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Green Building News

Big Home, LEED Platinum Rating, but Still a Slow Sell

Landing Platinum certification was one thing for this California luxury-home project, finding a buyer was another

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This 5,000-sq.-ft. home, in Costa Mesa, California, earned a LEED for Homes Platinum rating. The project included deconstructing the home that formerly occupied the site and donating usable materials to Habitat for Humanity. The new house, originally listed at just over $2.9 million, was re-listed, five price cuts later, at $2.19 million, and recently sold for an as-yet-undisclosed price.
Image Credit: Brian Egan Photography / David Gangloff Architects
This 5,000-sq.-ft. home, in Costa Mesa, California, earned a LEED for Homes Platinum rating. The project included deconstructing the home that formerly occupied the site and donating usable materials to Habitat for Humanity. The new house, originally listed at just over $2.9 million, was re-listed, five price cuts later, at $2.19 million, and recently sold for an as-yet-undisclosed price.
Image Credit: Brian Egan Photography / David Gangloff Architects
The floor plan of the Costa Mesa house, showing the great room facing South.

How much is a green rating worth in Southern California’s Orange County? On average, homes in the county, particularly in its more prosperous neighborhoods, recently have been listing well north of $700,000, according to real estate search engine Trulia. But for prospective buyers looking in the above-average price category, and even at luxury homes, adding green credentials to the list of extras isn’t guaranteed to work marketing magic.

That’s the impression left by the sales history of the first single-family home in Orange County to land LEED for Homes Platinum certification: a 4,900-sq.-ft. modern Craftsman with six bedrooms, six and a half baths, a 1,000-sq.-ft. kitchen, and golf course view. A real estate development investor, Steve Blanchard, bought the home that originally occupied the 0.32-acre lot for $1.7 million three years ago. By December 2008, deconstruction of the old house and recycling of usable materials were complete (the original garage was retained) and foundation work had begun. Construction progressed throughout last year and the house was awarded Platinum certification on January 28, 2010.

In March, Blanchard told the Daily Pilot that he originally considered moving his family into the house, but then decided to put it on the market.

The right buyer might not necessarily be green-minded

It seems likely the original asking price, $2,990,000 (about $600 per sq. ft.), gave buyers pause all by itself, especially given the down real estate market. According to a brief recently published in the Orange County Register, the listing, after five price drops, fell to $2,199,009 and the house now has a buyer, although the final sales price has yet to be disclosed.

An interesting point, cited by the listing broker, Liz Noriega, is that the buyers weren’t really looking for a green home at first – just a big one. “When they understood all the green factors, they realized how much they’d be saving in the long term,” Noriega told the Register. “They’re just getting into being environmentally conscious, and they realized this is a good thing.”

Among the building’s performance-oriented features: R-38 ceiling insulation; blown-in cellulose, to R-21, in exterior walls; insulation installed behind tubs and fireplaces before installation; insulation in double walls supported with blocking shelves every 24 in.; attic access doors, attic stairs, and whole-house-fan openings insulated to R-22; tube skylight ducts wrapped with R-8 duct insulation; a 3.6 kW solar power system; and east-west axis orientation to maximize solar gain in the winter, when the average low temperature is in the high 30s and the average high is in the mid-60s. Average highs from June through October are in the 80s.

16 Comments

  1. jtruog | | #1

    I guess if someone feels the
    I guess if someone feels the need to build an obnoxiously large home, at least it's certified?

  2. Joe DeScipio | | #2

    mis-LEEDing
    This is a great example, in so many ways, how the LEED system is so meaningless. LEED’s best feature is marketing buzz and in this case even that didn’t work very well. Next, as stated, after the realtor explained all of the operational money saving features of the building the buyers were on board. However, the LEED badge never guarantees operational savings or performance for that matter. So, now in California, I guess a realtor’s license empowers selling agents’ authority to guarantee energy performance of buildings on the market? Third, who is going to tell these “poor” buyers that those LEED Platinum “performance-oriented features” are not all that performance-oriented and are common on most well built houses today? You would think all of those LEED Platinum “points” would be worth more than just the plaque? The salvaged materials from the demolished house even went to Habitat for Humanity, where are their hearts?

