Design - LEED Platinum Home Progress Report

February 5, 2010


We have begun to design what will be a total gut renovation of and addition to the clients' existing home.

The size of the site is limited and so the house size has to be small. The house as existing is approximately 1800 square feet. The lot is 1/7th of an acre. They are already over on their coverage as stipulated by the town of Darien. There is a detached garage on the lot that counts as coverage. Including the garage they are at 21% coverage. Allowable for their zone is 20% coverage.

The house is from 1920 and existed before zoning regulations. Though their lot is 1/7th of an acre their zoning is in the ½ acre zone. So in a way their coverage limitations seem extremely unfair- as the neighbors who are in the ¼ acre zone – who have the exact same sized lot-  get to have a good deal more coverage. The bottom line is that the town is tough on its zoning regulations and if they want to build anything they have to actually reduce their coverage to 20%. So the garage will be town down. We will design an addition that will bring the house to a few square feet less than 20%- to show good effort and to give ourselves a tiny safety net in case we are off by inches in surveying or construction. This is all fine with us.

One of the goals of building green is too build smaller homes and having strenuous parameters in place actually makes the design more interesting and challenging. Though the client may have ideally wanted a few more feet of elbow room they ultimately would not have designed a much bigger house even if they had 10 acres.

(Why DID the client choose to add on to this house instead of moving to a big lot somewhere else? Well actually the answer is a mixture of many things. The house is about ½ a city block form the train station so the husband can walk to the train, take an hour ride into Manhattan, walk a few blocks to his office from Grand Central Station and do the whole thing in the opposite direction in the evening to come home. The guy lives in suburbia but might not touch his car for 5 days! The house is also close to everything in town. Almost all shopping and amenities are within walking distance. So mom and the small daughter can spend their days car free as well, if they like. And thirdly the house is across the street form the town park. There is lots of open space and a beautiful pond right out their front door. You actually cannot find a more perfect example of where you would want to put a LEED certified home and provide a greatly reduced carbon footprint for people who care about just that.)

The existing house is an old simple colonial. It is simple and nice, though not particularly beautiful or unique, but it is in the historic district so we also have to please the town’s historic commission. This is fine because the clients want a traditional home. Though we, as architects, do enjoy designing modern or unique houses, we also love historic homes and see this one as such. We immediately all share a vision of turning this house into a lovely traditional colonial- true to historic in its detailing and proportion. Currently the house is not symmetrical and has none of the trim of a historic colonial. It was probably a less expensive sort of builder home of its time. There are many like it in the neighborhood. So our goal is to bring it some of the design and a bit of the grandeur that it would have had, had it been built by a wealthier family in the 1920’s.

Inside, the clients (like all of our other clients) want open-ness and light. The back yard is very private and we envision the house opening up in the back and the sides toward the back so the family can have an indoor outdoor feeling sort of lifestyle with loads of natural light flooding in. The front box of the house will retain all of the elements of a true colonial and the back box of the house will be more like a garden room or solarium with bigger windows on both the first and second floor . The first floor plan is to include kitchen, dining and family rooms all open to each other in the back/ solarium part of the house with mud room, formal entry and small parlor with an inglenook in the front of the house. Upstairs there will be 3 bedrooms – a master suite and 2 children’s rooms. We will go up one more ½ story and add a third floor guest room, office and bathroom. The total square footage for the new house will be 2700 sf (existing was 1800).  So we are adding 50% more space than they originally had.


Keeping the ideals of green building and the point system of LEED in mind (though we are still debating whether or not to pursue LEED Certification) we are all aware that we are doing great on both accounts. The lot and location could not be more perfect for meeting LEED expectations. It is a previously fully developed site, close to hundreds of amenities and transportation options. The size of the lot is 1/7 of an acre and satisfies a primary density requirement for single family development. The house size as well will please LEED. The final house will be about 2,700 square feet. In order to not be penalized by LEED a four bedroom house (which this will be) would be 2,600 sf. We will be penalized 1 point but for Fairfield County this is considered a very small house and the decision to add the extra 100 sf seemed worth it to the client. (Most of the houses we have done in Fairfield County CT would be penalized many more points as you are penalized 1 point per every 100 sf you go over the size maximum.) We feel we are doing quite well, especially considering that about 500 sf of this house is basement storage and mechanical space....not habitable living space. (Actually we are not 100% sure we will loose a point because we are not 100% sure that the mechanical space is included in the sf calcs.  If it is not then we are 100 sf under square footage...and maybe get a point!)