vision for the house

 House Building, Landscaping, Nancy  Comments Off on vision for the house
May 192005

May 17, 2005

Ms. Linda Neal
Senior Planner, Town of Fairfax
142 Bolinas Road, Fairfax, CA 94930

Re: Planning Application, A.P. 174-121-07

Dear Ms. Neal,

We’ve read your request for additional information on our project, in the letter to Rushton-Chartock Architects on May 5th. Thank you for all the information you’ve provided. We would like to explain why we believe this house design is the best for the property, in support of our application for a Hillside Residential Development permit.

We want to build [this house] because the location is surrounded by open, undeveloped land. We chose this architectural design because it fits so well into the environment, and embodies our own personal values.

Our goals for our house are:

–        Attractive and sustainable, with set-backs, decks and large windows;

–        Sensitively proportioned to avoid a “boxy” appearance;

–        Energy-efficient, incorporating passive solar features and green building materials and technologies;

–        Minimal impact on the land and the trees, keeping the construction area as small as possible;

–        At least 3 bedrooms, for a couple, a guest, and a home office;

–        Ground-level entry, and garage space for two cars; and

–        Fully accessible for disabled and elderly people
(We both have parents that may need in-home care in the future).

We understand that a prior house design for this property did not create enough off-street parking. So we expect that Fairfax has a requirement for as much off-street parking as possible, as well as compliance with the town building codes. Our house will be set back far enough to provide driveway space for two additional cars with the current driveway configuration, in addition to garage space for two cars.

We have some very specific ideas to make our house efficient, sustainable, and green. We expect to:

–        Construct a house that is not overly large, approximately 2000 square feet of indoor living space;

–        Take advantage of passive cooling, by allowing warm air in the house to flow by gravity directly up the center stairwell, and out through clearstory windows at the top of the house;

–        Take advantage of earth insulation on three sides of the structure, to help keep the temperature of the house moderate in all seasons;

–        Build with engineered wood products made from sustainably-harvested or recycled lumber, and insulate with recycled materials that do not use CFCs;

–        Incorporate a 2-to-3 kilowatt photovoltaic power system for electricity, with a PG&E intertie so that we return power to the grid during the day;

–        Utilize the most energy-efficient lighting and appliances we can afford;

–        Provide windows that are double-pane, made with low-E glass;

–        Install radiant floor heating, an instant-on hot water heater, and a building ventilation system that has a heat exchanger, but no air conditioning;

–        Use paint and building materials with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or none, whenever possible; and

–        Use bamboo or palm wood flooring, made from plants that grow very fast, saving hardwood trees;

This house design meets all of these goals better than any alternative we can conceive. It is compact, and inherently efficient. By building the house over the garage, with a ground-level entrance, we create access for disabled people, minimize the amount of land occupied by the house, and make a single structure that is easy to heat in the winter. Nestling the house into the earth will not only improve insulation, it will make the house nearly invisible from the surrounding open space, since only a few feet of the top of the house will peek up over the land surface. This design will connect the indoor and outdoor areas well, with several decks, a great view, and clearstory windows on the top floor that let you look through the house from the street. This design provides the most attractive solution to the erosion problem on the front face of the property, by avoiding visibly large retaining walls.

We can think of only a few alternative house designs, and all of them create more problems than they solve.

For example, we can build a street-level garage, and move the house itself up the hill to the more level area of the property. This will reduce the amount of excavation by somewhere between 10 and 33%. However, it eliminates disabled access, eliminates the energy efficiency of a single structure with earth on three sides, and requires us to use much more land surface, cut down more trees, and use more building materials. The house would not fit as well with the neighborhood, located up on top of the hill, and would be very visible from all of the hiking trails in the open space in three directions. The 30-foot retaining wall around the garage would be highly visible from the street, and very unattractive.

If we try to build the house and the garage up on top of the hill, with a steep driveway and retaining walls across the front slope of the property, we will have to excavate at least as much land as our current design, and we will destroy much more land surface and more trees than any other alternative.

If we use our current design, but move the entrance up to the second floor to make the first floor as small as possible, we will reduce the amount of excavation by approximately 2%, but lose access for disabled people. We will lose direct access between the garage and the house. We will lose much of the passive cooling advantage provided by a central stairwell going all the way through the house. It will also cost us a lot of money to completely redesign the first and second floors, for a less desirable configuration. And lastly, the result will not look as attractive as our current design.

We look forward to creating a home with all the qualities we’ve listed, and we look forward to living in Fairfax. We understand that the town planning council is considering ordinances that encourage green/sustainable building, and we are happy to be a proving ground for as many of these ideas as possible.


Tom Childers and Nancy Jones

the land

 House Building, Nancy  Comments Off on the land
May 022005

This place is gorgeous in the spring. Our property is 4/10 of an acre, and almost rectangular in shape. It is 100 feet across on Glen Drive, and over 200 feet deep, straight up hill. The front is very steep, a 100% (45 degree) slope, and the rest of the lot is more reasonable, sloping about 30 to 50%.

The land is forested with a mixture of California coastal live oak trees and California bay laurel trees, with patches of scotch broom and a scattering of wildflowers. The lot faces more-or-less west, so there is good light in the afternoon and evening.

The site is surrounded by open space. A trailhead into the Loma Alta preserve is at the end of the street, and the valley and hillside across from us are either open space, or owned by the school district and unlikely to be built on. Ranch land behind our property cannot be accessed by road, and connects to open space as well.

We love this place, and are really excited by the possibility of living here. We’ve found out that there are quail, hummingbirds, hawks and an owl nesting in the area, as well as the usual assortment of deer, raccoons, possum and skunks living in the woods. The hiking is excellent, and the weather is moderate — generally sunny, rarely freezing in winter, and rarely over 100°F in summer. Our neighbors are delightful, and seem happy that someone has bought the land and wants to build a house.


On the left is the view from the living room, we hope. This is looking west, from the top of the steep slope on the front of the land, through a big oak tree, viewing the hillside across Glen Drive.

On the right are trees in the middle of the lot. This picture looks south, so the top of the lot and a meadow are to the left, the house site and street are to the right. Nancy is in the middle of the picture.

Two views of the ridge above our land, looking north into the Loma Alta Open Space district. In the first one, looking northwest, our lot, and Glen Drive, are down the slope to the left. In the second, the view is to the southeast, and the property is down-slope to the right.