As both the developer and the owner of the “Treehouse” custom home in Studio City, Calif., Marty Meisler is simultaneously enjoying the achievement of completing what will likely be his first LEED-Platinum home as well as the spoils of lower energy bills, lower maintenance, and healthy indoor air quality.

What’s more, he’s serving as an example for homeowners throughout Southern California.

The 2,400-square-foot custom home was a participant in the Advanced Home Case Study Program, an offshoot of the Southern California Gas Co.'s Advanced Home Program that provides incentives for houses that exceed California’s Title 24 by at least 15%. After being accepted to the program, Meisler, principal of Vision Development, submitted design plans to the utility, which then made recommendations to improve energy and water efficiency.

Under the program, recommendations that are implemented qualify for monetary rewards, up to a $10,000 cap. This is in addition to existing utility and state rebates and credits. In exchange, the gas company uses the projects as educational case studies, including written materials and home tours, to show the public how the houses save money.

In the end, improvements to Meisler’s project contributed to a performance 64% better than Title 24; the home also is awaiting LEED-Platinum certification.

At only 20 feet wide and incorporating 22 feet of glass on the long south-facing side, the interior of the dwelling is awash in daylight while offering pleasing views of the 50-foot lot’s canopy of magnolias and sycamores (hence the “Treehouse” moniker). Five-foot overhangs provide shading during the summer.

Among the home’s other efficiency touches are a Custom-Bilt Metals roof with a Cool Roof coating; a tankless water heater from Navien and Metlund D’Mand pump; Cree LED lights (13-watt lamps replace 75-watt incandescents); BioBased spray-foam insulation (R-21 in the walls, R-45 in the roof); Andersen 100 Series dual-glazed low-E windows; and operable skylights in the staircase that vent warm air. Appliances are Energy Star-rated, as are the ceiling fans and the bathroom fans. A PowerPipe from Renewability Energy transfers heat from the shower drain pipe to the incoming water.

The combination of energy-efficient design and product choices also allowed Vision to reduce the size of the HVAC system from 5 tons to 2.5 tons.

Water-saving features include Toto Aquia dual-flush toilets, along with drought-tolerant landscaping and a Toro satellite-controlled sprinkler system. Rainwater from the back half of the roof collects in a 75-gallon slim-line tank from BH Tanks; a quarter of the front roof is tied to a rain chain that drains into two 50-gallon Rainwater Hogs.
Meisler says more and more green product options are becoming mainstream and readily available. “There are a lot of companies that are realizing that it’s not only something that needs to be done, but there’s a demand for it.”

Meisler also disagrees with the public perception that it’s expensive to go green. “I’m convinced that you can build a LEED-Certified home for either the same cost or less because you would order more efficiently and do things smarter,” he says, though he acknowledges reaching LEED-Gold and LEED-Platinum may increase costs some. “Building homes creates a lot of waste, and it’s not necessary if you put some thought into it.”

“A lot of what goes into building green is not necessarily the materials, but how the materials are used,” he continues, pointing to wasteful design flaws such as running a hot water pipe through a slab floor. “It’s [about] thinking those things through and doing them in a way that makes sense. A lot of these things are free. You can design a house to be passive solar at no additional cost.”

Easy steps such as installing overhangs can dramatically reduce heating and cooling loads, offsetting additional cost.

“Codes are going in the direction that we’re going to have to be building zero-energy homes in the near future,” the developer says. “That technology is here today and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be doing it.”