Is this the greenest spec home in America? Nick Slevin believes it is.
By Julia Edinger
High in the San Bernardino Mountains, nestled snug into the woods on the aptly named Scenic Drive in Crestline, Calif., the ABC Green Home 4.0 has met its final milestones.
ABC’s of Sustainability
In 2012, Builder.Media built the first ABC Green Home project in order to display for the industry that net zero building can be affordable, buildable, and certifiably green. In 2019, Builder.Media completed construction on the latest ABC Green Home in the project.
The ABC Green Home 4.0 demonstrates many of the high-performance building strategies as the prior builds, in addition to a whole array of new, luxury, and smart features. After successfully completing other award-winning net-zero ABC Green Homes, Nick Slevin, Owner and Publisher of Builder.Media, decided to challenge himself and his team by designing a luxury spec home on a mountain site.
The ABC Green Home project has garnered significant recognition in the homebuilding community. The various homes have received 15 awards, including a national award from NAHB for the 3.0, and have been recognized four times for the best green interior at the Gold Nugget® awards.
The original ABC Green Home was built in Irvine, Calif., with builder partner Southern California Edison (SCE); it was on display for three years and hosted the U.S. D.O.E.’s Solar Decathlon competition twice. The home was deconstructed and rebuilt to become two new ABC Green Homes in Santa Ana, Calif., ABC 1A and ABC 1B, built by SCE and Habitat OC. The ABC 2.0 was a custom home in Walnut, Calif., built in partnership with Habitat For Humanity. The ABC 3.0 was a cluster of three homes in Fullerton, Calif., also built with Habitat OC. Each home is part of Builder.Media’s efforts to educate members of the home industry by demonstrating high-performance innovation is possible.
“I like to think of the whole series as the ABC Green Home Project, and each home build is just another chapter,” stated Slevin.
The lot on which the latest house was built is a 10,000 square-foot flat and enclosed lot. The lot is wooded, adding both an aesthetically pleasing factor and a bit of a challenge. The design team had to design in a way that would let the homeowner feel the joys of mountain living in California — while keeping them connected to the world around them.
The 3,957 square foot home is extremely green, and proves that living large can be synonymous with living sustainably. With five bedrooms and six bathrooms, a family of any size could find comfort; alternatively, the home could be utilized as a multigenerational home.
Independently certified by nine agencies, the home will be 25 percent above the new standards of California’s Title 24 building codes.
One of the unique certifications is that of the health of a home’s interior environment. Wellness Within Your Walls, founded by Jillian Pritchard Cooke, implements a number of strategies to ensure that the home is healthy.
The Healthy Living System™ is the 10-step approach used by Wellness Within Your Walls to analyze and measure the home’s wellness. These steps include everything from clean air to behavior.
The ABC Green Home 4.0’s project team worked closely with the team at Wellness Within Your Walls to ensure the incorporation of this system.
“For every step the building industry has taken as it relates to efficiencies, we’ve been shadowing with the conversation of contaminants,” Cooke explained in an interview with Builder.Media.
A holistic approach to building this healthy home required careful planning from conception to completion. For example, no products in the home use volatile organic compounds (VOCs), so there is no off-gassing in the home, protecting future residents from harmful airborne chemicals. All paint, carpets, and drapes use recycled materials, furthering sustainability efforts.
Other certifying agencies include the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Green Building Council, and the Department of Energy. To receive such a number of certifications, the building’s design had to be carefully planned with a comprehensive building approach.
High Altitude, High Standards
One of the greatest challenges was a part of the design plan from the beginning. After having successfully completed the other ABC Green Homes, Slevin, Project Manager of the ABC Green Home 4.0, decided that it was time for a new way to challenge himself and his team. With that goal, Slevin found a mountain site in Crestline that was a short drive from Lake Arrowhead and Lake Gregory.
“The home is at 6,000 feet of altitude, which makes it more challenging for the home’s energy systems to operate efficiently while still achieving net-zero energy,” Slevin explained. “This environment enjoys varying weather, which can create large fluctuations in temperature — from 30 degrees to 65 degrees in the same day. This makes the house work harder to be energy efficient.”
The other challenge with building in this area was the risk of wildfires. The building team took a combination of approaches to mitigate the risk. For example, fire-rated OSB by LP FlameBlock acts as a flame retardant. The cementitious siding by Allura paired with the OSB delivers a one-hour burn-rated wall. The inclusion of Eagle Roofing’s lightweight, concrete, Cool Roof Tile is fire resistant and keeps the home cooler by deflecting UV glares. Implementing Huber’s Zip AdvanTech® floor sheathing with MP Global’s underlayment ensures easy installation and a quiet finish, while protecting from other weather elements.
