instead, the team pushed out the front of the house (to reduce the garage’s impact) and constructed a 144-square-foot office with side entrance for the students Antje tutors in German. They also retained the upper level roofline because it exceeded existing height limits, and expanded the second floor with a 534-square-foot addition, providing space for the kids’ bedrooms and a bathroom, plus laundry room.

Sustainable Inside and Out

During construction, contractors treated all of the structure’s framing members with sodium borate, which is a nontoxic compound that prevents termites from converting wood into sugars, effectively starving them and not allowing them to eat through the lumber. The treatment not only increases the durability of the home, it saves money over the lifetime of the home by negating the need for termite tenting. 

LEED kitchen
Photo Courtesy of Alliance Green Builders

Recycled and low emission insulation was installed. Quality Insulation Installation (QII), a standard set by the California Energy Commission to make sure insulated framing areas resist thermal bridging of the assembly separating conditioned from unconditioned spaces, was undertaken. An independent third party, called a certified HERS Rater, verified that the home’s insulation touched six sides of the interior of each wall, ensuring no thermal gaps existed. The result is maximum thermal comfort and increased energy efficiency. 

house remodel
Photo Courtesy of Alliance Green Builders

The home’s exterior is clad in white stucco. Resysta, an environmentally friendly cladding out of Germany made of rice husks, salt, and mineral oil, was used for siding and decking. The home’s 9.3 kW solar photovoltaic system offset the energy used in this home. All of the lighting is high-efficacy LEDs. High-efficiency mini-split pumps provide cooling when needed, but floor-to-ceiling glass doors let in plentiful breezes and maximize indoor-outdoor living. 

kitchen remodel
Photo Courtesy of Alliance Green Builders

The ENERGY STAR appliances include the dishwasher, clothes washer, and refrigerator. Bath fans and the kitchen range hood were also tested by a HERS rater to verify that the equipment works at peak efficiency and is compliant with ASHRAE standards. Continuously operating bath fans ensure a constant flow of fresh ventilation throughout the home. Air filters on the HVAC equipment are ≥ MERV 8, reducing harmful airborne particulates. 

remodel fireplace
Photo Courtesy of Alliance Green Builders

The home has a California  Title 24 score of 33 percent, which means 33 percent greater energy efficiency than a standard built home. An energy monitoring system provides feedback on the family’s energy use. The Heinz home operates at Net Zero Energy due to the high-performance building of the home and the family’s willingness to monitor their habits in response to energy performance feedback. 

Minimizing The Impact  Of The Home

During the remodeling process, the team incorporated erosion controls and best management practices to minimize stormwater pollution. All water that falls on impermeable areas is directed to a bioswale retention area in the backyard. Light colored, high albedo material was used for hardscapes, to reduce the heat island effect. Also, less heat being absorbed into the hardscape lowers the cooling requirement of the home’s HVAC system. 

outdoor shower
Photo Courtesy of Alliance Green Builders

Throughout the yard, the turf is drought tolerant saltgrass that uses 50 percent less water than traditional grass. The front yard features drought-tolerant plant species and xeriscaping.

A Dream Home Realized 

The sleek, modern kitchen includes an induction cooktop and steam oven, plus custom fold-up walnut cabinets with electronic touchpad closures. Prominently displayed on a countertop is the espresso machine that Udo selected. Heinz hired an electrician to install 220-volt outlets in the kitchen to accommodate her small, German-import appliances.

remodel kitchen cabinets
Photo Courtesy of Alliance Green Builders

“We played a lot with light in designing the house,” she adds. Before construction began, the architects demonstrated how the sun would move through the house throughout the year, using a three-dimensional design program. “The house gets great natural light during the day and glows beautifully at night with the use of LEDs,” she says. 

bathroom remodel
Photo Courtesy of Alliance Green Builders

The home also has water-efficient toilets, bathroom faucets, showerheads, and clothes washer. A greywater system recycles water from the bathroom faucets, showers, and laundry to irrigate all of the landscaping. A Wellspring Water Treatment System (WWTS) treats hard municipal water using zero chemicals or electricity. 

LEED remodel
Photo Courtesy of Alliance Green Builders

Low VOC paints, sealants, and adhesives were used, as were recycled content countertops. For flooring, the tile was installed for wet locations, like areas of the pool. Elsewhere, white oak flooring warms the contemporary interior. The result is a welcoming contemporary home with timeless materials and timeless, sustainable design.

Photo Courtesy of Alliance Green Builders

Neuhaus, Heinz says, is truly her dream home fully realized. “I love the light and the feel of the house,” she says. “Every choice was done delicately and intentionally. We feel very healthy and happy here. It’s our new beginning.” 

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-11-19T03:35:24+0000
Camille LeFevre

Article by:

Camille LeFevre

Camille LeFevre is an architecture and design writer based in the Twin Cities.