One of the most nontoxic new single-family houses in the United States, The RainShine House in Decatur, Georgia has achieved, and exceeded, the highest level of “green architecture” possible through the United States Green Building Council’s LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] for Homes Pilot Program. It is the first modernist residence to achieve the much-coveted LEED Platinum level in the Southeastern United States.
Also qualifying in other “green” architecture programs, the home is a certified EarthCraft Home and Energy Star home and currently a candidate for certification by the US Department of Energy under their Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program.
The RainShine House was designed for a couple as their retirement residence with provision for visiting children and extended family members. The simple elegance of the design is achieved through fine detailing and an EarthCraft builder who worked diligently to achieve the wonderful qualities of the design of Robert M. Cain, Architect of Atlanta. Robert Soens, Jr. of Pinnacle Custom Builders said, “It was truly a privilege to work on this project with this superb design team, these wonderful owners and our LEED provider, Southface Institute”.
Certified in April 2009, the RainShine House will be featured in the popular Modern Atlanta Home Tour on May 16-17 so everyone can visit the home. This is the last time this exceptional residence will be open to the general public. The members of Modern Atlanta, a nonprofit promoting modern design in Atlanta, were invited to view the eco-friendly systems earlier this year for a pre-drywall tour showcasing the home’s systems and construction. Nearly 100 individuals came to view the five 500-gallon rainharvest cisterns in the basement, waterbased insulation materials, geothermal heat pump, desuperheaters, energy recovery ventilator, LED lighting system and the net-metered, roof-mounted 3.1 kilowatt photovoltaic system. RainShine will also be featured in the Decatur, Georgia GREENFEST tour of homes this year during the weekend of May 2. This home is so energy efficient that it is anticipated it will consume only 43% of the energy consumed by a similar home built to the standards of the International Energy Conservation Code.
RainShine’s most stunning feature is the soaring butterfly roof designed to facilitate collection of rain water for the rainharvest system. To accommodate the long spans of the butterfly roof, the roof of the home is framed in 100% recycled-content steel from local sources; this material was also chosen because it is easily recycled and mold, mildew and termite resistant. Cain says, “The minimal construction waste generated in the local fabrication of our steel components was immediately recycled versus the less certain future of waste generated in the use of off-the-shelf glue laminated beams or factory wastes generated in the manufacture of custom wood trusses. The roof of our structure covers 3,037 square feet---including eaves and overhangs---and the steel framing supports 2,834 square feet or 93% of the roof structure.”
The dramatic drilling of the four wells for the geothermal system was featured in the March 11, 2008 segment of the Discovery Channel’s Planet Green series that focuses on architecture “in synch with the planet”, Renovation Nation, with Emmy Award-winning host, Steve Thomas, formerly of This Old House.
LEED for Homes is an initiative designed to actively promote the transformation of the mainstream home building industry towards more sustainable practices. LEED for Homes is targeting the top 25% of new homes with best practice environmental features and is a collaborative initiative that actively works with all sectors of the home building industry. This home’s performance in regard to sustainable practices was measured in eight different resource categories:
1. Innovation and Design Process
2. Location and Linkages
3. Sustainable Sites
4. Water Efficiency
5. Improved Energy and Atmosphere
6. Use of environmentally preferable Materials and Resources
7. Indoor Environmental Quality
8. Public Awareness and Education.
The LEED for Homes rating system works by awarding credits for different aspects of environmental and energy efficient design in each of the above categories. The level of performance achieved in the above categories is separated into four performance tiers. LEED for Homes rates homes at one of the following levels: Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum. Levels are awarded according to how many points the home achieves in the Rating System, with Platinum projects being the most exemplary environmentally/energy efficient structures on the planet. The Southface Institute, which served as LEED provider on this project, facilitates certification for all projects in Georgia, Alabama, Maryland, Washington DC, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi. There are only four residential projects total in these states that have achieved the Platinum level --- with the RainShine House being the very first contemporary/modernist home.
The “green” aspects of this home extend to the landscaped site as well, designed by Lynn Saussy, RLA. New deciduous plantings will assist in shading the house in summer and allow sun to penetrate in winter. All new plantings on the site are exclusively native shrubs and grasses. Carefully placed rain gardens will collect site runoff while the delicately floating butterfly roof collects the rain for the rain harvest system. As the owners, and many of their visitors, are avid bicyclists, a bike rack was a necessary part of the site furniture. The grand Deodora Cedar on the site serves to shade the home from the western sun and planting two native Parsley Hawthorns will shade the southern sun but not the solar panels on the roof. [Editor: For a full description of the landscape strategies and plantings, visit the blog and click on Landscape http://rainshinehouseatlanta.blogspot.com ]
It’s hard to get greener than a house with glass curtain walls, re-purposed flooring and nontoxic paints, as well as carpet tiles and countertops made from recycled materials. To that, add super energy-efficient appliances; natural ventilation; the extensive use of natural daylight; water-conserving fixtures; a solar power-generating system; and much more. The home is nearly 100% non-toxic. When you walked into the house during construction all you could smell was the reclaimed heart-pine wood included in the design. One of the most important credits given this home by the LEED Program was for extraordinary performance in the selection of homeowner- and environment-friendly materials. To mention a few, all of the interior paints, stains, floor finishes, adhesives and sealants are either low-VOC or zero-VOC; the custom millwork is constructed of no-formaldehyde, 100% recycled-content MDF; the solar shades are zero-VOC; the concrete/glass countertops are 70% recycled; the wall insulation is formaldehyde-free; and, on the exterior, paints are also low-VOC, as is the siding; even the foundation waterproofing qualifies with a M.E.R.I.T. [Materials with Environmentally-Reduced Impact]-Certified Green system. As one of the owners is highly sensitive to toxins, the products used to clean the house after construction were Green Seal certified low-VOC.
No cute recycled accessories in this house, the very structure itself consists of major
recycled components such as the local concrete for the foundation which contains 30% fly ash, the reclaimed heart-pine flooring which is from the old Atlanta stables that were demolished and secured by Legacy Wood Products out of Watkinsville, Georgia. The massive exterior doors were custom-built from locally-salvaged Heart Pine. The beautiful concrete/glass countertops are 70% recycled content as is the colorful recycled glass backsplash. All tile flooring is 40% recycled content tiles [LEED gives a bonus half-point for no carpet in the home]. The exterior decking is manufactured from post-consumer recycled plastic and waste wood. The construction waste was recycled so the impact on the landfills was minimized, and as many construction materials as possible were extracted and manufactured locally, minimizing ozone depletion from heavy-truck transport to the site.
The owners wanted a “light-filled” home and their wishes were granted with walls of lowsolar- heat-gain coefficient glass. The owners wanted a “cheery” color scheme and so the architect-designed millwork is delicately colored in transparent blues, greens and yellows and the walls painted in soft sunshine yellows and light tree greens. Architect Cain said, “The owners were committed to a home that sits lightly on the earth and they have been 100% involved in this project throughout and bore a great deal of the burden in documenting the project for LEED qualification. I could not have asked for more positively involved clients.”
The design team, contractor and owners are celebrating Platinum at a dinner together. As anyone who has ever participated in a new home construction or home renovation will know, this happy gathering will be an uncharacteristic event.