One of the most important qualities in this aspect was having high-quality framing and a solid building envelope. In order to enhance the building envelope, advanced framing design techniques were used. This is the signature framing format used in each ABC Green Home to date. Using trusted brands like Rockwool, LP, Allura, and Typar, the frame was sure to be secure. Using two-inch by six-inch wall studs, spaced 24 inches on center, allowed for more insulation in the walls than in a traditional build; the use of rigid insulation materials on the outside of the exterior wall’s OSB allows for improved R-rating values, which measure the insulation’s thermal resistance.
The tight building envelope helps the home limit any lost energy or heat. However, a tighter building envelope can lead to something Cooke has coined “Tight Box Syndrome.” To avoid trapping unhealthy air inside a home, it is crucial to have a proper ventilation system. In this build, an Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) system is used to treat the air. There are four hourly full-home air changes, and with an ERV system, the fluctuating temperatures of the San Bernardino Mountains are easily managed by the home.
The ABC Green Home 4.0 uses a Panasonic ventilation system helps to maintain indoor air quality — from the basement to the attic.
The attic not only acts as a storage space for the future homeowner, but it also will serve as a bonus room. Both the basement and attic are air conditioned, with the indoor temperatures regulating themselves. The attic features natural lighting and carpeting, making an excellent and versatile bonus room.
The Green Team
The ABC Green Home 4.0’s team consists of many dedicated and creative individuals who came together to be a part of something innovative, award-winning, and green.
The team includes Chuck Good-Man, AIA, architect, Jillian Pritchard Cooke, interior designer, and Builder.Media’s Nick Slevin as the homebuilder. The engineering was completed by CORE Structure Inc., GREEN MEP, and Kadtec CE.
Amir Deihimi, President at CORE Structure Inc., engineered the building; Robert Style, Principal and Chief Operating Officer, coordinated the program.
“The team has selected the best systems and materials that are readily available from the homebuilding industry to create this custom home that definitely has the style and character of a mountain retreat,” Slevin said.
Importance of Accessibility
The home clearly has a large number of features that appeals to people of all ages. While Gen Z and millennials are often thought to be the connectivity-centered generations, many builders are finding that seniors of the Boomer and Gen X markets are also very interested in smart technology and energy-efficient homes.
This is why the ABC Green Home 4.0 incorporated the signature accessibility features that were implemented in the previous builds: wider hallways and wider doorways.
The self-contained basement includes a bedroom and bathroom. The team intended this, as the basement could easily be used as an ADA-adaptable multigenerational suite. There is even a dinette and wheelchair-accessible shower.
Hardwood floors encourage mobility. Light switch and electric socket placement are all intended to increase the functionality of this home for whoever the buyer could be.
Whether a family is looking for a home with a private, functional space for an older family member, or whether a young and sustainability-focused professional is interested in living somewhere that is highly connected but virtually without a carbon footprint, the ABC Green Home 4.0 will exceed expectations.
The ABC Green Home 4.0 includes a number of features in the landscaping that not only improve its appearance, but also further reduce the carbon footprint. The hardscaping includes a variety of materials and textures, including cement, pavers, brick, and stone. The hardscaping features blend well with the use of xeriscape, a style of landscaping that uses drought-tolerant plants to combat water usage. Drip irrigation further reduces the water used, and moisture-sensing controllers even increase the efficiency of that process by recognizing weather patterns and making watering adjustments.
The exterior of the home also features a large driveway and five-foot sidewalks. Vinyl gates and fences are resilient against storms, as they don’t rot or warp when the rain comes.
The Added Value of Luxury
One of the creative additions on the ABC Green Home 4.0 is a custom barn that matches the house. The barn has water and electricity and can be used for a number of purposes, from a playhouse for the kids to bonus storage; the choice belongs to the buyer.
Other bonus features include an outside barbeque and a hot tub, so residents can spend time in nature at any time of the year.
The refrigerated wine cellar in the basement level includes a bottle racking system and Kwikset’s smart locks; it has space for 2,000 bottles of wine.
Another unique space in the home is the hidden panic room at the back of the master closet. It has its own independent ventilation, as well as an alarm keypad and safe. This feature gives residents peace of mind.
For families with young children, the mudroom will save future hassles, as they can clean off in the half bath and leave muddy shoes on the shelves. There is also additional storage space for recreational activities, like racks for skis and golf bags. The designer kitchen’s waterfall countertop island implements Daltile’s classic granite appeal. The wet bar area displays forest views, and the TV offers alternative views; either can be enjoyed with food and drinks at the bar seating.
Each feature was carefully planned, from the placement of the outlets to the materials used in any part of the home. It was a learning process, through which the Builder.Media team created something that can help others learn. The home is intended to act as a classroom, helping other builders prepare for the changes to Title 24.
“It really does take a village to create something like this, but it is well worth the effort,” Slevin summarized.