These are some of the sustainable home designs built by Sun and Earth Construction.
Don and Beatriz Rudisill reach for the highest level of LEED certification
By Bethany Conway, The Las Cruces Bulletin
Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series following the construction of Las Cruces’ first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum Certified home. Though owners Don and Beatriz Rudisill will not know whether they achieve this certification until their home is complete, sharing their story will help others on their journey to becoming green.
For Don Rudisill, the story behind his home at 4367 Isleta Court is in many ways similar to that of “the first penguin.”
Reaching for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum Certification – never before achieved in southern New Mexico – he is a lot like the first penguin that takes the plunge into cold, unfamiliar territory.
“When you watch a film about penguins, most people notice how they bunch up on the edge of the ice. No penguin wants to be the first to jump into the water where unknown dangers may lurk,” Rudisill said, referencing an excerpt from “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. “The same happens with building something new. Many people like the idea of a green home – improved energy efficiency, a healthier home and improved utilization of the planet’s resources all sound good – but there are many unknowns.”
After two years of intense planning and overcoming many obstacles, Rudisill is blazing a trail for others to follow – a green trail. He will accomplish this with the help of builder Jim Graham of Sun and Earth, who has 30 years of green-building experience.
“It a very ambitious project,” said Miles Dyson, owner of Inspection Connection LC and the only certified Home Energy Rater in Las Cruces. “He has it very well laid out.”
Dyson, southern New Mexico’s go-to guy when it comes to achieving LEED and Build Green New Mexico (BGNM) certification, will inspect the home throughout the entire process. Credit categories for LEED homes include Sustainable Sights, Locations and Linkages, Indoor Environmental Quality, Water Efficiency, Materials and Resources, Awareness and Education and Energy and Atmosphere.
The trail began when Don and Beatriz Rudisill sat down to create the home’s footprint. The unusual floor plan is partially the result of the couple trying to meet the LEED requirements for passive-solar design. According to the LEED program, the maximum conditioned square footage for a three-bedroom house should be 1,900 square feet. By going above this amount, the couple loses points. By going below it, they gain points.
“We are trying to stay under 1,690 square feet, which gives us three points (toward LEED Platinum Certification),” he said. By creating a storage closet for seasonal clothing near the master bedroom and a sunroom on the southeast side of the house – two areas that will not be heated or air-conditioned – they will be able to add extra space not counted toward their conditioned square footage.
“This is going to generate a lot of solar heat in the winter,” Rudisill said of the sunroom. “During the summer months, we intend just to leave the windows open, and this will be a bonus room. Jim (Graham) is going to put a fan in here, because in the winter it will produce surplus heat that we will be able to blow into the house.” Solar hot water panels hidden behind the parapet over the garge roof will provide additional heat.
Another way they were able to gain points and energy efficiency was by keeping all of the hot water within a 20 foot radius. For this reason, the kitchen and bathrooms are all “clustered within the center of the house.”
“If you look at the plans, we had this 20-foot circle drawn, and that created another requirement for the floor plan,” Rudisill said.
When it came to the slab itself, they used 30 percent fly ash – a waste product from coal after it has been burned in a boiler.
Next on the list was the framing, which was done using finger-jointed lumber. “You take scraps that are too small to be used and make a usable piece out of it,” Rudisill said.
When it came to placing the Marvin windows with ULTREX fiberglass frames, Rudisill also had to be very particular in order to gain LEED points. “I put a lot of time into trying to capture the views because we are given glass budgets. You have to keep the glass within a certain percentage,” he said.
One of the most important attributes of the home are the Structured Insulated Panels manufactured by KC Panels of Animas, N.M, which will make up its 4-inch thick walls. Graham said this is the first time he has used the insulated panels. The thermal resistance, or R-value of the panels, is so high they perform almost twice as well as standard 6-inch walls and result in more than 30 square feet of space being shifted from the walls to the available living space. They are held together by polyurethane foam.
“The foam creates a complete seal around the building,” Rudisill said. “So again, through using this one product, we are saving space and improving energy efficiency. The air-tight seal contributes to improved indoor-air quality, and the foam has a class-one fire rating, improving the safety of the home.”
From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 18, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 19, during the Guild of the Las Cruces Symphony Association’s green home tour, titled The Greening of Las Cruces, residents of Las Cruces will get a chance to visit the construction site and view these panels up close.
“I have an interest in trying to get the information out there about what really goes into a well-built house,” said Rudisill, adding that by educating the public he is actually gaining more points toward the home’s certification.
