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Green Homes

Michigan’s First LEED Platinum Gut-Rehab

Balancing priorities. To meet all of the project goals this house has to do a variety of things well. The exterior is clad in durable, environmentally responsible materials and maintains its original historic look; the yard requires little maintenance, and manages runoff well with a gravel driveway and water-absorbing garden beds.
Image Credit: Jim Haefner
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Adapted space and materials. Though it's mostly defined by the home's original footprint, the interior is now more open and contemporary, in keeping with John and Karen's lifestyle and taste. The dining table and the new stairs are made of timbers that were saved during the partial dismantle. The hardwood flooring came from a local mill.
Image Credit: Jim Haefner
Daylight throughout. The kitchen has windows on all sides so natural light is abundant from dawn til dusk. The room is an extension of the free-flowing open plan—one of the many ways the home packs a lot of function into a modest space.
Image Credit: Jim Haefner
Make it what you want. Though its intended purpose is a bicycle staging room, this ground-level entry could easily be a conventional mudroom. Its location and layout are prime examples of how a well-thought-out design can make life easier. The stairs in the foreground lead right into the center of the home while a home bicycle shop is just out of sight down in the basement.
Image Credit: Doug Selby
Saving the best parts. A major insulation retrofit and installation of new windows are easier if the home is stripped down to the studs and sheathing. Plans for a small addition off the back required that part of the frame be disassembled as well. The builders reused or recycled salvageable lumber.
Image Credit: Doug Selby
More control, less waste. ICFs make a lot of sense for small additions but builder Doug Selby says his crew uses them on whole houses too. Forming and insulating happens in one step and keeping the job in-house helps Doug keep on top of the details.
Image Credit: Doug Selby
Great performance—especially for a home this old. Annual energy use: 51.07MMBtu/year. A jump from a HERS rating of 216 to 48 is a respectable accomplishment. Doug Selby would have liked to take it even further with a layer of foam sheathing under the new siding but he says that the energy savings is on target with John and Karen's initial goal. An old home is the heart of this complete package. After stripping the inside and outside finish materials, the builders had a good frame around which to build a tighter and more durable envelope. Spray polyurethane foam insulates and seals, while fiber-cement siding will protect the outside for decades to come.
Image Credit: Toshi Woudenberg

An insulation retrofit, extensive rainwater management, and a properly sized floor plan add up to a very green remodel

Doug Selby of Meadowlark Builders and Michael Klement of Architectural Resource are experienced at energy-efficient remodeling. Working as a team, Selby and Klement were the first in Michigan to grab a LEED Platinum rating for a gut-rehab job.

Selby and Klement had a long list of goals: to create an adaptable home with better-connected spaces; to facilitate activities that homeowners John and Karen are passionate about (like bicycling and gardening); to seriously increase the home’s energy efficiency (not hard when starting with a HERS Index of 216); to handle all the stormwater on site; and to remain mindful of health issues, comfort, and the responsible use of resources.

Keeping what works

Reuse was a big theme for the project. Although Meadowlark removed all of the siding and plaster, they kept most of the home’s frame and sheathing intact. To make the most of the space, part of the structure had to be dismantled, but the build team gave new life to much of the old lumber. Hewn beams became massive legs on a glass-and-steel dining table; old nail holes in the otherwise smooth treads of the open, modern staircase hint at the boards’ earlier life within the walls.

The new siding, trim, and porches ultimately kept the home’s historical image intact, too. While the home is now straighter, brighter, and more weather-resistant than before the remodel, it still fits in nicely with the other 19th-century homes on the block.

Little wasted water

Water moves efficiently through PEX tubing attached to a central manifold and an on-demand water heater. Low-flow fixtures make the most of every drop.

Water conservation was just as important outside. John and Karen were adamant about keeping all rainwater on site using dry wells, a rain garden, and rain barrels which collect water for their vegetable garden. They covered most of the yard with permeable paving and garden beds, keeping turf to a minimum.

Big energy savings

Air sealing work and better insulation helped cut the home’s energy consumption. The builders installed a 13-in.-thick ICF foundation for the new addition. After framing the addition, the builders filled the home’s new and existing walls and rafters with spray-foam insulation to create a tight outer shell. Doug Selby would have liked to find room in the budget for a layer of foam sheathing under the new siding, but after seeing the low heating and cooling bills (about $40 per month) he’s very happy with the overall results of the insulation retrofit.

Shade trees on the tight infill lot ruled out solar heat or hot water; instead, the build team chose a ground-source heat pump (GSHP) to heat and cool the house. To cut demand for electricity, Klement planned windows for ample daylighting and specified energy-efficient lighting and appliances.

Lessons Learned

Klement emphasizes, “Teamwork was the core of the success of this project.” He was thrilled by the opportunity to work through design challenges with a quality builder and involved clients. John and Karen came to the table with a list of their dreams and a dollar amount they were comfortable with. As is often the case, the dreams and budget don’t always balance out, but compromises were reached through creativity, flexibility, and good communication.

Smaller can feel bigger
By incorporating built-in storage, a space-saving layout, and other details inspired by Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big House book series, resources were used extremely efficiently. Even though John and Karen were there for the whole process, they were amazed that they were able to fit everything they wanted into only half the space they thought they needed.

They wanted their home to meet the needs of their multifaceted life but still have the flexibility to adapt as their lives changed. A perfect example is the on-grade bicycle staging room. It makes their favorite mode of transport much more comfortable and convenient than a basement or garage would; plus the room could easily function as a more traditional mudroom for them or future homeowners. Personalized designs like this don’t happen unless everyone keeps an open mind and focuses on defining and meeting real needs.

General Specs and Team

Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 2.5
Living Space: 1855
Cost: 223
Additional Notes:

Completed: June 2008

Builder/contractor: Doug Selby Meadowlark Builders
Architect: Michael Klement, AIA Architectural Resource


Foundation: (existing) stone and brick; (addition) 13-in. ICF (R-28, Reward Blocks), drainage wrap (Platon)
Walls: (existing) 2x4 studs; (addition) 2x4 studs at 24-in. o.c., SPF insulation (R-21)

Windows: double-pane, argon, low-e (U-factor=0.32, Pella)
Roof: (existing) 2x6 rafters; (addition) 2x4 trusses at 24 in. o.c., 6-in. SPF insulation (R-36)


  • Energy-recovery ventilator (ERV)
  • Tankless hot water system
  • Spray-foam insulation
  • Fluorescent lights
  • Daylighting
  • Low-energy appliances

Energy Specs

Heating/cooling: ground-source heat pump (Earthlinked® Direct Exchange System); cost, $25,000
Water heating: tankless gas water heater (Rinnai)
HERS Index: 216 (start); 48 (finish)
Annual energy use:

  • Projected: 56.55 MMBtu,
    30.49 kBtu/sq. ft.
  • Actual: 51.07 MMBtu,
    27.5 kBtu/sq. ft.

Water Efficiency

  • Low-flow toilets, sinks, showerheads
  • PEX manifold supply system
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Drought-resistant landscaping
  • Minimal turf

Indoor Air Quality

  • Low- or no-VOC finishes
  • Linoleum floor in entry
  • Occupancy sensors for bathroom fans
  • Paperless drywall in bathrooms

Green Materials and Resource Efficiency

  • Advanced framing (AFT)
  • Recycled framing lumber as finish materials
  • Locally produced hardwood floors
  • FSC-certified lumber


LEED for Homes: platinum (101/136 pts.)
Energy Star score: 5+ stars


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