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F.C. Home Earns LEED Silver Certification, Honored by City

In 2007, Charles and Anjali Hansen hoped to renovate a home in Falls Church City to make it sustainable, healthy and environmentally friendly. Now, the finished home has a low environmental impact, and a high community impact.

leed2In 2007, Charles and Anjali Hansen hoped to renovate a home in Falls Church City to make it sustainable, healthy and environmentally friendly. Now, the finished home has a low environmental impact, and a high community impact.

The Hansen home, located on N. Tuckahoe Street, was honored Feb. 14 by the F.C. City Council with the Green Homes Award. This honor comes on the heels of the home’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification.

LEED rates a home based on points it earns for being energy and environmentally sound. Based on the points accrued during a third-party inspection, homes can earn silver, gold, or platinum distinctions, with platinum being the highest. There are about 100 homes in the Washington, D.C. area that have earned LEED certifications.

When they Hansen’s began the home renovation, they were certain they wanted to work toward the LEED certification.

“LEED is a lot more than just energy efficiency. It’s about using materials that have the lowest impact, and reusing things,” Anjali said. “LEED is hard to comply with, and a lot of people don’t want to go there. I wanted LEED. I think it is the most rigorous.”

The LEED-conscious building process began in September 2007, when the Hansens bought a 1947 1,800-square-foot brick colonial revival house on N. Tuckahoe with the intention of renovating it to make it an environmentally friendly home for their family. They were inspired to do so because Anjali’s family is involved in solar home construction in New Mexico, and she became involved with environmental issues while taking time from her career as a lawyer to stay at home with her children. When it came time to invest in a home for her family, she knew what she had to do.

“It started to be clear that there is no other way for me to do this without contributing to the problem,” Anjali said. “You have to be part of the solution.”

 

The Hansens began construction on their home in the summer of 2008, moving into the nearby Roosevelt Towers to oversee the project. And according to Anjali, it was crucial to oversee the project to make sure that the house was indeed being built to LEED standards, which meant lots of research into building products and procedures.

“You really have to investigate how they made your products,” Anjali said, adding that the family didn’t earn some points that they thought they would during the LEED inspection because “some claims of manufacturers didn’t pan out.”

According to Anjali, many manufacturers and service providers overstate their energy efficiency and sustainability.

“They greenwash,” Anjali said, “but LEED expects it to be dark green.”

Because the Hansens were so involved in research and overseeing the home’s construction, they got to play a role in the development of their house that not many do. They, along with their three children – Charlie, 12, Katarina, 11, and Alex, 8 – helped to tear down the necessary parts of the home to meet the design Anjali developed with an architect. And even in this project, they were sure to keep sustainability in mind by reusing parts of the old house in the new house, and diverting waste generated in the demolition from landfills.

“The building industry is a huge contributor to landfills,” Anjali said.

And in order to prevent their building project from generating waste, they used structural insulated panels, or SIPS, instead of a standard wood frame, as these panels are more energy efficient and are factory-made to be the appropriate size for each project, so little is trimmed off and put in the trash. These SIPS panels make up the three-story L-shaped extension to the house that brings the home to its 3,200-square-foot size.

The size of the home that allows the Charles, Anjali, their three children, and their pets – two beagles and three chinchillas – to live comfortably posed a problem in earning LEED points.

“They ding you points for size,” Charles said, “But that’s offset by the number of bedrooms the house has.” Anjali added that the house has two offices, as Anjali, a lawyer, and Charles, a lobbyist, both work part-time from home, and the point loss for the large house is also offset by that fact.

A number of decisions made in building and outfitting the house helped the Hansens earn LEED points, from using flooring built from the fast-growing bamboo tree to installing faucets that mix air with water to reduce water consumption. These decisions, however, did come at a cost.

“Building green adds costs,” Anjali said, “but we built at the perfect time.” The Hansens took advantage of federal tax credits to help offset the costs associated with choosing more environmentally friendly options.

According to Charles, the largest expense in deciding to build green came with the installation of a geothermal heating system. The system generates heat for a house through coils that run through the yard and absorb heat from the ground.

“The Feds helped us with that,” Charles said. “The pay back is going to be seven or eight years. Despite my initial skepticism, it has been a good investment.” He added that their energy costs are about half of what they might be if they had chosen to build in more conventional ways.

With ground coils running through the yard, and a special drainage system collecting water from the house’s downspout for watering the yard, the project may have seemed like a daunting task for city officials in terms of zoning and keeping with city regulations, but the Hansens say that the city handled the challenge remarkably well.

“This was the City of Falls Church’s first foray into it,” Charles said. “They were absolutely fantastic. They were just great about educating themselves and working with us to get it built.”

“Doug is amazing,” Anjali said, referring to city Director of Building Safety Doug Fraser. “He is a real champion of green building.”

The project hasn’t only caught the attention of the City of Falls Church. Thanks to Home and Garden Television, the house went nationwide. The Hansen renovation project was featured on the HGTV show “My Big Amazing Renovation,” which came with some added bonuses for the Hansen family, in that HGTV designers decorated the home – even designing special space-, ski-, and fairy wonderland-themed bedrooms for the Hansen children.

“I think the house turned out better than I expected,” Anjali said, adding that the creative touch of the designers from HGTV was an added plus. “I never would have quite the razzle dazzle otherwise.”

“The kids love it,” Charles said.

But the designer bedrooms, and the kids’ playroom on the third floor, aren’t the only aspects of this project that make the home special for the children.

“It’s been a good education for them because they were a part of it, they are really aware of what we did and why we did it,” Anjali said, adding that the children were on the build site nearly every weekend, taking part in different projects.

And while the project may have been intensive, the Hansens are happy with the finished product and have no regrets in undertaking an environmentally friendly home renovation.

“But maybe some do-overs,” Charles said.