Though the Rudisills are hopeful they will reach their goal, they won’t know if LEED Platinum Certification will be achieved until the project is complete.
“Being the first to attempt the Platinum level means that we have to be the first in the area to earn certain points. One of the areas that we are earning points is by working as an integrated design team. We have been working very hard as a team with Miles, Jim and several subcontractors all putting their heads together to help ensure that the rating is achieved.”
Assuming they achieve the platinum rating, the Rudisills will receive $9.50 per square foot in tax credits – close to $15,000.
by Jess C. Williams II of the Sun-News, February 1, 1987
It took one man’s special needs, one woman’s special imagination, one family’s determination to pitch in and one craftsman’s ability to translate the plan to reality.
This is the house that Jim built. He built it mostly for Murray.
Murray and Aurora Galves moved to Las Cruces from New York nearly 10 years ago. For eight of those years, the two lived here only during the cold months, going back to their home in New York when it got warmer there.
But Murray is confined to a wheelchair, and the moving got to be too much for him. The couple decided to make Las Cruces their permanent home since they had a son here whose family was able to look after Murray while Aurora, who is still quite active, traveled and took care of the couple’s outside interests.
It soon became apparent that caring for Murray would require special accommodations. Besides the difficulties inherent to getting a wheelchair through a home of standard design, there was the problem of shuttling people back and forth from the house of son, Al, his wife, Nancy, and two children, Andrew and Becca, which was several blocks away.
The answer, of course, was to regroup. And the plans for the house that Jim built began to take shape.
Jim Graham is an Albuquerque native who graduated from New Mexico State University in 1969 with a degree in biology. He’s a natural carpenter who worked construction jobs to put himself through school and has always had a project going somewhere. He was approached by the Galves family in June 1985 regarding the project of building a single, large home with two separate family living areas divided in the center by an enormous common atrium.
“It’s quite nervy at 81 years of age,” Aurora says, “to worry about a new house, and this one was my idea. But you live. And I’m alive. I get ideas.”
The Galves family bought two lots within the city limits, but were told by zoning officials that a building permit could not be issued because the house would contain two totally separate family dwellings under one roof.
Instead of scrapping the plans, however, the family scouted for land outside, but near the city limits. They found an excellent location on Engler Road just north of the city and a quarter-mile east of US Highway 85.
Construction began in June, 1986 with the erection of the 18-foot-high frame front of the atrium.
Graham said the frame had to be assembled and laid down on sawhorses, then pulled upright by a winch truck using chains and pulleys for leverage.
“People would drive by and look at it standing out here all by itself and wonder what we were up to,” Graham said. “A few even stopped to ask.”
The second order of business was to build a two-car garage that Graham could employ as a wood shop. Every beam in the house, every door, every cabinet, every window frame and even an elegant spiral staircase in the atrium were handcrafted by Graham’s crew using predominantly white ash, with black walnut and African purple heartwood for accent.
Inside the house are 5,300 square feet heated by a combination active/passive solar system. Graham said, however, that by the time all is said and done, there will be closer to 6,000 heated square feet.
There are five entrances, two double car enclosed garages, a double car carport, two kitchens, two living rooms, both with kiva-style fireplaces, six bedrooms, two full- and four three-quarter baths, an enormous built-in jacuzzi (on Al and Nancy’s side), a second floor writer’s room/office for Aurora (who is an aspiring fiction and non-fiction author) and an outside, second-story deck that faces west and provides an impressive view of the Mesilla Valley sunsets.
Built-in shelving and cabinets – all handcrafted by Jim Graham and his crew – soften the ambience of the living areas and kitchens. All the door and window frames are dovetailed; nails and screws were used sparingly in the construction of this behemoth.
“It’s a pretty astounding house,” Graham said, leaning against the staircase railings. “It was miraculously free of backtracking and screwups. We had a high skill level on the crew, a good foreman who kept me on track and top quality journeymen all along the way.”
Graham said that a large part of his pride in the home resulted from the high standards he set for himself and the many requirements set by the owners.
An integral part of the plan for the house is privacy. There is enough room for all six occupants to get away and be alone, yet all are close enough to help Murray if he needs it. An extensive intercom/alarm system ensures that anyone in any part of the house can communicate with anyone, anywhere else.
“Caretakers,” Aurora explains in a lilting Italian accent, “need time off. The way the house is designed we can be alone, but available if Murray needs us. I can travel without worrying and the children can help take care of Murray without sacrificing their privacy.”
