Normally when a single-story house is being razed in Pacific Palisades, a bulldozer arrives and the demolition is completed within hours. Rarely are windows, doors, framing wood, metals and concrete salvaged and reused–until now, which is why a house in the 1000 block of Hartzell recently took three weeks to come down. That’s because the builder, John Lee, hopes to have the new home he plans to build on the site certified ‘green’ by LEED, the U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. While LEED has existed for a decade, only commercial buildings and multi-unit dwellings could qualify until this year. Now a dozen builders, including Lee, are involved in a nationwide pilot program to apply LEED standards to single-family homes. Lee said he learned about construction recycling from the City of Santa Monica, where he lives and has built a ‘green’ house for his family. ‘The City of Santa Monica requires that 65 percent of all waste be recycled. While the City of Los Angeles does not yet have such a requirement, it has been very good about expediting building plans for houses that are ‘green,” said Lee, who plans to break ground on Hartzell, which he bought in October for just over $1 million, sometime in the next three weeks and to have the property on the market for resale by Christmas. Lee said a LEED house, which works on a point system, costs about 10 percent more to build–most of it upfront to pay for the labor for the extended demolition time and preparation of the recycled materials, some of which may be reused in the new construction but most of which ends up being donated to a community recycling depot in Sunland. Lee gave all the windows and doors from the Hartzell house to an artist friend of his, Jeremy Corbell, whose work using salvage materials is on display in a Beverly Hills gallery. While the builder found the framing wood on the house to be better than some of the woods being used now, he ended up donating them as well. ‘After separating out the framing wood with termite damage and dry rot we used a metal detector wand to find the nails in the wood,’ he explained. ‘When we sanded this wood down, some of it came out so nice it can be used for finish products, even furniture.’ The new house Lee is planning to build will have four bedrooms and 3-and one-half baths in 3,000 sq. ft. The structure will face south, be rectangular in shape and placed sideways on the lot to take advantage of the light. However, to protect it from the heat it will have roof overhangs and strategically placed landscaping. The only salvage he plans on using is the concrete, which will be broken up and put to work for drainage. ‘Instead of the rainwater running out onto the street as it does now and ending up in the ocean, we are going to build a storm retention pit in the front yard where we will dig a big hole and fill it with hard materials such as concrete, rocks and gravel so that the drain water can slowly percolate into the earth,’ Lee explained. ‘The driveway will also be built to absorb the rainwater.’ Lee ‘converted’ his company to do only ‘green’ building projects two years ago. He currently has three projects in various stages of development. The tipping point for him? When he heard there were waiting lists to buy hybrid cars, ‘I felt there was some momentum.’ Does he think being ‘green’ brings more value to a property? ‘Not yet,’ he said, but he expects that to change once appraisers and lenders recognize the value added in making an effort to improve the environment. Right now Lee expects the house on Hartzell, which will take five to six months to build, to sell for about the same ‘as any other new construction in the Alphabets which he currently estimates to be ‘about $800 to $900 a square foot.’ However, that estimate could change by the end of the year should there be a growing demand for ‘green’ houses. ‘Up until now, most consumers have associated ‘green’ with contemporary design,’ noted Lee. ‘The house I am building on Hartzell will be traditional and charming and will look like it has always been here. It will fit right into the Alphabet streets. That’s the goal, anyway, to make it a showcase for this kind of building.’
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