The Greenest Home in America, Five Years Later

Aerial view_Photo by Blake Marvin

Photo credit: Blake Marvin

 

When we last checked in with Paul Holland (James Madison) and his wife, Linda, they were in the process of building the greenest home in America, as chronicled in the Winter 2010 issue of The Delta. As Paul told us at the time, the project was never intended to be a competition – “the greenest home in America” was more of a personal challenge to see how far they could take it.

The real goal was to build an environmentally regenerative concept house that would serve as a learning experience for others looking to learn more about green building. It was always part of Paul and Linda’s plan for the house to serve as a gathering place for not only their family but also green builders looking to learn from the project.

In addition to hosting classes from nearby schools, Paul and Linda have hosted nearly 50 groups since moving in four years ago this July. They’ve also hosted classes from several universities, including Stanford and James Madison, Paul’s alma mater.

“We wanted a place that brings people together,” he says now, reflecting on the building process.

“The most influential thing we were able to do was host a group from the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo when it was held in San Francisco in 2012. We hosted a VIP kickoff event that included scores of designers, architects, and other green builders looking for ideas and concepts they could borrow for other projects around the world.”

Living room_Photo Blake Marvin

Paul and Linda avoided natural gas and all oil-based products, so you won’t find any paints or varnishes in the house. Photo credit: Blake Marvin

 

For each group, Paul and Linda walk people through the green elements of the house in such a way that helps visitors learn how to incorporate the same ideas in their own projects.

The home is entirely free of fossil fuels, so all mechanical systems are electric. The ground-source heat pumps provide an efficient way to heat the home without electricity. Twenty-seven kilowatts of solar energy power the house and two electric cars; Paul and Linda expect this source to power up to five electric cars when their three children start driving.

As for building materials, they were careful to use only wood, stone, glass, and metal. They avoided natural gas and all oil-based products, so you won’t find any paints or varnishes in the house.

With the exception of a few trees, they removed all non-native flora from the property, replacing the existing grass with native varieties that don’t require as much water — a decision that has been validated by California’s ongoing water shortage. With the closed-loop recycled water system all water gets treated and reused on site.

In addition to favoring native grasses, they conducted studies to restore other native plant species and improve wildlife habitats. (The house’s name, Tah.Mah.Lah, is the word for mountain lion used by the native Ohlone people who once inhabited the Portola Valley area in California.)

Open walls_Erin Scholl

In addition to favoring native grasses, Paul and Linda conducted studies to restore other native plant species and improve wildlife habitats. Photo credit: Erin Scholl

 

As the house’s website states, Paul and Linda wanted Tah.Mah.Lah. to be a “proving ground for many innovations in the construction process itself.” As for next steps, they want to continue to do outreach and be a part of the curriculum that educates on green building. Judging from the hundreds of visitors and the green builders who seek them out for advice, it’s apparent that their project is having a positive effect on the burgeoning green building movement.

For Earth Day 2015 we asked Paul to highlight some steps we can all take to live a greener lifestyle – whether you’re a green builder or an everyday citizen looking to be more conscientious.

Do things that are irreversible. Implement energy systems that use ground-source and solar. Once you get accustomed to not using less efficient sources of energy (e.g. oil-based) you’ll never feel the need to go back. You get hooked on 100% renewable lifestyle.

Get in the habit of reusing things. Take your own reusable bottle to the coffee shop when you can. Take reusable grocery bags to the market. Drink tap water in a glass in place of bottled water. Deconstruct existing buildings and donate the parts instead of tearing them down and hauling the parts to a landfill. In general, find ways to cut down on the amount of trash you produce.

Take advantage of the shared economy. The most profound thing we’re seeing with regards to more responsible living is the shift towards sharing resources. The current generation of young people is much better at this than older generations. Young people are using UberPool, corporate buses, and other ride sharing services that cut down on traffic pollution. Thanks to Airbnb, people are finding lodging accommodations in existing structures rather than building new hotels. There are now services that let you rent out your car while it’s parked at the airport. The Airbnb for corporate events, PeerSpace, lets groups rent meeting space in existing buildings rather than hotels that don’t get as much use. The sharing economy is providing more efficient use of buildings and automobiles that would otherwise sit idle.

Paul predicts that the concepts of home ownership and car ownership will continue to change, a shift that is good news for green living.

To learn more about Tah.Mah.Lah and other green causes, visit the project’s website which includes links to news articles and a blog with additional resources for green living.

Paul Holland at his office in Menlo Park, Calif.

Paul Holland at his office in Menlo Park, Calif.

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