A house under construction in Santa Monica, north of Montana Avenue, that environmentalists and architects in the passive solar energy movement say is one of the most sustainable residences in the Westside, is nearly complete and ready for its owners to occupy it in March.
The property consists of a 69.61-foot by 145.47-foot parcel located on the southwest corner of San Vicente Boulevard and 21st Place owned by Carol and Bob Beitcher, the president and chief executive officer of Panavision Incorporated.
“It’s a modern home as you can tell from the architecture, but there is more to it,” said real estate agent Joseph Treves. “Homes today evolve and they continue to evolve in the context of the times we are living in.”
Treves chairs a subcommittee on sustainability in Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s Empowerment Congress and founded GoGreenLA, an entity that promotes awareness of issues friendly to the environment.
He is also a member of Bioneers, a nonprofit organization founded in 1990 to promote environmental solutions and social strategies in an effort to restore the environment and communities.
The Beitcher residence’s sustainable design features include passive solar heating and cooling, a solar thermal hybrid water heating system, a solar radiant floor heating system, a five-kilowatt photovoltaic electrical system, whole-house day lighting and building materials such as bamboo ceilings, palm wood floors, strawboard cabinetry, recycled denim insulation and certified woods.
Passive solar is a term used to describe technologies that can convert sunlight into usable heat, cause movement of air for ventilation or cooling and store heat for future use without the use of much or any electrical or mechanical equipment.
Warren Wagner, who owns the Venice-based architecture firm W3 Architects and serves as its principal architect, was hired to design and build the house.
Wagner teaches environmentalism and sustainability as an adjunct faculty member of the Woodbury University School of Architecture and Design in Burbank. He spent 25 years in the passive solar energy movement and once worked for Edward Mazria, who sparked a heightened interest in the movement with The Passive Solar Energy Book, published in 1979.
“For me, success isn’t about big projects, it’s about projects like this one,” Wagner said. “Three aspects make this house and others like it very environmentally friendly and sustainable residences.”
The L-shaped design of the house is passive solar, meaning the house heats and cools itself without air conditioning or heating systems.
The orientation of the house is long east to west so that winter sunlight can be absorbed inside the house by the thermal floor and first floor back wall. Summer sunlight is kept out.
The house has two active solar systems for hot water and power needs.
On the roof are solar thermal water heating panels that connect to a storage tank.
Separate heat exchange systems operate from this tank — domestic hot water use for the shower and sink, hot water to heat the floor if there isn’t enough sunlight and water for the pool and spa.
Wagner said there is usually enough sunlight in Santa Monica to heat the floor and most people don’t use up all of the solar-heated hot water taking showers.
So, the excess solar-heated hot water is stored in the swimming pool, which enables the homeowners to use the pool every month of the year.
One small German-made gas boiler to heat all three water systems in case enough sunlight is unavailable backs up the storage tank.
A solar electrical system produces five kilowatts for lights and 85 percent of the power needs of the house.
Wagner and a contractor incorporated the use of as many “green” or environmentally responsive building materials they could find.
The first floor ceiling is made of bamboo flooring and the second story floor is made from senile palm trees from Fiji. In Fiji, after the trees produced coconuts or dates, they died, were cut down and tossed in the Pacific Ocean. Now, farmers are making furniture and floors out of palm wood.
The kitchen cabinets are made of pressed wheatboard, which is still compostable after 50 years if the Beitchers or new homeowners want a new design for the kitchen.
Farmers in Manitoba, Canada used to burn the straw after harvesting hay, which had often sent thick smoke into the air, causing pollution. The farmers now make a second crop, pressed wheatboard for building environmentally-friendly homes and office buildings among other interior design uses.
Insulation in the entire house comes from recycled post-industrial denim. Wagner said denim insulation has a high sound-bending quality, which makes the house quieter than if regular insulation was used.
“Blue jeans are the most manufactured garment on the planet,” Wagner said. “Little scraps of blue jeans are lying on garment factory floors all over the world. They are collected and made into this insulation, which is an organic fire retardant.”
Other sustainable features in the Beitcher house are a garbage disposal that runs on its own hydropower and paint and finishes that have no toxic chemicals in them.
“The goals of my clients, Bob and Carol Beitcher, with this site in this neighborhood, are to demonstrate to their colleagues, friends and neighbors that you can have a 4,000-square-foot house in an upscale neighborhood in Santa Monica, take responsibility for what you are doing and reduce the environmental impacts to the greatest extent,” Wagner said.
An eco-friendly house is expensive to build, perhaps five percent more than a regular house, Wagner said, but homeowners will recoup that five percent in cost within three years by saving money on utility bills.