Green House Effect

When a Virginia couple decided to create a home office in their cramped brick rambler, they realized it was time to renovate. While they wanted more space, as longtime environmentalists they also wanted their remodeling project to be ecologically responsible. After noting principal Jonas Carnemark’s background in alternative energy, the homeowners tapped eco-friendly Carnemark systems + design, inc. to handle the project.
Carnemark’s challenge was to design a spacious, updated home in which his clients could comfortably live and work, while incorporating tenets of green building throughout. As Carnemark sees it, quality construction and sustainable design go hand in hand. “Green design means a low-maintenance, good design that lasts long, using long-lasting products,” he says. The three-bedroom, two-bath house was enlarged to include a new second story and five bedrooms and three and a half baths in all—with no alteration to the existing footprint. All trees on the property were protected, and a semi-permeable driveway was also installed.
Each construction choice made for the project had its green purpose. With the homeowners’ preferred Arts and Crafts style in mind, Carnemark constructed a gabled roof on one side to make room for a master bedroom suite. He placed a matching gable opposite to house two more bedrooms as well as a solar panel. A new, light-filled two-story front entry with open staircases allows air to be drawn up through windows on the ground floor and pushed out through a full-house fan directly above. “We all but eliminated the need for air conditioning,” Carnemark explains. “That’s why the big, open staircase was conceived.”
The house uses eco-friendly spray foam insulation for the exterior and recycled cotton (denim) insulation inside the house. The clapboard exterior is actually cement fiberboard, and the shakes on portions of the house are made of recycled tires. The durable steel roof keeps the house cool. Inside, the floors are a mix of bamboo and salvaged wood. All paint is low-VOC, and the millwork is FSC-certified. In order to reuse as many materials as possible, Carnemark hired a deconstruction company to sort out what was salvageable from the original house and sent the rest to be recycled (residents receive a tax break on those items).
But as Carnemark explains it, the finishes are only the palette; what makes a house truly green is how much energy and water are conserved. Here, the homeowners updated their kitchen using Energy Star appliances, and installed LED lighting, dual-flush toilets and low-flow fixtures throughout the house. They chose a tank-less hot water heater that heats water only as it’s used, and added a 750-gallon cistern for rainwater harvesting.
Carnemark is encouraged by the interest in green building shown by homeowners such as his clients. “I feel like it’s not a fad and is moving towards becoming a common practice,” he says. “It used to be we were thinking ourselves into a new way of doing. Now we’re doing ourselves into a new way of thinking.”Photographer Stacy Zarin Goldberg is based in Olney, Maryland.

RENOVATION DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION: Jonas Carnemark, Carnemark systems + design,inc., Bethesda, Maryland.