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Oakland Home Is the Greenest in America

A leading environmentalist remodels a Rockridge Craftsman, and then achieves the highest eco-friendly score ever.

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David Gottfried may know more about building green than anyone in the country. He lectures around the world about eco-conscious construction and was the founder of the US Green Building Council, which developed the LEED rating system, the gold standard for certifying eco-friendly homes and buildings. But living in a large, not very environmentally friendly house in the Berkeley hills, Gottfried wasn't really practicing the life he preached. So he and his wife bought a modest Craftsman home in Oakland's Rockridge district and turned it into the greenest house in America.

Gottfried's home on 63rd Street, just below College Avenue, posted the highest score ever — a 106.5 — in the LEED certification program. To put that in perspective, a remodeled home or building must score at least 32 to 39 points to become LEED certified. To achieve "silver" certification, you need 40 to 47 points. "Gold" certification is 48 to 63 points. And "platinum," the highest certification, requires 64 to 85 points. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and its certification system is used in more than 120 cities nationwide, plus forty other countries around the globe. In other words, Gottfried's house scored more than 20 points above the highest ranking possible in the largest, and most widely recognized green certification system in the world. "We went a little crazy," said Gottfried, while giving a recent tour of his home.

Gottfried focused the remodel of his 1,500-square-foot house on four primary areas — energy efficiency, solar power, eco-friendly heating and lighting, and maximum water conservation and reuse. He also built "a solar shed" in his backyard that serves as his home office for his consulting company, Regenerative Ventures, which assists green start-ups. The shed is made of steel and he put it up in one day, topping it with solar panels that supply all the heating and lighting energy it needs. "The idea is to work from home," and not waste fossil fuels commuting, he said. "I commute from the backyard to the dinner table."

Inside the three-bedroom main house, Gottfried's first job was to stop all of the energy loss in the drafty old craftsman. Not only did he caulk and close every crack, but he drilled holes in the walls and blew in cellulose insulation. He replaced all of the windows with new dual panes designed to resemble the original 1915 style. And throughout the inside and outside of the house, he used recycled wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The result is seamless; much of the interior looks like it must have nearly a century ago. His wife, Sara Gottfried, a physician trained in Western medicine who teaches yoga and runs her own holistic medicine center in Oakland, the Gottfried Center for Integrative Medicine, decorated exquisitely, painting the walls in vibrant colors. "We call it 'eco-bling,'" he said. "The idea is that the house isn't just green, but that green can be pretty."

For heating, Gottfried installed eco-friendly radiators just above the baseboards in each room. They're powered by solar panels on the roof, and each room has its own thermostat. That way, energy isn't wasted heating unoccupied spaces. The house's water heater also is partially heated by solar power, and all of the electricity is solar-powered as well. Gottfried, of course, also uses compact florescent bulbs in each lighting fixture. In addition to the LEED platinum rating, the house scored a record 179 points in the GreenPoint rating system, a competing eco-certification developed by the environmental nonprofit Build It Green. There may be greener homes in America than the Gottfried's, but none that is certified.

As impressive as the house is on the inside, the outside may have the coolest technology. Circling the home are nine fifty-gallon water storage tanks. Seven of them are hooked up to the house's downspouts to capture rainwater. These tanks connect to the bathroom toilet so it can be flushed without wasting precious tap water. Gottfried also pipes excess rainwater to his garden. The two remaining tanks collect gray water from the shower and sinks. Gottfried then pipes the gray water to an elaborate, below-ground filtration system, which cleans it for use in the family vegetable garden. The rest of the garden, meanwhile, is planted with drought-resistant shrubs and trees. And finally, Gottfried installed permeable pavers on the driveway on top of gravel to allow rainwater to soak into the ground, thereby cutting down on runoff.

Gottfried, who also founded and serves on the board of the World Green Building Council, reported to be the world's fastest-growing nonprofit, believes homes throughout the East Bay and around the country can be modeled after his. People may not be able to afford all of the upgrades he put in, but at the very least, they can make their homes more energy efficient. He also thinks that President Obama's promise to spend $150 billion over the next decade on renewable energy technology is a step in the right direction. But he thinks that the money could be spent more effectively by installing solar panels and rainwater storage tanks on homes and buildings throughout the nation.

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