Clean & Green - the Net-Zero Energy Home of Your Dreams

Posted by David Higgins on Wednesday, March 28th, 2018 at 9:07pm.

A Contemporary Piedmont Manse Marries Eco-Friendly to Modern Materials

By Ramona d’Viola - Columnist – Oakland Magazine

Developer Ben O’Neill was looking to build a home for his own family when he found the “virgin” lot at 53 Cambrian Avenue in a posh Piedmont zip code renown for its schools. The quarter-acre of undeveloped land (almost unheard of in the 21st-Century world of East Bay luxury real estate) became the tableau for an eco-friendly, net-zero energy modern manse – with literal roots in the property.

Looking up from the street, the impressive 4,462 sq. ft. home (designed by Robin Pennell of Oakland’s Jarvis Architects) is a massive, energy-efficient structure with a three-story front elevation. At four bedrooms, three full baths, and two powder rooms, the home’s abundant living space, and enviable open floor plan, is inviting in spite of its size – and perfectly temperature controlled season by season.

Every consideration of energy efficiency went into the planning and construction of this singularly spectacular home. Along with Pennell, and InSite Design’s Lauran Lee, the trio worked to identify and source specific materials that fit the overall net-zero energy functionality and ethos of the home - from ambient flooring, photovoltaic solar, and gray water reclamation systems.

Starting from the foundation, up, O’Neill describes the high R-Value, insulated thermal concrete forms used to create a nearly impervious vapor barrier that inhibits heat loss through transfer to the exterior. Custom designed structural insulated panels (SIPs), fitted with high-tech aluminum windows further insulate the “envelope” to create an environmentally drum tight home.

“The key to keeping your home warm is creating a tight ‘envelope’ where heated air isn’t escaping,” says O’Neill. “Not adding more insulation. Our goal was to create a net-zero, energy-efficient home using the vanguard of modern materials and technologies. Homes of this square footage require a lot of energy to heat and cool – especially houses with lots of glass.”

A 7.5 kw solar system and ubiquitous, energy-sipping LED lighting reduces the home’s overall electric consumption, complemented by a gas-heated water heater to augment a large family’s water usage demands – plumbed to the gray water reclamation system, of course.

“This home will generate as much power as it consumes over the year,” says O’Neill.

 In keeping with the modern aesthetic of the home’s design, O’Neill turned to Oakland-based Alumatherm, a family owned business specializing in commercial-grade aluminum windows. The company was tasked with creating custom windows for the building’s net-zero energy goal. Utilizing argon gas and solar membranes, these “smart” windows regulate heat gain during the warm periods to assist in maintaining a consistent ambient temperature throughout the year.

O’Neill worked closely with interior designer Lee, to identify and source specific materials and finishes that fit the overall net-zero functionality and ethos of the home.

“We chose long-cured, manufactured French oak flooring designed to withstand heat from the ambient system,” says Lee. “Using this material allowed us to introduce the visual warmth of wood, while creating an efficient ambient system that ensures against gaps and warping, unlike solid wood flooring.”

With its gentle slope and corner location, the shape of the property was designed to afford neighborhood and treetop views. Pennell utilized walls of glass to draw attention to the home’s two-story open interior – and a spectacular custom chandelier.

“On the lower floors, you have finely finished spaces including a media room, wine cellar, and home office space,” says Pennell. “There’s an unimpeded flow of natural light and constant, ambient temperature.”

A protracted design and permitting process gave O’Neill time to harvest, cure and re-purpose several mature Redwood and Cedars found on the property. Reimagined as beautiful, live-edge shelving, countertops, and exterior flashing, the Redwood marries the home’s wild past to its modern future.

Designed with kids in mind, the top floor provides unimpeded sight lines from an exterior patio and elevated, level backyard perfect for keeping an eye out during playtime.  A retractable NanaWall further integrates the outdoor and indoor living spaces seamlessly.

The Cedars, preserved from the site are reimagined as benches surrounding a modern firepit. A meaningful reincarnation for these noble trees.

“We wanted to use all the existing elements the property had to offer,” says O’Neill. “Without wasting anything.”

 The Particulars
Price available upon request
53 Cambrian Ave
Piedmont, CA
5 Bedrooms
3 Bathrooms
2 Powder rooms
Wine Cellar
Media Room
3-Car attached garage
Lot size: .24 acres (11,300 sq.ft.)

See our article in the April 2018 issue of Oakland and Alameda Magazines.

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