A highly honored “green” home sustains the environment—and the loving young family who lives there. Judy Bean learns its true nature. Photography by Richard Leo Johnson.
The LINSTROTH Stats »
Owners: Tommy and Jamie Linstroth
Year built: 2013
Square footage: 1,988 in house; 600 in garage
Accommodations: 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths
Even though it’s a midweek morning, the narrow Victorian District street bustles as neighbors gab on the sidewalk and renovation workers swarm over a row of gingerbread-trimmed houses.
Given the small-town conviviality and centuries-past architecture, it’s not exactly where I’d expect to find a technologically advanced, award-winning, architecturally modern dwelling.
Yet, there it is, sandwiched between a tin-roofed railroad house and a gray two-story walk-up: Savannah’s first—and Georgia’s third—LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes platinum-certified, single-family residence.
Even though I’m half-expecting to find a futuristic fortress—a mini version of the Jepson Center—I find instead an inviting, two-story townhome with a redwood-and-brick façade and a lush side garden. Its happy, homey appeal fits right in with the warm, neighborly vibe of the surroundings—just like the Linstroths, who call it home.
Tommy Linstroth, owner and founder of Trident Sustainability Group, lives by his firm’s motto: “We can’t predict the future, but we can help shape it.” He is the environmentally conscious visionary behind Savannah’s Sustainable Fellwood—the re-imagined, energy-efficient mixed-income development on Bay Street just west of downtown—and other green, LEED-accredited projects. As forward-thinking as his projects are, he has been honored with several Preservation Awards by the Historic Savannah Foundation. Most recently, he received an HSF award in May for “challenging current practices of traditional design” with his own home, while also respecting the scale and materials of the existing neighborhood.
The design of the home reflects his reverent ethos. Within the tranquil, contemporary interior, a double set of glass doors illuminates the entire first floor. Thanks to generous sight lines, the combined kitchen and dining room are visible from the front entry, yet a partial wall screens the food prep area from the tidy living room.
The tidiness seems noteworthy, considering that Tommy and his wife, Jamie, are parents to 4-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, and 10-month-old son, Hayden. Toys are evident, but not overwhelming. Most charmingly, Brooklyn’s pasteboard-box dollhouse, home-built with help from Dad, sits in a niche near the front door, at visual peace with the room’s less ephemeral fixtures. A handsome brown leather sectional and two snowy white Barcelona chairs surround a blond Noguchi table centered on a crimson rug. All around, there’s room to walk, allowing the sitting area to remain tranquil.
The high ceilings, along with the bright white walls and deep gray floors, continue into the gleaming, spacious kitchen and dining area. On the dining side, a reclaimed wood table glows in the morning sun, which pours in through the glass doors. The doors lead to a deck and garden where blueberries, grapes, peppers, loquats, limes and oranges grow in abundance. A small lawn and play area is planted with drought-resistant grass.
Tommy’s office and a half-bath complete the first story. The different spaces are unified by polished concrete floors, which impart a refreshing coolness on this hot day. Tommy, who serves as an advocate on behalf of the U.S. Green Building Council, confirms that the home’s exposed concrete helps keep the interior cool. It also spares wood and other resources that would otherwise be used as flooring materials.
To use less wood and to suit the home’s contemporary aesthetic, the first floor has no crown moldings or baseboards. Instead, drywall—much of it recycled—sits atop a black metal reglet reveal about baseboard-height from the floor. The vertical part of the reveal matches the dark floor, creating an illusion of more square footage. Better still: no baseboards to dust.
A floating staircase—composed of locally sourced, quarter-sawn pine and suspended by steel cables—creates a quiet sanctuary underneath, where Molly, the family’s 11-year-old terrier, loves to nap.
Bamboo comprises the floors in the upstairs hall and bedrooms. Concrete would have been too heavy to use here. Though more traditional in appearance, the bamboo’s environmental impact is minimal. Bamboo grows so quickly, it’s one of the world’s most renewable resources.
Savings were also a factor, Tommy adds, noting that the house cost only $150 per square foot to build. Splurges were made mostly in energy-efficient technology: a four-zone, timed HVAC system with an energy-recovering heat pump; a three-kilowatt solar panel array; Energy Star-rated appliances and ceiling fans; LED and CFL lighting; low-emission laminated glass and spray-foam insulation. But these investments will pay off quickly, Tommy says, noting that the home uses 70 percent less power than average homes of its size. His most recent electric bill was just $38. With the solar panels, he’s hoping to start giving energy to the power grid in the near future.
Energy costs aren’t the only thing the house saves. The deck, stairs and trusses were all made from locally sourced pine, requiring less fuel (and pollution) to transport. And low-flow plumbing fixtures use 40 percent less water than standard ones.
No doubt, this home is a sustainable showcase. But to Tommy and his family, it’s much more than that. It’s an example of how affordable green design can be, and it shows how modern aesthetics fit seamlessly into the fabric of a historic neighborhood. Most of all, it demonstrates how a young family can live abundantly within a small footprint. After all, families might be our most important renewable resource of all.
The LINSTROTH Referrals »
Architects/planners: Paul McKeever, AIA; Tommy Linstroth, Trident Sustainability Group
Contractor/builder: Randy Peacock, Peacock Construction
Tile/flooring: Garden State Tile
Paint/wallpaper: Sherwin Williams “Emerald” zero-VOC paints
Windows/doors: Choo Choo Build It Mart
Landscape design: Simon Landscape
Electrician: Evergreen Electrical
Carpenter: Georgia Framing
Plumber: Kenneth Patrick
Landscaper: Simon Landscape
HVAC: McCall’s Heating and Air