  3. jtruog | | #3

    I don't think that LEED for
    I don't think that LEED for Homes is meaningless. How people sometimes use it makes it meaningless in some circumstances.

  4. J Chesnut | | #4

    "how people sometimes use it"
    What meaning does a certification have if it cannot control or limit how it is used?

  5. jtruog | | #5

    Is a hammer useless because
    Is a hammer useless because it cannot control or limit how it is used? It's a tool. You can't blame a tool for people who mis-use it.

  6. Verdeluz | | #6

    The layout of the house is terrible.
    I don't think this is an issue of LEED being the cause of the failure. The spatial layout of this house is not the best. The "family room feels like a dead end and what is it's use? How do you get to the back room from the entry? It's a labyrinth. Functionality should be a criteria. Design should be a consideration in LEED, that's a problem I see. Maybe this is not the case with this project (I don't have enough drawings or photos to have an well informed opinion if this project is well designed or not.) but it should be a consideration. I spoke with a school official once who told us that good design is the most sustainable feature a building could have. Their school district was tearing down buildings that were only thirty years old because they simply were ugly and people treated them as such. In contrast, buildings that were beautiful they were trying to preserve, restore and emulate.

    It was encouraging to learn that the Living Building Challenge does have a category for beauty in their criteria (or petals I think they call it.). Perhaps some design criteria could be developed to evaluate some basic aspects of good design in green buildings.

  7. Edgar Lopez | | #7

    Less is More
    I would like to assume that most people who care for the environment have an understanding of the relationship between the size of the home and the use of resources and energy. Based on this assumption, no green label is going to effectively sell an unecessarily large home to these people.

    More at my personal blog:

    http://energyefficiencyandretrofits.blogspot.com/2010/11/less-is-more.html

  8. Kathy Tompkins | | #8

    MissLeeding
    Again, my 1,200 foot poorly insulated house is more efficient than the maze of a house in the article.
    I wish we could get away from a point system based on materials used (basically a trophy house). We need an affordable long term performance based formula that benefits everybody. It's all about how the house performs... not a title... especially a LEEDS house that is too big or is not used properly by the occupant.

  9. James Morgan | | #9

    Choices
    It's not hard to see why the house took so long to sell in a saturated market where buyers actually have choices. What's almost impossible to understand is an environmental grading system that gives this mess a Platinum rating. It really is a crappy layout. I give it maybe ten years before its next major remodeling. I'd be embarrassed to propose an owner's bedroom suite as poky and awkward as this in a home 1/3 the size. The tube skylights have a whole R8 of insulation wrap? Why are there tube skylights at all in a house with this much perimeter wall?

  10. not a skeptic, but.... | | #10

    We don't make those kinds of representations (says the USGBC)
    This is some of the text from the USGBC's press release and announcement for this project:

    “Green homes have substantially lower utility bills 1 and may qualify for advantageous financing,
    lower insurance rates and government incentives. “LEED certification is a realistic way to tackle
    the ever rising energy costs by cutting a home’s energy usage by as much as 60%, our case
    studies have shown,” said Nate Kredich, Vice President, Residential Market Development, U.S.
    Green Building Council.”
    and farther down.......
    “Living in a LEED-certified home not only means you will be saving money and
    precious resources, it also means that it’s more durable than a non-certified home. The quality
    of the products and the different green strategies used within the home means that its owners
    will be enjoying their high-performing home for years to come. While demand for traditional residential construction is slowing, the green housing market continues to grow and the Costa
    Mesa Green Home is a great example of why this is. LEED certified homes are healthier places
    to live, produce lower utility bills, have better air quality, and leave a smaller environmental
    footprint behind.”

    How can USGBC claim this LEED certified home: 1) “have substantially lower utility bills, 2) “cutting a home’s energy usage by as much as 60%”, 3) “save money and precious resources, 4) “leave a smaller environmental footprint behind”. How ………………how can they make these claims? Please, please, please someone explain / prove to me how this home does all of these things? If no one can why "certify" that it does???

    May the carbon footprint be with you Henry Gifford!!

  11. Joe W | | #11

    No wonder this doesn't sell
    Even if I had that kind of money, I wouldn't want to live in a house that looks like it has nearly as much hallway as it does living space ... okay, I exaggerate, but not all that much. And what on earth is the idea of having 4 bathrooms for four small bedrooms? And on and on and on ....

