Two York Latitude 14.5-SEER heat pumps, which meet the USGBC’s green-building standards, were used on the home. The high-efficiency equipment helped drop the house’s annual utility bills by more than $2,000. Photo courtesy of Johnson Controls.

An energy-efficient dwelling doesn’t have to be a newly built one.

That’s what Philip Beere has proven with Medlock Gold, the name for his East Medlock Drive residence that was awarded gold status under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building ratings program.

The 2,700-square-foot 1960s ranch-style house with four bedrooms and three bathrooms was only the second LEED-certified home remodel in the United States and the first west of the Mississippi River.

Beere is the owner of Green Street Development, a Phoenix-based design-consulting firm. His home doubles as a project prototype for the company.

“My primary goal was to make a healthy home for myself and future occupants - a home that is very energy efficient,” Beere said. “I also wanted to set an example for others who are remodeling their homes, to show them that doing it green makes sense. So I chose LEED as the benchmark.”

The house’s master bathroom contains water-saving toilets, clay-based paint and counters made from recycled materials. Photo courtesy of Johnson Controls.

Painting it ‘green'

He purchased the property for $465,000 in May 2007. Acting as his own general contractor, Beere poured an additional $200,000 into the structure to make it sustainable. He added formaldehyde-free bamboo floors, counters made from recycled paper, clay-based paint, low-flush toilets, desert landscaping, Energy Star-approved windows and appliances, and extensive natural lighting.

However, in Phoenix, where temperatures regularly top 110°F in July and August, Beere could not rely on gentle summer breezes to cool the home. So he turned to Ron Brocks Heating & Cooling, a York dealer in nearby Glendale, Ariz., to design and install the HVAC system.

“The HVAC system is one of the most important parts to attaining LEED certification,” Beere said. “The SEER (seasonal energy-efficiency ratio) level, the thermostat  control, the ductwork and Manual J all contributed to the LEED-gold rating for the home.”

Manual J is the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s load-calculation guide for residential structures.

The home’s HVAC was made up of unsealed, square ductwork tied to old equipment, including a packaged rooftop unit.  It cost about $3,200 annually to heat and cool the home.

Beere and Brocks officials tried to come up with the best way to lower those totals while working to fit within the extensive renovations the homeowner was doing.

Before and after pictures show the changes in this 1960s Phoenix house, the first to be awarded remodel gold status from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building ratings program. Photo courtesy of Johnson Controls.

Doing the splits

A split HVAC system turned out to be the answer.

“Throughout the main living area of the home, I chose vaulted ceilings, which allowed no room for ductwork,” Beere explained.

The system selected included two York Latitude 14.5-SEER heat pumps, which met the USGBC’s green-building standards. The units were purchased from U.S. Airconditioning Distributors of Phoenix.

“We considered higher-SEER units, but the overall cost compared to the return on investment was the deciding factor,” said Jeff Wrublevski, a superintendent with Brocks. “I believe the energy ratings of the equipment contribute a great deal in reducing energy costs. However, without good windows, foam insulation and a sealed building ‘envelope,’ the equipment would not have been able to contribute as much.”

Thanks in part to the heat pumps, the house costs less than $900 to heat and cool today.

Despite a recession-plagued housing market, Beere said he believes energy-efficient houses like his will continue to grow in popularity. In fact, he said it appears to have already motivated other homeowners and builders to incorporate sustainable practices into their residences.

“There is no need to add more supply to an already oversaturated market,” Beere said. “Rather, we can improve already existing homes. The cost of remodeling green is not necessarily higher.”

Besides Energy Star appliances and windows, the LEED-gold-certified home’s kitchen makes extensive use of natural lighting and like the bathroom, has countertops made from recycled paper. Photo courtesy of Johnson Controls.

Taking the hint

Getting that message out to builders and government officials, however, isn’t easy, he added.

“The main obstacle is educating developers, contractors and homeowners about green alternatives for remodel projects,” Beere said. “But along with education, government also needs to implement incentives and more-strict building codes to promote efficiency and indoor air quality in order for green remodels to become more common.”

City officials have lauded the project as a benchmark for other communities to follow.

“(It) has set a new standard for single-family home remodels and new buildings in Phoenix,” said Mayor Phil Gordon. “The home is an example for other developers to follow in making homes healthy and energy efficient. The city of Phoenix is proud to have the first LEED-gold-certified home west of the Mississippi.”

Anyone who has an interest in seeing Beere’s home may have an opportunity: It was put up for sale in late 2008 with an asking price of $848,000.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail