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Friday, April 18, 2008

Weekend Reading: Buying a green home in Marin

Lots of things start in Northern California, then spread, trend-like, to the rest of the country. Williams Sonoma, for instance, was born in Sonoma way back in 1956 when the rest of the U.S. had yet to find frozen peas. Banana Republic (Mill Valley, 1978); Smith & Hawken (Mill Valley, 1979); and Restoration Hardware (Eureka, 1980) all debuted here. Mountain biking was invented on Mt. Tam, and the American love affairs with hot tubbing and biscotti originated here, then rolled out like hula hoops to the nation.

So it's a little surprising that the green homes movement actually started in... well, probably Colorado or Washington State. Not to worry, though: Northern California is playing catch up with a vengeance. The whole sustainable-homes thing—as exemplified in Dwell Magazine (brain child of a Mill Valley resident!)—is sweeping across Marin County like a brush fire.

Recently, we visited a pretty amazing, green, luxury home (of all things) high above San Rafael. The 5100-square-foot residence is the first of six units for sale at Live Oak Estates, an eco-friendly enclave with protected (and spectacular) views of Tam. We drove up there with Stacey Stephenson, the first Mill Valley-based real estate agent to be certified as an "EcoBroker," who filled us in on the burgeoning green real-estate scene.

"My mission is to make Marin County real estate a green industry," she said, while driving her Prius (what else?) up the 101 (we qualified for the carpool lane) to San Rafael.

An "EcoBroker" is a graduate of the Built Green course, a Colorado-based program that "encourages homebuilders to use technologies, products, and practices that provide greater energy efficiency and reduce pollution, provide healthier indoor air, reduce water usage, preserve natural resources, and improve durability and reduce maintenance."

Stacey is the first of five brokers certi
fied and practicing in Marin. Business is brisk as increasingly, home buyers are starting to think about sustainability and protecting the environment. "More and more, clients are finding me on Google after they do a keyword search on 'healthy homes,'" she said.

Stacey carries a checklist so she can keep track of the healthy home attributes of her listings. Included: energy-efficient appliances and windows, zoned heating, natural carpets, low-flush toilets and cabinetry constructed "forest-stewardship council certified" wood, which is harvested in an environmentally conscious way. The house at 15 Live Oak Way boasts all of those attributes and more.

The $3.85 million, 4 bedroom, six bath (dual-flush toilets!) home is built in an old chert quarry and feels more like something you'd see nestled in the red rocks of Sedona than NorCal. Much of the 30-acre communities property is set aside as perpetual open space, making it possible to hike from your back door 20 miles to Inverness on protected trails. The horse-shoe-shaped design of the house is ingenious because all the rooms overlook the swimming pool, which is solar heated via a thousand feet of water tubing buried beneath the concrete patio slabs. It features 100% wool carpet with recycled natural padding (no offgassing!); recycled, hand-painted tile and Saltillo Mexican clay tile; and all wall and ceiling paint emits zero or low Volatile Organic Compounds (protects the ozone layer!) Solar panels help power the place, of course.

"Every material that was chosen for this house was looked at from a green perspective," said Michael LeValley, the principal who materminded the project. With listing broker Abby Kagan, Michael and Stacey showed us around the place. "What we're really doing is returning to classical architectural principles," Michael said, as we entered the kitchen, where a recyling station is built into the island cabinets. "It was only post World War II when we got away from paying attention to those principles because of the rush to create mass housing for returning GIs."

We said we loved the house, but noted the paradox of building a giant, sprawling house that's supposed to use fewer of the world's resources. Michael said: "Remember that the first adopters of any new technology are those who can afford. Some people are always going to want big houses, so why
not give them environmentally conscious big houses? Don't you want to convert the biggest consumers first?" He added: "If I told you I could get every Hummer driver to drive a hybrid SUV, wouldn't you feel like we were making progress?" It was a good argument. If only only we could afford the house.

15 Live Oak Way will be shown from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m during an open house on Sunday, April 20.

Last week's weekend reading: The Flipper tries to buy a foreclosure at an auction on the courthouse steps


Jolly Green said...

what can you tell me about manufactured kit houses?

Melissa said...

I love this topic. Please do more on it.

Less is More said...

Am I the only one that thinks it ridiculous that "Green Home" can mean building a new, huge, space-wasting house that will still cost much more than a house half it's sq footage to operate even with the improved materials?

What about focusing on living in a simpler, space-maximizing dwelling with no swimming pool that regardless of how heated will require a constant replenishment water?

Only in Marin.