    I suggest that the house isn't selling because it's a poor, McMansion design with "green" slathered on top like so much marketing drivel. Sheesh, I wonder what made the builder think he'd want his family there!

    I once thought a Leed certificate would be worth having ... but even if people "misuse" the tool (as an above poster explains), Leed won't work for its stated purpose until it either builds in penalty points for wated space and extravagant, energy-gulping features ... or builds in a credit for efficient design. Clearly, the current point-system misses the boat.

    I think there are better programs out there, actually. In this area, EarthCraft does a better job imo.

    Joe W

  12. Joe DeScipio | | #12

    LEED mandated on public projects
    Many above posts and industry professionals agree with the many shortcomings of the point based LEED system. The USGBC’s response typically is “if you don’t like the system don’t use it”. This would be all well and good, except many local, state and federal politicians, in the interest of being good stewards of the environment, are incorrectly writing the LEED certification process into law (i.e. as a building code of sorts). For example, a DGS federal project in Tulsa must be designed with USGBC LEED Accredited Professionals, reviewed by the USGBC staff (i.e. big fees) and certified by the USGBC. This monopolistic process increases costs to the tax payer and does not necessarily reduce energy costs or conserve precious resources. So why mandate it? The marketing machine of LEED has overshadowed all other systems and methods of achieving similar goals. Why not take that money used for LEED certification (one to one and a half percent of construction costs) and give it as tax credits to any building owner who proves energy consumption reductions. It doesn’t matter how you get there, it is results that count. The energy star building system seems to be a good start.

  13. Doug | | #13

    this probably is a much better house
    There are lots of people who think 5000 SF is just right--or even a little small.
    Until they are successfully deprogrammed, building their homes much better is not the worst option.
    LEED for homes does penalize larger houses. This house would have lost about 13 points right off the top. Then, the only big pile of points to use to make up for that is in the energy section. The levels of insulation detailed are normal for colder parts of the country but extraordinary for southern California. In fact, there's a passivehouse project in the Bay area with less insulation than this project.
    LEED for Homes does end up requiring upgraded energy performance. More than LEED for commercial projects. Less than probably would be ideal, sure, but it's much tougher than the commercial standards. Henry Gifford's suit/contentions don't apply to LEED for Homes.
    I don't know...it's easy to make fun of, but compared to the ten houses up the street and the ten houses down the street, this one is probably much better in almost every way. If we could get half or three quarters of large houses to go LEED for Homes, instead of 1/10 of 1%, the world would be a better place.

  14. James Morgan | | #14

    Huh?
    So now Leed Platinum = "slightly less worse than the house across the street"?

  15. Michael Alwan | | #15

    It has to be an organic change!
    I am a builder in and around Austin, TX ... we build nothing but "5-star green homes" and I was approached by a bank that had taken back several properties and knew that to get them off their books they had to garner the interest of several home builders, as finished homes sell sooner than lots these days (many people don't want to deal with the building process).

    We started the planning and approval process, and I was in a battle with the bank that I could build a 2400 to 2800 square foot home that would feel much larger, and live better than the "mini-mansion" homes being built around me. After about six months of back and forth, I conceded and we are now in the process of building a 2700 square foot house with a separate guest house/casita and a scaled down 3000 square foot home. It is amazing to think that banks, and potential home buyers would prefer the larger, cheaply built homes around us to smaller tasteful homes?!?!

    We will be posting more pictures of the new ones soon! Check out our website ...
    http://www.redbudaustin.com

  16. Doug | | #16

    LEED is supposed to be better, but not way far out there
    LEED is designed to be just far enough ahead of standard practice, that it pulls the market in the right direction, and normal construction people with normal budgets can achieve it.
    It is not designed to be the be-all and end-all of green building--certainly not at this point in time.
    If you disapprove of a "much better" house because it isn't perfect, you can go live in a Living Building Challenge house. Oh wait...there aren't any.
    I guess I agree with the sentiment that "better" can still be far from ideal, but it is much better than the crap that counts as "ordinary". LEED is an achievable step in the right direction.

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