Alexandria home goes green from the bottom up

By: Audrey Hoffer

East Walnut in Alexandria is a lovely street with early-20th-century bungalows fronted by porches and small grass yards. You could imagine old-fashioned interiors with a four-poster bed upstairs. What you cannot visualize is a 3,600-square-foot interior with state-of-the-art appliances, a wine cellar and a huge basement apartment with 9-foot ceilings. But that’s precisely what sits on the west end of the boulevard.

This house is new and was “built to match the neighborhood,” says William M. Hawthorne, the environmentally conscious developer who retrofits and builds Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Gold-, Platinum- and Energy Star-certified residences.

Terence Hill bought the original 1918 bungalow and turned to Hawthorne to reconstruct it as an net-zero-energy dream retirement home.

Hawthorne created an upscale contemporary property that will soon be awarded LEED Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED certifications are internationally recognized and incorporate the highest standards for energy and environmentally efficient construction.

What convinced Hill to undertake such a project?

“My sense is that we’ve got environmental problems,” he says. “I can’t subscribe to the fact that we’re causing” excessive heating on our planet.

“It all starts with the concept of ‘net zero,’ ” Hawthorne says. “You want to be able to consume only as much as you can produce.”

To accomplish this goal, you must create an airtight envelope inside the building. This is done with sophisticated insulation techniques, good windows and doors, and proper use of today’s best practices in building technology. Add geothermal heating and cooling, rainwater harvesting and photovoltaic solar panels, and you’re almost there.

Hawthorne started with deconstruction. “In order to get the geothermal well-digging equipment in, we needed to get the house out,” he says. He deconstructed the bungalow and, in keeping with the green-conscious credo of recycle and reuse, donated any useable materials to Habitat for Humanity.

To win Platinum and Energy Star status, Hawthorne then incorporated:

» <2002>Structural insulation panels to build the walls and roof, which provide a tightly insulted exterior shell. Low E-argon windows complete the envelope.

» <2002>Geothermal and hydronic heating and cooling systems to control the indoor environment. Outdoor temperatures vary, but 100 feet below ground it’s mid-high-50’s all year. A geothermal system extracts this underground heat and transfers it through radiant systems built into the floors. Hawthorne dug four 100-foot-deep geothermal wells to reach optimum mean temperature.

» <2002>Rainwater harvesting and water purification systems to provide water. A rooftop rainwater harvesting system captures rainwater from the gutters, stores it in a retention tank, transfers it through ultraviolet filters and sends it back into the house as purified potable water. The rainwater also supports a fire suppression sprinkler systaic solar cell roof panels to convert sunrays into electricity.

The interior is stylish with a Miele cooktop, oven and microwave; Fisher & Paykel dish drawer; Liebherr premium refrigerator; and Bulthaup counter and cabinets. Built-in bookcases hold a generous library, and big windows let in natural light.

“We didn’t skimp on the finishes inside,” Hawthorne says. The cost was about $230 per square foot start to finish. Energy bills are $20 to $30 per month.

“This house was my vision of how I thought I should live in the future,” Hill says. “You don’t know how much longer you’ve got here. You have to make a contribution.”

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