First LEED Platinum Awarded On Virginia’s Eastern Shore

It may seem as if LEED Platinum designations must always be awarded to the most ultra-modern, big-city projects with huge price tags and outlandish designs. Sometimes, however, the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest rating recognizes the ingenuity used to make modest, rural homes as energy efficient as humanly possible.

Such is the case for a 3,500-square-foot residence located on Cape Charles, Va., on what is known as the Eastern Shore, a long, sparsely populated strip of land formed between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The home, which uses heat-pump technology, photovoltaic solar panels, a rainwater harvesting system and several other green features, is he first building on the Eastern Shore to achieve LEED Platinum status.

Image via L.J. Kellam Construction

The site of house, a 15-acre parcel near the confluence of these great water bodies, played a significant role on designing a structure that fits in with its coastal surroundings and treads lightly on the fragile landscape.  The key issue with siting the house was to balance need for maximizing solar efficiency from the south with the desire to provide the best bayside views to the west.

Working as a team from the start, the owner, designer, builder and landscape architect devised a floor plans that emphasized large windows to the west to capture sunset views but also included a roof that banked to the south to support a 5.7 kW solar array. More than 80 percent of the lighting uses either fluorescent or LED bulbs and are Energy Star-certified. Excess energy generated by the solar panels can be sold back to the main power grid.

Green elements of the Cape Charles home include (clockwise from left): a pergola to provide shade, a solar PV array, cork- and bamboo-lined kitchen surfaces, recycled-content countertops and energy efficient windows. Images via J. Harrison, Architect.

Green elements of the Cape Charles home include (clockwise from left): a pergola to provide shade, a solar PV array, cork- and bamboo-lined kitchen surfaces, recycled-content countertops and energy efficient windows. Images via J. Harrison, Architect.

To minimize damage to the surrounding landscape, the house was built on the footprint of a previous home on the property. Most of the property has been left in its natural state, with native grasses that need no extra watering and small planting beds that use a drip-irrigation system supplied by a rainwater cistern

A geo-thermal heat pump used the relatively stable temperature of the groundwater (in the 50 degree range) to cool the house in the summer and transfer excess warmth to provide hot water for showers. A pergola that surrounds the house uses louvers that direct rays of winter sun into the hours, while also providing passive cooling shade in the summer to prevent overheating in the afternoons.

As much as possible, the building contractor, L.J. Kellam Construction, used locally sourced materials to reduce transportation costs, including lumber for wall framing, gypsum board for interior drywalls, and concrete and aggregate for the foundation, floor and patio. Whatever lumber scraps were leftover were recycled and used as mulch at a local nursery.

“A lot of people assume that green building is prohibitively expensive,” said builder Luke Kellam in a press release. “What we learned is that, through careful planning and a very knowledgeable project team, it can be accomplished without pushing budgets beyond reach. Also, some of the energy-efficient systems qualify for tax credits.”

Most of the materials used had significant levels of recycled content. The drywall panels were made from 95 percent recycled gypsum, the galvalume roofing was made from recycled steel, the spray insulation came from shredded newspapers, and the countertops were formed out of recycled mirrors, aluminum and shredded currency. Sustainably harvested natural materials were also used, such as bamboo and cork in the kitchen areas. Fiber-cement siding from James Hardie was applied to the exterior to protect against the ever-present moisture and salt spray found in the Eastern Shore climate

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.