Back to the Zoning Board! and What That Has To Do With LEED - LEED Platinum Home Progress Report

September 10, 2010


We have to go BACK before the zoning board again to get approval for changing the direction of the upper roof.

The clients have decided that they would like to pursue LEED certification and that they would also like to put solar panels on the roof.

The third floor roof is where the solar panels would have to go. The orientation of the third floor roof was talked about often in the spring and we were all well aware that the orientation would have to turn 90 degrees to get solar panels to work. BUT we had zoning issues and felt that the odds of the house getting approval would be higher with the roof oriented the same way as the existing second floor roof- it would give the house a bit of a lower profile in the front even though the heights of the roof would be the same either way.

So we prepare the drawings to go before the zoning board again. In the end we get approval to change the orientation of the third floor roof but the win is not without a lot of hassle and anxiety for everyone- never mind the highering again of a lawyer.

The town of Darien has a sort of strangely run zoning department and it is policed by a zoning official who seems to put his own opinion above the zoning ‘laws’ and above the qualifications of the zoning board itself.  It is unfathomable to all involved (in this project or any other) why the town, the town officials and the ZBA put up with this sort of behavior from one employee, but there it is. For now it is just this horrible experience that the tax payers of Darien have to deal with to get a house built. It costs tons of extra money in legal fees and keeps everyone involved up at night with worry. It really is a shame that they allow this behavior to run their department. It would never be allowed In any other town of which I know.


Also it seems strange from the LEED point of view. I serve on a few boards and committees in Fairfield County, CT. Boards or committees that focus on green building and the greening of municipalities.

Every town I know is trying hard to think of ways to incentivize energy efficient building. Other towns are bending over backwards to serve their constituents who choose to build green. They are giving them quick and easy routes through the permitting process, waiving permitting fees or giving local tax incentives. They are also ‘shouting about it’ - writing articles in the papers and high-lighting these projects on the town websites. We are building a house that will not only be LEED certified but will likely be off the charts Platinum LEED certified. We will get lots and lots of points for staying on a pre-developed small in-town lot, close to all amenities and utilities. We are building s VERY small house for Fairfield County (we are bringing it from 1800 square feet to 2700 square feet.)

To be treated this poorly by the town when we are really giving so much back to the town with this house just seems very wrong. 

How are we giving back with this house?

  • We are giving back by NOT tearing down an entire existing house and all the trees on a lot to clear the way for a mansion (either on this site or another).
  • We are giving back in the form of diverted, captured and re-used rain water, we are giving back with much smaller sewage loads in the form of super low flow and low flush plumbing fixtures – both lessen the load on the towns water and sewer systems.
  • We are giving back in the form of greatly reduced power load to the electric grid. Between the super-efficient lighting fixtures and appliances, the smart use of day-lighting and the application of a 3kW PV system, this house will likely use about 1/3 or 1/4 the electricity of a ‘normal’ house in this area. 
  • This is including the use of the electric based ‘Mini-split’ cooling system that will be installed. We are helping reduce the electric load of that incredibly efficient mini-split cooling system by providing a very well insulated house and using shading to regulate the summer sun.
  • We are giving back in the form of a natively planted garden that will require little if any extra irrigation. Planting native plants only helps reduce the infiltration of invasive species and re-balances the local ecology.
  • We are giving back in the form of a very low maintenance, long lasting home that will exist for a many, many years to come and require almost no paint job or major upkeep for at least 20 or more years – and then upkeep will be extremely minor. ‘Normal’ houses in our areas that are built with average construction and cedar shingles need to be chemically washed or sand-blasted and painted every 3-5 years or so. This act alone dumps a load of chemicals and pollutants into the local atmosphere and water table.
  • We are giving back by planting and landscaping with 90% native plants that are require little water, by providing porous natural landscaping and by using a smart irrigation system which will feed primarily from the collected rainwater that we have stored.
  • We are giving back in the form of supporting the homeowners lifestyle choice by enabling simple and clean green living activities like mass transportation commuting and/or walking, recycling, composting and healthy cleaning – all of which are enhanced by design layout, the provision of spaces for each of these things and the use of all natural, durable materials that reinforce such a lifestyle.
  • We are giving back in setting a strong example that people in Fairfield County can live very happily in a smaller house, close to town and close to all amenities in a way that greatly reduces this family’s carbon footprint. And we are doing all this with a lovely, classically designed small house that fits in perfectly with the historic and existing housing stock.


Imagine if every house built gave back in these ways.

Imagine the huge impact that would have in the reduction of resource use, fossil fuel use and the reduction of pollutants laden upon the local infrastructure. We live in an area where the power grid regularly shuts down in the summer do to use cooling use overload. We live in an area where the recycling centers and garbage dumps are overflowing with waste- often in the form barely used suburban ‘toys’ and electronics and half eaten meals- waste that would ever happen in a less wealthy environment.

Imagine the financial savings a town would notice if all the houses built in its jurisdiction were such low impact.

The town should be thanking this client and giving them an award, not harassing them for inexplicable and un-definable infractions on the selection of building trim.