Coastal living calls to mind images of well-weathered, clapboard-sided cottages perched high above the dunes. Rarely does a colder, more urban material like concrete come into view. But that’s exactly what architect Peter Brower used in the energy-efficient construction of his LEED-Platinum cabin in the Spring Island community of South Carolina.
Peter had long been interested in the concepts of LEED prior to building in this community. A widower and newfound empty-nester, he found the 5,200 square feet in which he resided to be more than he needed and opted to downsize. Like his previous home, Peter chose to construct his new 1,570-square-foot cabin using auto-claved aerated concrete (AAC), an energy-efficient material, to create a supertight building envelope.
“There are many ways that you can approach trying to achieve a particular LEED certification,” he explains. “What we tried to do was to build a house as efficient as possible so that we didn’t need to go to wind, solar or geothermal energy to keep costs down. We chose to take a path that didn’t require much energy to begin with. And that really resulted in a building shell that’s extremely tight. The AAC helps with that.”
- In addition to the AAC, Peter used closed-cell insulation in the wood-framed areas of the home — namely the dormers and roof — and installed the windows and doors properly into the AAC to prevent air leaks. One of the concerns in building tighter homes is stagnant air inside, so Peter included a fresh-air circulation system that automatically monitors the outside temperature and humidity of the air to determine if it’s the right time to pull fresh air into the house.
- Inside, Peter selected plywood for the cabinetry and closets that employed soy-based glues as opposed to formaldehyde, no-volatile organic compound (VOC) paints and reclaimed heartpine flooring instead of carpeting to limit the amount of harsh chemicals circulating in the home. “When you walk into a new house, that smell you get isn’t good for you,” he cautions.
- The oyster shells and stucco finishes on the exterior walls and the metal roofing are indigenous to the area, as are the native plants used in the landscaping.
- Local materials were used whenever possible, with recycled materials sourced within the 300-mile radius that LEED prescribes. A dumpster was omitted from the property during the seven-month construction process, for which Peter served as his own general contractor, to encourage as much reuse of materials as possible.
- The smaller design also creates a less obtrusive footprint on the two-plus-acre property and focused attention on utilizing every square inch of the interior. “When you do small homes, you can give much more attention to every detail. It becomes very expensive in larger houses,” Peter explains. “There is almost no drywall in the house, and I love that feeling. But more than anything, I like the feeling that every nook and cranny has a use.”
Square footage: 1,570
Architect; general contractor; interior decorator: BRZ (843-815-2000; brzarchitecture.com)