After Superstorm Sandy decimated the East Quogue home fronting Shinnecock Bay she and her family had purchased just a couple years prior, Kim Erle was faced with replacing the 1940s cottage with a new house that meets modern building codes. At the same time, Southampton Town implemented new tax incentives to encourage property owners to far exceed New York State building standards—and she jumped at the opportunity.
Erle’s homebuilding project, which she dubbed Sunset Green Home, became the first in town to seek Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification in response to the new incentives. Erle says the tax break will amount to $15,000 over 10 years, or even more if property tax rates rise. But what really excited her about the project is the building practices that minimize impact on the environment and ensure the home with have high energy efficiency and air quality.
LEED certification, which works on a points-based system, is offered by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit that promotes sustainability in the design, construction and operation of homes and commercial buildings. Erle set out to attain the highest possible certification, platinum, and now she is just two pieces of documentation away from achieving her goal.
Erle earned LEED points in a variety of ways, such as keeping material from the original cottage out of landfills and maintaining a blog to educate others on green building practices. The builder, Chris Mensch of Coastal Management, chose construction materials that would glean even more points.
“It’s not particularly that much harder to build a LEED home,” Mensch says. “It’s really just a better way to build and be more responsible with the environment and your resources.”
Much of the building material was sourced within a 500-mile radius to minimize the environmental impact of transportation. The plywood came from Virginia and the pilings came from Maryland. The deck is made with tropical material that was Forest Stewardship Council–certified to show the wood came from a responsibly managed forest and was not illegally poached.
Mensch says the LEED standards for energy efficiency are not extremely different than Southampton Town’s energy code, which requires a low HERS Index Score under the Home Energy Rating System. The lower the score, the more energy efficient a home is.
The house had to be “extremely tight” to meet the standards, Mensch says. That means superior insulation—such as open cell spray foam in the roof rafters—and no air gaps.
While a code compliant house has seven air changes per hour and an Energy Star home has five, Sunset Green Home has just two.
To prevent stale air, the house is equipped with an ERV, or energy recovery ventilation system. Fresh air from the outdoors is continuously exchanged with the air in the house, but the home temperature is maintained. “There is a heat exchanger, so the new air coming in will get cooled down,” Mensch says of summer. In the winter, the reverse is true.
“People laugh when they see the mechanical system in my house,” Erle says. “It’s this tiny little unit and it’s heating and cooling my house.” To size the system correctly, it required the HVAC installers and the air sealers to talk—something she says rarely happens on building sites. It also requires taking the windows and orientations into consideration. “These are things people should be doing, but they don’t,” she says.
Because the air conditioning system is small and runs more frequently than an oversized system, it does a better job of removing humidity from the air, she says, and lower humidity makes the house more comfortable at a higher temperature—further reducing air conditioning usage.
The house was ultimately given a HERS Index Score of 24, meaning it is 76% more efficient than a typical code compliant house, Erle says. She notes that Southampton requires a better HERS rating than most other towns. “Southampton is really very forward thinking in that way,” she says.
The house sits on pilings, well above sea level, and lacks a basement. As an alternative to a finished basement for a recreation area, Erle added a pool house to the property. But the pool house is seasonal only, and has no heating or cooling system.
The finished product is a 3,600-square-foot residence with a 1,000-square-foot pool house and an in-ground pool. Mensch says it is the equivalent of a typical 2,400-square-foot house—even though it has numerous amenities, such as three walls ovens and a wine refrigerator. All of the appliances have the highest energy ratings and all of the lights are LEDs, he points out, and the house is equipped with solar panels.
LEED also considers indoor air quality. Sunset Green Home achieves high air quality by choosing drywall, paint, rugs and other materials that have a low level of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, such as formaldehyde.
In November, three years after Superstorm Sandy, the new house was finally ready to be lived in. Erle broke in the home by hosting Thanksgiving for 29 family members.
For more on Sunset Green Home and LEED, see Erle’s blog at sunsetgreenhome.com.