Tulsa Dream Home LEEDing The Way

Associate Editor

LEEDING THE WAY: Although Oklahoma is behind the curve when it comes to green building, Ed Darby’s home represents a big leap forward as he and a local team of architects, builders, contractors, craftsman and artists await word back from USGBC on whether their efforts at building a custom residential house have qualified for LEED Platinum Certification.


Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a two-part article about “green building” in greater Tulsa and how a team of local businesses have worked together to create a cutting edge dwelling that very likely foretells the future of the building industry locally and across America.

If Ed Darby had wanted his dream home to be a small cubical shaped box somewhat bigger than the small apartments he’d lived in for more than 20 years, it would have been considerably easier to achieve Certified Platinum status by adopting a proven floor plan using factory produced, certified, prefabricated components infused with sustainable insulating materials and applying a myriad of prescribed green building techniques and technology. He would have taken the path more traveled by other green building enthusiasts and ended up with a very efficient, comfortable cookie cutter dwelling. But that was not what he had in mind.

He had in mind a luxurious, custom designed, single unit, residential home that could qualify for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Certified Platinum rating, the highest measurement for energy efficiency and sustainability offered from an organization that sets the standards for green building. This would be entirely new territory for most mid-western builders and could prove to be a daunting undertaking in a city where green building is barely on the horizon compared to cities on the east and west coast.

A small note of irony here: Ed Darby is and co-owner of a very successful manufacturing company, Darby Equipment Company. Located in Tulsa, the company provides large equipment for the pipeline construction industry. In short it is a business dependent on the high demand and consumption of petroleum energy. So there you have it, a little irony. But Darby notes, “Our third generation, family-owned business has always manufactured products to the highest standards. So when it came to my house I took that same approach. Build it to the highest standards.”

As described in part one of this article, the team of Tulsa-based subcontractors put in place by Ted A. Larkin with the Larkin Company were poised to take on the challenge. It was March 2010 and time to break ground.

Certification is a point-driven process and scoring points begins before soil is turned. According to Larkin, careful consideration is given to positioning the footprint of the dwelling to maximize passive solar benefits. “Windows are the biggest culprits when it comes to energy loss and absorption,” notes Larkin. Darby’s property was perfectly situated on the northeast corner of Florence Ave. and 31st Street enabling Larkin to position the house on the lot with practically all windows facing northeast overlooking the scenic lake in the back while the southwest face of the house took on the brutal Oklahoma afternoon with nary a window for the sun to exploit. Chalk up points even before ground was broken.

Geothermal mechanical systems have proven to be very cost effective even in the fluctuating temperatures of Oklahoma. They do so by harvesting a relatively consistent heat source of between 50 to 65 degrees beneath the ground. Tapping into that energy source is remarkably efficient using geothermal wells to sustain the comfort level inside the house. A geothermal mechanical system uses energy efficient heat exchangers (heat pumps), fans and pumps to move air and refrigerants to maintain comfort rather than fuel-guzzling furnaces to heat and high electric demand, air-cooled compressors to cool.

Tulsa-based Elite Services recommended five 300-foot geothermal wells be dug on the property. Water is circulated through the wells to capture or disperse heat depending on the weather. The earth adjacent to the polypropylene pipes disperses heat in the summer months and the system recovers heat when needed in winter. This provides warmed water that is piped through coils buried in the foundation slab to provide radiant heating. Sublimating the radiant heat is a forced central system that works in concert with the geothermal wells. In summer, the earth absorbs the heat from that same water and provides all the coolness one big house could ever need. Many points come from a well-designed geothermal system.

One way to earn points is to pay special attention that the point of origin for materials used in the construction of any structure is “local,” meaning within a 500-mile radius thus avoiding the unnecessary and excessive use of energy-getting materials to the construction site. Locally-owned Southwest Stone found a Kansas quarry able to provide Kansas Cream limestone for the exterior of the house. The light-colored stones covering the southwest exterior face reflect back the summer sun while providing extra insulation in winter.

Another way to earn points is using building materials that are partially or entirely made of recycled materials. One example being the red roof tiles containing 25 percent recycled clay or the sustainable Black Walnut floor. These two items, like so many others used in the house, keenly balance luxury with optimum green building requirements and thus earned additional points while adding aesthetic charm to the house.

The tile roof directs rain runoff into cisterns that supply water to the radiant heating coils for the system. The goal in green building is to use every means possible to maximize resources in a way that minimizes waste.

While the structural aspects of the Darby house were being addressed interior designer, Katie Fox was preparing to provide the finish items and materials that would define the luxurious look and feel of the home. Fox understood that the challenge of scoring points with the interior design materials could prove every bit as challenging as the structural aspects. She would need to juggle local availability, sustainability and luxury in all the items she placed in the house. But most importantly she would need to design an interior that fit the personality and preferences of Ed Darby.

Low flow faucets and toilets were easy choices. Low paints, recycled glass back splashes, organic natural fiber rugs and upholstery were obvious choices, but from there a bit of creativity was needed. A recycled antique Venetian chandelier from the house that Darby grew up in was rescued and hung in the master bath. Caesarstone, recognized by USGBC as point worthy, was used on counter tops. But Fox’s point compliant, tour de force came in the form of a custom designed coffee table using an ancient Chinese cartwheel for a top and a very rare block of 100-year old molave wood for the base. This undoubtedly took recycling to new heights. Local artists were employed to create the table along with virtually every piece of art chosen for the interior. Using local art talent is not a new thing for Fox, “Regardless of the medium, using local artist is a win, win. It supports the local economy, the art community and provides me with better turnaround and monitoring of the pieces.”

As construction neared completion and every compliant point was squeezed out of every phase of the construction process, all that remained was the surrounding yard. points from landscaping would have to be earned with the help of Pat Coen. By using his many years of experience to identify drought resistant, indigenous, heat resistant plants, he created a marvelous, low maintenance landscape solution, one that requires as little attention as it does water.

Looking back, Ed Darby reflects on all that had to come together to make his dream home happen. “Although I’ve traveled and lived all over the world, I’ve always considered Tulsa my home. It is very gratifying to know that the place I call home is home to so many talented, resourceful people who, given the opportunity, can achieve the highest goals set forth. This is what my home represents. It is evidence that when Tulsans team up and work together they can do just about anything they set their minds to.”

Updated 11-14-2011

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