Taiji Residence: A Serene Sustainable Residence in Menlo Park

Jackie and Scott Wood’s residence not only has a serene space for their daily practice of Taiji, a soft form of Chinese martial arts, their new home also incorporates a number of passive features resulting in a home that exceeds California’s energy code by 84%. Built from the ground-up, the 3,320 square-foot residence was completed in 2007 by Osborne Architects.

Integrated in the passive solar design of their extraordinary sustainable residence is highly rated recycled-content insulation (to maintain a steady interior temperature year-round), a hydronic radiant-floor heating system with a high-efficiency condensing boiler (to warm-up the interiors as needed during the colder months), and several Energy Star ceiling fans throughout (in place of a central air conditioning system). Now that she has lived in the house for five years, we took a moment to interview the homeowner, Jackie, to ask her if she still loves her home as much as the day she moved in.

Q: What was the major impetus behind wanting to build a new home in such a sustainable manner?
A: We (Jackie and her husband) talked about building a sustainable home 30 years ago, before “green” was a common term. Back then it was just considered the sensible thing to do, rather than the “green” thing to do. We wanted to use the sun to warm the house, and the prevailing breezes to cool it – it really was just common sense.

Q: How did going green affect the cost of building your home?
A: There were certain things that didn’t provide enough benefits to justify the extra cost. We talked to the builder and the architect and decided that while some things make a statement, given the scale of what we were doing and where we live, they weren’t worth the added cost. For example, heating the household water with solar power, having gray water recycling, and having geothermal heating were all considered but rejected because they didn’t carry enough benefit for a house of this size in Menlo Park. Being completely off the grid also didn’t make sense to us.

Q: What are some of your favorite outcomes?
A: It makes us feel good, and we have something to show friends and acquaintances. We’ve been able to provide an example to the neighborhood. Everyone knew what we were doing and we had signs up during the construction process to inform them. It’s been educational and we’ve had thousands of people come through the house via green organizations, schools, and colleges.

Some of the things that make the house green are an advantage to us everyday. For example, it never smelled bad, because it has less harmful chemicals off-gassing in the interiors. The concrete thermal walls and cellulose insulation also make for a very quiet home. Given where we live in the Peninsula, there’s a lot of traffic, and we don’t hear it very much at all so that’s a benefit we get everyday.

Another benefit is that the interior temperature varies very little. This is because the home is built using passive solar and radiant heat, and it’s very well insulated. We don’t have central heating or a fireplace and we don’t have to have air conditioning because the windows are designed to get breezes from every angle. Finally the materials are so beautiful. We love our bamboo floors and the finish of our natural clay walls.

Q: Have the more sustainable materials you selected shown more wear and tear than typical materials – for example your floors and countertops?
A: We don’t really have a point of reference, as this is the first house we’ve built, but we have not had any problems over the past five years. One thing I can say is that there is very little difference in the look and feel of the materials from the day we moved in. When the builder comes over, he always says that it’s holding up very nicely.

Q: You seem very happy with the home. Is there anything you would have done differently?
A: We’ve been asked this question so often. Really, other than some little things, we wouldn’t change anything. We have an outside shower built that we’ve only used twice. That’s not necessarily a regret; rather, it is an expense that we could have done without. But really nothing else. I’ve tried hard to think of things, because everyone asks us that question. That’s really the only response we can come-up with.

Our architect Polly (Osborne Architects) knows us well, so she was able to design something that completely meets our needs. She and Drew Maran (our contractor), have been very active about building green from the start, so they were a good choice for us.

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