FAQ from the 2015 Cool House Tour

Once again this year the Solluna team was met with a constant stream of enthusiastic tour-goers visiting our Rosedale Rebuild home during the 19th annual Austin Cool House Tour held on Sunday, June 7. This home also earned 5 stars from the Austin Energy Green Building Program. As always, we had a blast meeting folks on the tour, answering questions, and showing them around. Here are just a few of the questions we answered most often.

How much of this house was renovated? Actually, this house is totally new. It was purposely designed to fit with the existing neighborhood style.

So was this a two story home originally? No. In fact, adding a second floor was part of the original intent for the project before it became a teardown and rebuild.

Why did they decide to tear it down and rebuild new? A number of reasons. A 20-inch hackberry tree had been growing into the house pier and beam foundation for quite some time, causing substantial structural damage to the foundation and to the house as well. In weighing out the cost to fix the structural damage and then renovate the home versus the cost to tear it down and rebuild, we determined that rebuilding would be less expensive.

Seriously? Just because of the foundation? There wasn’t anything else? Well, the foundation was the biggest money issue, plus the owners’ desire to replace all the original windows with energy efficient ones and to increase insulation in walls and attic. Plus they wanted to add an upper floor for a new master suite. Added together, all these items drove the price up.

If the original foundation was pier and beam, why did you switch to slab? Simplest answer is because it wasn’t needed from an engineering perspective. Back when this home was built (early 1940’s), about all you saw were pier and beam foundations. Slabs just weren’t done. All of our concrete slab foundations are built to the specifications of a structural engineer, just as the framing is built to the specifications of an engineer.

 What kind of windows are these? Andersen 100 Series windows. They're a fiberglass composite, energy-efficient window designed specifically for our hot climate.

So where’s the water heater? We went with a tankless gas water heater, mounted on the exterior of the house.

And how much air conditioning does it have? It has one 2 1/2-ton 15.5 SEER system. That's 850 square feet per ton.

What was the original square footage? And now? Originally this house was 1,337 square feet of conditioned space with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, living, dining, kitchen, and small utility space. Now there’s 2,107 square feet of conditioned space, with a living room, new small foyer, open concept dining/kitchen, actual multi-use laundry room, new media room, two downstairs bedrooms with Jack and Jill bathroom, and a new half bath. Upstairs is the master suite with two separate master baths and walk-in closets. And -- lest I forget -- a wonderful screened porch for outdoor living.

Wow, two separate master baths? That’s fantastic, but how efficient is that? This was a design requirement from the owners. The solution for extra water use? WaterSense plumbing fixtures, which are at least 20 percent more efficient without sacrificing performance. And when you get right down to it, it seems to make a lot of efficient sense to have two separate master baths! 

These wood floors are beautiful. Is that oak? No, it’s bamboo. The owners had wanted to reuse the original wood floor, but during deconstruction it was discovered those old floors had been sanded so many times they weren’t able to salvage as much as originally planned. However, there was enough wood salvaged that it was reused as the ceiling at the front porch.

Those are some beautiful big trees. Was it hard working around those? Well, this house is within the boundaries of the McMansion Ordinance so we definitely had to take the trees into consideration. But since there was a house here already, it was relatively easy to work within the old footprint for designing the new home. Well, all except for that old hackberry that was causing so many issues. It was removed.

Based on that sheet I read, they haven’t really saved that much on their utility bill. If this is a 5 star house, why isn’t their bill much smaller? Good question. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. Those old dollar numbers you read were for the 1,337 square-foot original home. This new home has an additional 770 square feet of conditioned space, 665 of which is all upper floor. You’d think that taking the larger size of house into consideration, their utility bill would be much higher than the old house. But no! What a great thing: they added space to their home, experienced the Austin Energy rate increase (like everyone else), and yet they’re still paying lower utility bills than that old, much smaller home. 

How long did it take you to build this home? We built it in approximately eight months.  However, between the work done in the beginning for the renovation and then the change in gears to a whole new home we spent basically a year planning, designing, and permitting. By the time we were ready to build, all the decisions had been made, so actual construction went quickly and smoothly.

So there’s no solar panels and they still got a 5-star rating? Amazing isn’t it! Sadly, due to all the beautiful big trees, there’s too much shade on the house to gain anything from solar panels. But, you know, all that shade still helps in our hot, humid climate. Plus all the basics of green construction methods and materials. Plus proper energy-efficient design to fit the orientation of the lot. Plus, of course, following green building best practices. So the end result is you can have a 5 star energy efficient home that fits right in to your existing neighborhood.

And then last but not least of comments were heard…

It’s so nice out here. Can we just sit on that back screened porch a while?  Of course. Make yourself comfortable!