Late last month, about 300 people wound their way through a spacious, nearly completed house at 96 Eldora Drive with a special purpose in mind: They wanted to see what it takes to build one of the greenest homes in the world.
The house is so green -- with its special lighting, greywater system, geothermal heating and other features -- that it earned a 242-point rating from nonprofit Build It Green, making it "the second-highest green-point-rated home in history," according to owner Shannon Madison. (The highest is a 304-point home in Santa Clara.)
She and Giles Douglas, both Google employees, scraped their 1950s bungalow behind Landels Elementary School to build the newfangled Craftsman, which not only fits the neighborhood and the family, but is the greenest home in Mountain View and one of the greenest in the entire Bay Area.
The couple took on a competitive spirit about their green point rating after seeing what other Google employees were doing with their homes, Madison said. She said it cost about $1 million to build the 3,000-square-foot house, which isn't much, she claims.
"Honestly, I don't know we would have spent a lot less," even without going green, she said. She believes that without some of its "super green" aspects, the house might have cost $800,000.
The extra money, under the direction of Mountain View-based VOX Design Group, bought the couple some amazing features. The house is a veritable smorgasbord of green design attributes, such as solar panels, a whole-house fan, a greywater system, LED lighting and special skylights. But one feature makes it stand out above the others: a computer controlled geothermal heating and cooling system for the house's air and water. (Mountain View Voice columnist Forrest Linebarger is CEO of VOX Design Group.)
Five water wells reaching 225 feet beneath the front yard take advantage of the earth's constant temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, Madison said. Using these tanks, the house's tap water is never too cold or too hot, requiring less energy to make it just right for a shower. But the big selling point for Madison was the system's ability to cool the house's incoming air like an air conditioner does, but without as much electricity.
The house also has a 10,000-gallon underground tank in the backyard that holds rainwater collected from the house's roof -- it should collect enough to irrigate the front and back yards all year. That includes the native sedge grass, which only needs to be mowed a few times a year, Madison said, so "I get my Sunday back."
During a tour Madison pointed to features that are inexpensive enough for anyone doing a remodel, such as low-VOC paints, FSC-approved wood and the fly ash concrete used for the kitchen counters and floor tiling, which is made locally but looks similar to granite.
"If you are doing new construction, be diligent in paying attention to materials," Madison said. "It's just a matter of being conscious. It's very similar to making decisions about food. For the same amount of money you can make a more nutritious dinner cheaper than a steak dinner. It's just a matter of choices you make."
A major effort was made to insulate the house.
"Radiation is responsible for a lot of the heat in a home," said Randy Potter of VOX Design Group. The solution was to wrap the whole house in a foil material before the wood siding was added. A soy-based foam was sprayed into every crevice to guarantee that the house was tightly insulated. "This house is basically sealed like a refrigerator," Potter said.
The house isn't without some fun touches for the kids. The family's teenager and 4-year-old share a bathroom that is completely tiled with a drain in the floor and a claw-foot tub "big enough for the 4-year-old to use as a pool," Madison said. A muralist was hired to paint the youngster's room with dinosaurs and a volcano.
Council member Ronit Bryant, speaking at a ceremony held after last month's tour, said she was impressed by the high green rating. Many said it should set the standard for new homes in Mountain View.
"Hopefully it will just become the way we build homes," said Aileen La Bouff, a member of the city's Environmental Sustainability Task Force.