BY MARY ANN AZEVEDO | September 2, 2014 | Home & Real Estate
The green movement in Austin real estate is becoming a template for the rest of the nation.
Peter Pfeiffer’s home was included in the Cool House Tour.
Austin architect Peter Pfeiffer doesn’t just design green buildings; he lives and works in them. From his office at Barley & Pfeiffer (1800 W. 6th St., 512-476-8580) to his residence in Central Austin, Pfeiffer treats his own properties as laboratories of sorts, testing features before recommending them to clients. “Everything we design for our clients’ homes was probably already built in something we own,” he says. In 2001 Pfeiffer designed a 4,175-square-foot home on River Road for his family of six. The property cost nearly $940,000 to build and is today valued anywhere from $1.4 million to $1.8 million.“The idea of my house was to make it use less energy by the nature of its design,” he says. “We’re trying to get people to think more deeply—beyond just gizmos.”
His home sits on a mid-size lot and was situated to take advantage of the prevailing breezes and good solar orientation in such a way as to maximize passive cooling in the summer and passive solar heat gain in the winter. An open central stair tower was included to help cool the home while providing its center with glare-free daylight. Other features include a ventilated radiant-barrier roof system, rigid foam wall and attic insulation, carefully sized roof overhangs, a sealed attic, hydronic heating, and a water-based air-conditioning system that uses the swimming pool as a heat sink. “Our average monthly utility bill has ranged from $125 to $175 per month,” he says. “That’s really low for a house that size with that many people—and also has a swimming pool.”
Pfeiffer is not alone in his commitment to green building in Austin. Years before the US Green Building Council (USGBC) even came into existence in 1993, Austin’s leaders had paved the way with an innovative program, Austin Energy Star Homes, in an effort to prevent the city from needing to build more power plants. Pfeiffer played a role in the creation of that program. With that, the city adopted its first energy code in 1985 in an effort to help builders meet or exceed their energy requirements through technical support—and not just inspections. The city established a green-building ratings system for single- family homes in 1991, which served as a model for LEED ratings established by the USGBC. Eventually, Austin’s ratings systems came to include multifamily and commercial properties.
Furman + Keil Architects designed this environmentally sustainable West Lake Hills home with deep overhangs to maximize shading, operable windows for natural ventilation, and regionally and sustainably sourced materials.
“We were always a step ahead,” says Richard Morgan, green-building and sustainability manager for Austin Energy. “Ours was the first US sustainability rating program. Throughout the 1990s, programs in Atlanta, Scottsdale, and other cities used our program as a template to build their own programs. And when the LEED ratings system began, our staff was involved with that.”
A prime example of how popular green home building is in Austin is the 700-acre Mueller mixed use site, set three miles from downtown and two miles from UT. The sustainable, master-planned community features single-family homes, town homes, and condos built with nontoxic and recyclable materials. The developer’s goal is to give residents a place to shop, eat, work, and play without having to get into their cars. Such urban infill projects with sustainable design will only become more popular in Austin, believes Philip Keil, principal of Furman + Keil Architects (708 Rio Grande St., 512-479-4100). “I’d like to think of this as not a trend but as simply good building practices,” he says.
Furman + Keil designed two homes on June’s Austin’s Cool House Tour, the 18th annual event led by Austin Energy Green Building and the Texas Solar Energy Society. The green-building movement is widespread across the city and beyond. “We’ve seen ranch properties that are implementing green practices such as rainwater collection,” Keil says. “When you have a lot of land and are distant from the city, collecting rainwater makes a lot of sense.”
Solluna Builders created a net-zero-energy home for Karen and Dan Cripe in Round Rock that was part of Austin’s 2011 Cool House Tour.
Wayne Jeansonne, founder of Austin-based Solluna Builders (1011 Meredith Dr., 512-804-2050), has been in the green-building business for 12 years and has four projects under contract now, compared with two at this same time last year. The builder echoes Keil’s sentiments about rainwater collection. “The city’s drought has made people aware of the need to control their own water destiny,” he says. Jeansonne recently installed a 30,000-gallon water tank on a home with 4,000 square feet of air-conditioned space. “They filled up the tank in two and a half months,” he says. “For every inch of rain on 1,000 square feet of roof, a homeowner is collecting 625 gallons of water.”
One of Jeansonne’s projects was building a net zero-energy home for a Round Rock couple who lived in a 2,100-square-foot home and sought to downsize and live more sustainably. “I wanted to do my bit to save the planet,” says Karen Cripe. “My husband was more interested in the cost savings.” When their homeowner’s association wouldn’t allow them to make certain changes to their house, they found a plot of land and built a 1,400-square-foot net zero- energy home from the ground up for about $290,000. “We’re heading into retirement and trying to keep our lives as low-maintenance as possible,’” she explains.
Lucy Stolzenburg, executive director of the Texas Solar Energy Society, points out that attendance in the Cool House Tour (in which Pfeiffer’s home was also featured) was up 20 percent in 2014 compared with the previous year. Even more interesting was the mix of attendees. “The staff working on the tour says the crowd looked a bit younger this year,” Stolzenburg notes. “That’s a positive sign. We’re not just marketing to the moveup market but also to the first-time home buyer. That’s really important.”
For his part, Jeansonne thinks green building will continue to penetrate the Austin market. “I started out when this was a niche market and considered exotic in Austin,” he says. “But it’s gone from extreme to mainstream.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CASEY DUNN; wayne jeansonne (round rock); courtesy of barley|pfeiffer architecture (pfeiffer home)