A Carbon Cloud On a freezing December day in 2008, an electrical fire burned through the center portion of this home in Water Mill, New York. What was not destroyed by the fire itself, was ruined by smoke and water damage. The family came home to a devastating sight - their home and everything in it - frozen in a carbon-crusted rubble pile.
The architect, a friend of the family, mobilized and assembled the design/build team - a group of local tradesmen interested both in honing their sustainability skills and applying their knowledge to aid the family. The team members, including the general contractor and major sub -contractors, agreed to provide all work at cost, and get the family back in their home as soon as possible. Shortly after the fire, the team began meeting weekly with the owners to review and coordinate all project goals.
While the family was busy sorting through the ruins of their former home, the architect worked with the family’s three teenage children to keep them involved and engaged in the rebuilding process. One child helped with online research for the LEED for Homes program and communicated with the architect via email, the others began to learn about renewable energy systems and which ones might be appropriate for their new home. As they learned, they became more excited about renewable energy and turned their family’s tragedy into academic extra credit by reporting on their proposed energy systems at school.
The strict budget was limited to the insurance claim plus the family’s contribution for the additional square footage. The LEED checklist provided a valuable focal point for the family and team and all agreed that we would collectively use, re-use, recycle, scrounge and find sustainable solutions for every situation. The General Contractor offered end runs and leftovers of lumber products for the architect to use as appropriate. With the assistance of the architect, the father, never having had any prior wood working experience, spent many weekends ripping and staining reclaimed lumber to become most of the trim components for the new interior and exterior. During construction, pizza-fueled “Work Parties” were organized to and friends, classmates, design/build team members and the family all came together to pitch in and move the project along according to schedule and on budget.
The Platinum Lining The design, drawing and permitting process took 6 months. After breaking ground in July of 2009, the complete renovation and 1500 sf addition was completed 9 months later. The family occupied their new home on March 31st, 2010, 15 months after the fire. LEED Platinum Status was awarded by USGBC in September of 2010 with 104 points, one of the highest ratings in the country.
Although this tragedy ended in a positive outcome for the family, it is not yet over. Now the home is serving as a learning tool for the surrounding community. The local school has run tours of the home and its systems as educational classes, the design/build team learned invaluable lessons to be carried to future projects, and even municipal leaders were invited to learn more about energy and high performance buildings. The family, grateful to be living in a home they helped to create, is active in monitoring their new systems and continues to open their home to anyone interested in looking at and learning more about sustainability in action.