All of the homes in this 45-unit development sold in one day. In part, that’s because they’re uniquely situated on land that was ceded to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands decades ago. But it’s also due to the outstanding design and construction of each property.
These home lots on the island of O’ahu are reserved for people who can demonstrate native Hawaiian ancestry. In fact, says Daniel Sandomire, resident architect for Armstrong Builders, some would-be buyers have been on the waiting list for a home on this sacred ground since 1953. And once their name is called, their lives can change dramatically.
“They get a 20 percent grant up front,” Sandomire says, “and then financing at something like 1 percent. So typically they are living in their own new home more cheaply than their previous house.”
And the buyers in line for these homes will be living in homes that welcome the local environment into their daily patterns.
That’s because Sandomire and builder Jim Keller planned the homes around traditional ways of living—with an emphasis on removing boundaries between indoor and outdoor spaces. That task was made easier, Sandomire concedes, by the fact that Hawaiian homes require no heating infrastructure, but also because older homes in the islands had the right idea.
“A lot of the old houses had whole house fans,” notes Sandomire. “And we really wanted to avoid the air conditioned boxes that are common here.”
But the team also improved on the old technology.
“We hooked up with a company called Airscape,” notes Keller, “and had them do some modifications to the central fan. Historically, these can be extremely noisy. First, we had them decouple the motor from the vent in the ceiling. Then they attached a flexible duct and moved the assembly deeper into the attic.”
The customized unit has been named “Kohilo,” Hawaiian for “gentle breeze.”
Along with that quiet, low-power ventilation, each home is carefully sited to catch the prevailing winds, with ample windows protected by deep overhangs. On elevations without overhangs, the design specified rigid awnings.
Keller notes that this project competed with about eight other submissions. But what put it on top was clearly it’s eco-friendly features.
“We really pushed the idea that these homes would be LEED silver certified,” he says, “and that excited the people at the Dept. of Hawaiian Homelands. It’s a concept that’s very much part of the native culture: taking care of and living off the land.”
Of equal importance was the team’s attention to the long-term durability and maintenance, while keeping costs down. For example, instead of installing expensive movable storm shutters or impact glass, the builder put storage racks in each garage, then had his crews carefully cut plywood panels for each window opening. The panels, ready for a storm emergency, are pre-drilled and carefully labeled, and cost far less than shutters
The use of reflective “cool roof” metal roofing reduces heat gain, at the same time standing up well to storm winds.
Like most homes in the region, these are built slab-on-grade, with carports on most models that are supported by steel poles through bolted to the concrete.
On the exterior, the architect specified hardipanel, which has a board and batten look, yet better long-term paint adhesion than wood competitors.
Some of the features that caught the eye of judges however, are among the least expensive. They aren’t even construction details, per se. For example, the inclusion of a “solar clothes dryer” (a clothesline) and a backyard garden for growing food and a compost area are something rarely included in most blueprints.
“The idea was not just to include these things,” notes Sandomire, “but to lay out the house so that it’s just as easy to hang clothes on the line as it is to throw them in a dryer. You don’t want to bury your laundry area in the middle of the house. If you do, no one will ever make it to the clothes line.”
Also, the team committed to adding a 2.5kW PV array to every home, along with solar hot water and prewiring for an electric car charger in each garage and carport. Units with garages also feature a custom storage compartment with areas for recycling and rubbish.
A lesser builder might have chosen to cut corners, given the fact that the homes have no air conditioning, and don’t need heating—foregoing or minimizing insulation, house wraps and the like. But Armstrong Builders has a lot of commercial building experience in their portfolio. They understand the advantages of building to a higher energy and durability standard.
So they insulated each home carefully and specified low-E dual pane windows. Because of this, the home is not only quieter, it doesn’t absorb excessive heat during the day, or cool down too fast in the evening.
The level of eco-sensitive detail continues down to the finishes and flooring.
“We used all CFL light bulbs, dual-flush toilets, low-VOC finishes and Green Label carpet,” notes Keller. “These were all little things that add up. We aimed at LEED silver but in the end we’ll achieve LEED gold.”
Sandomire adds that the company’s current and future projects will borrow a lot of concepts from the Kumuhau community.
“We have about 50 or 60 homes in the pipeline right now, including two other projects set at a higher elevation,” he says. “We’ll use a lot of these features again—the whole house fan, fixed awnings. It’s been very successful.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pride of ownership in these homes,” he adds. “It’s very much a reflection of Old Hawaii, of how people have traditionally lived here.”
To view this, and other 2011 Award Winners, visit our Home of the Year page, or view the online version of our December 2011 issue in our Magazine Archive.