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sunset green home

Homeowner Builds a LEED Platinum Home following Hurricane Sandy

By Camille LeFevre Home Features Editor
Jan 25, 2020

“My experience with Hurricane Sandy was transformative,” says Kim Erle, LEED AP. The superstorm, which was the deadliest, most destructive, and strongest of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, destroyed her 1940’s cottage on Shinnecock Bay in the East Quogue area of Southampton, NY. Not only did she need to build a new house, “I decided to get smart,” Erle says. 

“Like most people, I’m good at recycling, I shut the lights off, I know climate change is real,” she explains. “I’m the average conscientious homeowner. But Sandy was a pivotal moment. I realized that if I don’t do something about climate change, who will? I was suddenly personally and professionally motivated to have an impact on climate change.” 

First, she became accredited through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building program. Then, after the town implemented new tax incentives to encourage property owners to exceed New York State building standards, Erle decided to rebuild to LEED residential standards. Deploying her expertise as LEED AP, she registered her sustainable home design with the United States Green Building Council. 

Sunset Green Home
Photo Credit: Sunset Green Home

The plan entailed “deconstruction” of what remained of the 1940’s home (“That earned us a LEED point, as it’s the most sustainable method for removing a structure,” she says), and replacing it with a new, 3,600-square-foot home sited more than 12 feet above sea level. She also aimed for the highest LEED residential rating, Platinum. 

Cully EEFAS home exterior
Photo credit: Cully/EEFAS

She called her project Sunset Green Home, which also became the name of her energy efficiency, high-performance retrofit, and sustainability strategy consulting business. The town’s tax break provided her with $15,000 over 10 years—more if property taxes increase. Moreover, she now “walks the talk” by having completed her own 3,600-square-feet home that integrates building practices and sustainable strategies that minimize the impact on the environment. The home also incorporates high energy efficiency and superior air quality. “As a LEED-accredited professional,” she says, “I knew what it would take to reach Platinum on this home.” 

Cully EEFAS dining room
Photo credit: Cully/EEFAS

Tight and Resilient

Details Deconstruction, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that provides green construction jobs to former prison inmates, removed the remains of Erle’s hurricane-damaged cottage. That decision diverted more than 90 percent of the home’s building materials from landfills. Next, the team, which also included builder Chris Mensch of Coastal Management, LLC, framed the new structure on top of 130 pilings driven 25 feet into the ground for resiliency. 

“We’re in an AE10 zone, which is our flood mapping,” Erle explains. “We get swiftly moving water during a flood event, which is what destroyed our first home. Underneath the pilings is a wall that’s designed to break away when fast-moving water hits it, so the water passes under the house and recedes without causing structural damage. We used impact-resistant glass to protect us from wind-borne storm debris. We also put the house up two feet higher than required by code.” 

Huber Engineered Woods' ZIP System
Huber Engineered Woods' ZIP System sheathing on Sunset Green Home's roof

The home’s stick frame structure was sprayed with CertainTeed’s FortiCel™, which inhibits mold and mildew growth. Huber ZIP System® structural sheathing and tape created an airtight assembly. CertainTeed’s SMARTBATT™ with MoistureSense™ technology, a fiberglass-batt insulation designed to let walls breathe—fills the wall cavities. Underneath the house, workers applied CertaSpray™ closed cell spray foam insulation. CertaSpray open-cell spray foam creates R-38 in the roof.

Cully EEFAS sun room
Photo credit: Cully/EEFAS

The home’s Zehnder energy recovery ventilation system (ERV) makes sure fresh outdoor air is continuously exchanged with the air in the house. While a code-compliant house has seven air changes per hour and an Energy Star® home has five, Sunset Green Home has just two. The home uses an energy-efficient, variable refrigerant-flow HVAC system for heating and cooling. 

Erle says visitors can’t believe the tiny mechanical system heats and cools her house. She adds that HVAC installers and subcontractors specializing in air sealing had to collaborate on sizing the system, “which rarely happens on building sites.” They also considered window orientations. Energy-efficient ceiling fans in the living areas and bedrooms allow cooling at higher air-conditioning temperature set points.

Cully EEFAS kitchen
Photo credit: Cully/EEFAS

Sustainable interiors

The team specified high-performance drywall, including CertainTeed AirRenew® Indoor Air Quality drywall, which absorbs formaldehyde and converts it into safe, inert compounds that stay embedded in the board. Doors and beadboard installed throughout the house use wood without urea-formaldehyde MDF and were finished with zero-VOC paint. 

Cully EEFAS water heater tanks
Photo credit: Cully/EEFAS

Erle and her husband control the LED lighting with Lutron switches integrated into the ELAN home automation system, which also controls the home’s HVAC, security, and entertainment systems. All of the appliances are Energy Star certified. The home minimizes water use with dual-flush high-efficiency toilets, and WaterSense faucets and showerheads. 

Erle adds that she had a sprinkler system installed “because I have an unfounded fear of fire and am risk-averse. It’s also another resiliency and resource-management strategy.” In case of fire, sprinklers get the flames under control and cause less runoff of toxic burnt building materials in the area’s fragile ecosystem.

Cully EEFAS backyard pool
Photo credit: Cully/EEFAS

The greatest joys

Erle added a seasonal pool with an automatic cover to retain heat, and a UV-ozone sanitizer to minimize chemical use. The home’s 3,000-square-foot deck was constructed using FSC-certified cumaru through WalkGreen. Because the home is close to sensitive tidal wetlands, Stinchi Landscaping implemented an environmentally sensitive landscaping plan, which incorporates a vegetated wetlands buffer of native plants attractive to birds and other wildlife. 

Cully EEFAS deck
Deck built with sustainably managed wood. Photo credit: Cully/EEFAS

This meadow, Erle says, “is spectacular. If we had left that area as lawn, we wouldn’t have known how beautiful it can be and how it would attract such a variety of wildlife.” The meadow also gave the project additional LEED points, as did a vegetable garden “that feeds us from May to October. Those are the things that give me the greatest joy.”

Cully EEFAS pool table
Photo credit: Cully/EEFAS

Erle also loves her electric bill. “It’s an all-electric house. I have a 5.5 KW solar array that offsets energy use and is incredibly efficient.” When visitors join Erle and her husband, including their three adult children, “people sleep so well, because our ventilation system is like a lung for the house. It’s one of the nicest things about the house. The air is so fresh.” 

Erle and her husband moved into their new home in 2016, after which the project achieved LEED Platinum certification. The home also earned a HERS Index Score of 24. “We built the most resilient home possible to help us weather the next, inevitable next storm,” she says. “Building a new home to LEED standards wasn’t easy, but having the expertise as a LEED AP helped me navigate the process, which was definitely worthwhile. We now live in a resilient, durable, and energy-efficient home created with the environment in mind.” 

Cully EEFAS living room
Photo credit: Cully/EEFAS
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: 2020-07-14T19:29:52+0000
Camille LeFevre

Article by:

Camille LeFevre

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