The west side of the house – Murray and Aurora’s side – is designed particularly with Murray in mind.
Graham made all the doorways extra wide and almost eliminated doors inside the house, opting instead for wide and graceful archways.
The archways, Aurora says, were Jim’s idea. “I like them except they take up so much wall space where I wanted to hang art. As far as design, it’s more Jim’s house than mine.”
Graham acknowledged that he played a large part in planning specific aspects of the home that helped to fit the specific needs of two families and one handicapped individual.
Murray has a special place at the kitchen counter to which he can roll up and talk with Aurora while she cooks. In the spacious bathroom is a vanity arrangement that allows Murray to take care of his personal needs. There is even a roll-in shower so he can bathe with minimal assistance.
All the floors in the west half of the house are elegant tile or hardwood to make it easier for Murray to get around in his chair. Kitchen cabinets and drawers are down low so he can get to items he needs, and there are plenty of windows where he can sun himself and read.
The east half of the house is for Al and his family.
Seventeen-year-old Andrew has the room farthest south. The walls to his room are all solid adobe so he can crank up his stereo without disturbing other members of the household. He has his own bath on the east side of his room, which provides yet another insulation against sound.
His sister, Becca, 15, lives upstairs from her brother with a room overlooking the atrium. She, too, has a private bath.
Al and Nancy, both 46, share an enormous master bedroom that connects to the bathroom with the jacuzzi.
The upper level of the house is mostly carpeted in rich earth tones. Downstairs is predominantly sand-colored tile, with the exception of Andrew’s room, which – at his special request – is carpeted in an unforgettable purple.
The house contains, by Jim Graham’s estimation, some 29,000 feet of wiring, 9,000 of which is devoted to the intercom/alarm system. It took a full-time crew of 15, eight months to construct the thick adobe walls, piece together and varnish the woodwork, and generally stick the rest of the house to the atrium window.
“It’s quite a house,” Graham said proudly, looking around at his handiwork. And the Galves families seem to agree.
Passive Solar Heating
Buildings designed for passive solar heating with natural sunlight to light a building’s interior incorporate large south-facing windows, skylights, and building materials that absorb and slowly release the sun’s heat. Incorporating passive solar designs can reduce heating bills as much as 50 percent. Passive solar designs can also include natural ventilation for cooling. Windows are an important aspect of passive solar design. In cold climates, south-facing windows designed to let the sun’s heat in while insulating against the cold are ideal. In hot and moderate climates, the strategy is to admit light while rejecting heat. Interior spaces requiring the most light, heat, and cooling are located along the south face of the building, with less used space to the north. Open floor plans allow more sun inside.
Active Solar Heating
Active solar heating systems consist of collectors that collect and absorb solar radiation and electric fans or pumps to transfer and distribute the solar heat in a fluid (liquid or air) from the collectors. They may have a storage system to provide heat when the sun is not shining.
An active system may offer more flexibility than a passive system in terms of siting and installation.
Heating your home with an active solar energy system can significantly reduce your fuel bills in the winter.
A solar heating system will also reduce the amount of air pollution and greenhouse gases that result from your use of fossil fuels such as oil, propane, and natural gas for heating or that may be used to generate the electricity that you use.
Combined Passive/Active Solar Heating
We have learned to combine passive and active solar elements in our designs because they both have advantages. Passive heating allows us to use building elements (walls, floors, etc.) as heat storage, reducing the requirements for water storage while leaving the advantages of active solar systems.
A cubic foot of water will transport or store 3800 times the amount of heat the same volume of air will. Active solar systems allow the use of water to collect, store and transport heat.
While some of our houses have been completely passive, actually able to meet their heating loads with the elegant simplicity of passive heating, we believe that a combined system is most effective because the increased area of glass amplifies total heating and cooling load, and active systems allow the greatest flexibility of site design, landscaping, and room layout.
One advantage to using the sun to heat your building in New Mexico is that it allows you to use the unique ”solar right of way” law preventing neighbors from shading your collecting surface, and preserving
the open spaces to the south of your building.
Sun and Earth are distributors of ezinc Solar Water Heaters. What better way to save money than to use the Sun to heat your water!
Other systems are available as well. We help you decide what’s best for you!
Jim Graham, Contractor/Builder Las Cruces New Mexico
The Smith – Murray guest house is 700 Sq. Ft. It is passive solar built with adobe. It has the first radiant (hydronic) cooling system in Southern NM.