Building LEED on the lakeshore

March 2, 2009
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HOLLAND — A cottage on the lakeshore is being built to LEED Silver — possibly even Gold — standards, and at a market competitive price, thanks to a West Michigan couple who decided to invest their money in something they feel deeply about.

The project for the home on the Holland lakeshore, neighboring the historic Castle Park development, was commissioned by Michael and Joy Fossel, a couple who have a passion for sustainable practices.

“They really had a commitment to doing a sustainable cottage,” said Brent Dykstra, senior architect at AMDG Architects.

“When Michael and Joy approached us, they had three basic criteria. They said, ‘We’d like to build in a sustainable green way because it’s the right thing to do. We’d like to do it in a cost-effective and attractive way. And then, thirdly, we’d like to convince other people to do it because it’s the right thing to do.’

“Really, this process with Scott Christopher Homes grew out of Michael and Joy’s convictions.”

Scott Christopher Homes is a high-end home building company. The Fossels, who currently plan to put the house on the market after building, have put their passion for green into the property in unique ways. Michael, who is an avid gardener, even went so far as to customize a seed package of wildflowers that are native to the area. The plants will help replace the small amount of wild plants that were disturbed on the site as well as help with any erosion issues.

Joy’s goal was to make the house a comfortable living space, rather than simply building LEED for LEED’s sake without regard to livability.

“(Michael) certainly brought a lot to the project in terms of his ideas to the way that not only the vegetation but the outdoor space should be organized,” said Dykstra.

“Joy has really taken the reins of this project. She has also expressed the desire to design compelling interior spaces — to really make it a comfortable, livable home. I think that reinforces the notion that you can do this attractively and that we don’t need to end up with an architectural solution nobody wants to spend time in.”

Dykstra said the cottage has a largely open floor plan that encourages gatherings on the main level, with more private spaces scattered throughout the home. The floor plan also opens it up to the wooded site.

The Fossels were convinced they wanted to construct the cottage using the LEED for Homes certification process, which is third-party verified by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“What it does is it forces you to allocate your resources appropriately, so you do end up with a truly green project,” said Dykstra. “The way that we’ve executed that process is to really have a thorough planning program. … What we did was we sorted a lot of information, then made decisions that fit the original three criteria that Michael and Joy set out.”

The cottage is the first LEED home for AMDG Architects, and Dykstra noted that the company did not have to go to great lengths to use sustainable materials.

“We haven’t had to go to exotic building systems. We haven’t had to do esoteric or difficult measures to do a truly sustainable project,” he said. “I think that reinforces their idea of the fact that we can do it attractively and cost effectively.”

Scott Christopher Homes’ director of operations, Matt Reinsma, also commented on the uniqueness of not just the home, but the couple.

“What they’re saying is, ‘Look, we want to show people you can build in a green way and not have it be overly burdensome, and it’s the right thing to do,’” he said. “Green is nothing new to them; they have had that mindset for many, many years. In fact, the business community and the public are catching up to them in a way. Here, they are taking it to a whole new level and investing in a cottage that is intended to be sold.”

The house comes in at approximately 2,200 square feet, not including the basement. It has three baths and four bedrooms on the main and upper floors.

Reinsma said that building a LEED home is somewhat different.

“It’s about being smart. You just can’t hire any Joe off the street; they have to know about these issues. It can be achieved if the proper thought is put into it,” said Reinsma. “It’s more time on the front end, but in the long run, there is a real savings.”

Dykstra agreed.

“To do a home well requires a significant amount of planning prior to construction. I think to do a LEED home requires even more planning prior to construction. Part of doing it well is so the builder and architect can offer good information so the owner can make informed choices,” said Dykstra. “You have to provide the information so that the owner can make decisions relative to their priorities.”

He mentioned that while there is a level of uncertainty in the general housing market, there are still people who have the means to build homes and that homes are becoming more green.

“That’s clearly a stress in the home building market. I think the principles are sound and are becoming more attainable,” he said. “The trend is going toward green in homes. Trend is not even the right word: I think it’s growing out of a conviction of being the right thing to do.”

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