We finally made it! It took us four stages to take Lucky Bend Lookout from ramshackle shack to the eco-friendly splendor that it is now. We are starting 2020 with the final stage, 100% renewable energy from solar power during the day and geothermal power at night. No more guilt for cranking up the radiant floor heat and getting snuggly during the cool winter months.
The Swedish word flygskam or its German version, Flugscham, meaning “flight shame,” is one of the words of 2019. At a quick hour and twenty minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge your family can stay local-ish for with the added peace of mind knowing that your vacation isn’t contributing to these crazy fire seasons we have been experiencing.
It took a major remodel and a complete window replacement to improve the thermal performance by roughly 500%. Full electrification and a power purchase agreement took us the rest of the way to carbon neutral. Read on for the full story.
Phase 1 Major Remodel
Originally constructed as a summer cabin, Lucky Bend Lookout had very little in the way of insulation. When we first bought the house it had been neglected for nearly 47 years. I’m not exaggerating when I say the former redwood shake roof had literally turned into compost! Since we are deep under a redwood canopy, the 18” deep layer of dropped redwood needles and branches had basically converted the roof to a thatch roof and was the only thing keeping the house from rotting to the ground.
Our first move was to scrape off all the gunk on the roof and remove all the water damaged finishes on the inside. We also removed an old wood stove and the electric radiant wall heaters.
We replaced the rotted roof deck boards with custom milled redwood planks to match the original construction. Once we had a solid structural base to work from we layered on some sweet composite panels made from R-30 rigid insulation with OSB nail-base laminated to the top. This made for a nice warm roof deck to support an actually waterproof new roof system.
Since the exterior walls are 3” solid redwood prefabricated panels there was not a lot of opportunity improve the insulation there so we opted to install Reflectix across the underside the floor. This foilized bubble wrap creates an R-21 cavity when taped and installed on the bottom side of the floor joists. As a bonus it is super easy to install; just staple it on and tape the seams.
The main interior finishing included simply cleaning up and resealing the exposed wood panel walls. The flooring is main from 100% recycled cork. We figured wine corks were a fitting a finish for a wine country vacation home.
Phase 2 Window Replacement
Our house used to cry. For real. With a nice warm interior but single pane aluminum windows the water would condense so quickly on the inside that it would flood the window sills and leak to the exterior giving the house the appearance of crying, tear streaks down the face and everything!
Since the original remodel tapped us out, it took a few years of vacation renting and some creative financing to build up the funds necessary to do the windows. We decided to stick with the original aesthetic and used aluminum windows but we found some thermally-improved frames from Millgard that came with high performance dual pane argon-filled glazing units with low-e coating. No more crying over water inside our house and no more crying over our electricity bill. New windows made a huge difference in the comfort of the space. No more drafts or radiant heat loss through the windows.
Phase 3 Electrification
Fortunately our house was built during the mid-century period when all electric houses were all the rage. Over the years most of our neighbors had switched to gas water heaters, forced air heating and stoves. In a weird way, the 47 years of neglect turned out to be a sustainable benefit because we didn’t have to remove the legacy gas systems to remove the fossil fuel footprint.
We opted for full electric radiant floor heat throughout the house. While it is slow to bring the house to temperature, the heating power is concentrated near the floor where we live our lives rather than having to heat all the air way up in the vaulted ceiling space.
If you are going to operate a vacation rental it is essential to have lots of hot water available for all those showers. Fancy high tech low-flow fixtures help reduce the demand but the real star is hidden away down the the garage, a heat pump water heater. It is way more energy efficient to move heat from one place to another than it is to generate heat. The water heater basically sucks heat out of garage air and concentrates in the water. Voila super efficient electric hot water!
The last major step is getting away from gas for cooking. Viking and Wolf have a great marketing team that positioned the big gas stove as the “professional luxury” for home cooking. To be honest it wasn’t hard; old-school electric resistance stoves suck big time. What you may not know though is many restaurant kitchens are moving to electric induction stoves. Using a magnetic field all of the energy is directed to heating the pot instead of wasting energy heating the air around pot. You can seriously boil water in half the time compared to gas and the heat control is precise and instantaneous just like gas.
Phase 4 Renewable Energy from Solar and Geothermal
With a suitably luxurious building envelope and appliances, the only remaining step was to switch over to a renewable energy power source. Early in our remodel I stopped by the Solar City booth setup our local Home Depot to see what our options were. I was hopeful that despite our location under a redwood canopy that we could use the fancy new infrared panels. The first thing they did was plug our address in to Google maps to assess our roof area. The guy just laughed at me and said “I cant even see your house through all those trees!”
Fortunately for us, Sonoma County has a clean power program that sources daytime power from local solar panel farm near Petaluma. During the night the power mix switches to local geothermal power. While I have of course heard of geysers near Geyserville, I had no idea until I started looking into power purchase agreements that we have the world’s largest geothermal plant just a few miles from our house! It uses reclaimed water from Santa Rosa to generate steam from magma just four miles below the surface.
It took a lot of effort, but as an architect I am painfully aware of the big impact buildings have the environment. Not only from the construction but from all the energy they take to operate. In addition to all the above we also committed to sourcing all recycled paper products and green cleaning supplies in our operations. But now I am proud to offer one of the most sustainable vacation rentals in the Russian River for a luxurious local vacation option.