Designing a greener future: Local architect builds net-zero energy homes with salvaged materials
By Nelly Lin
The Daily Californian
3 February 2018
In an attempt to counteract some of the damaging effects of climate change, College of Environmental Design alumni and local architects Cate Leger (M.Arch '94) and Karl Wanaselja (M.Arch '91) of Leger Wanaselja Architecture are designing and building sustainable housing.
“We see that there’s a lot that can be done, so we’re excited and motivated by that,” Wanaselja said, describing the rising potential of a green movement in architectural design.
Leger and Wanaselja are leaders in the green design community and have been recognized with several awards and publications for their innovative designs to reduce our ecological footprint. Their work aims to create sustainable homes that “merge the desire for urban ease and energy efficiency by reusing existing materials, integrating natural weather patterns and using renewable energy.”
Leger and Wanaselja’s own home, located in one of Berkeley's oldest residential neighborhoods, is net-zero-energy and was designed and built with unconventional materials that are considerate of the surrounding environment. Despite its low impact on the environment, the house looks unsuspecting and blends in with the other homes in the neighborhood.
“First you want to reduce consumption — so we made our house small,” Wanaselja said. “(We) made it very efficient before we put any systems into it like heating and cooling.”
The home, formally named the McGee Salvage House, is composed of an abundance of reused materials including scrap metal that was salvaged before the recycling process. The process of recycling can actually be a significant drain on energy, so by using the materials in their raw form, energy is saved.
In front of the home stand barrels for collecting rainwater to irrigate the garden. Solar panels also line the roof to heat water and provide solar electricity. The roof of the house is also covered in silver shingles, inspired by fish scales, which were all salvaged from cars awaiting demolition at the junkyard. Similarly, awnings on the balcony are composed of windows from old Dodge Caravans.
“More people are salvaging materials when they do renovations and demolitions, but I’m still shocked at how much builders just throw away without even thinking about it. … I don’t know how that’s possible at this point,” Wanaselja said.
In addition to the reused materials, the home was thoughtfully designed in a curved nature, which both helps harness the light and make the home appear more spacious. The strategic orientation of windows in the south, east and west provides natural heating that the plaster on the north wall and floor absorb as heat batteries.
“One of the biggest things we push is to build smaller,” Wanaselja said. “I, personally, don’t think this (house) feels small at all. The average American house is something like double this. Why is that?”
Leger and Wanaselja demonstrate that comfort and efficiency are not mutually exclusive, they can coexist together. The architects are hopeful that others will follow in designing net-zero energy homes and commercial buildings.
“Is this house comfortable? It’s a comfortable house. Is it pleasant to be in this house? Then why wouldn’t you do it? What are our energy bills? Zero,” Wanaselja said enthusiastically. “I don’t feel we’re making a lot of sacrifices. … If you can have a comfortable, but very efficient home, why wouldn’t you?”