“An unremarkable house can become a beautiful, sustainable shelter,” says Leslie Hoffman, President and Executive Director of Earth Pledge.
She’s proving it with her own island development. The project is described on Hoffman’s Gimme Shelter blog as “a showcase for environmentally responsible building practices, sustainable products and brands and creative talents.“
What else makes this house sustainable? “Community,” she says.
I caught up with Hoffman recently and asked her a few questions about the project. Here’s what she had to say:
How did you find the Shelter Island property?
I have had the place for close to 10 years. It has served me well, I have become part of the community, I established my garden and grew it over the years, and have shared the house with friends. During this time I have thought a lot about how it could be improved, without making it substantially bigger, reusing as much of the old building as possible, and addressing issues, such as the fragile local aquifer, that are important in the community.
If sustainably designed, then why demolish the building and start anew?
The original structure was 2×4 framing on an uninsulated slab. The decision to re-frame the main section of the house addressed the need for insulation under the floor and also increased increased insulation in the walls and roof. The old section that remains is principally the garage and two guest bedrooms.
Will you have monitoring systems for people to see how your home is doing?
I am not installing monitoring equipment per se, but will certainly be monitoring fuel and electricity usage. My work on green roofs at Earth Pledge has included building three monitoring stations, so the results can now be applied without replicating the scientific work, which is costly.
What are some parts of the project you’re really excited about and why? Are you using your house as a testing ground for anything?
Each project that I have done has been a learning experience, so I know that Gimme Shelter will “teach” me – and hopefully others. I am super excited about the indoor/outdoor integration of this project. In summer, when most people want to come and visit, the house can be opened up to literally become part of the outdoor living spaces, and vice versa. The new product developments – including advanced green features such as water and energy saving – are amazing. I am also looking forward to having solar thermal panels to heat my hot water and radiant heating (I have had PV generating 5 kW of electricity for almost 7 years) and I am also really keen to explore cooking with an induction stove.
Tell me why you picked Steve Hoffman as the architect?
Steve, who is no relation to me, is married to a friend. They visited me on Shelter Island a number of times, and he became interested in the project. I had been grappling with some issues about the project, most notably the roof lines. Steve came up with the concept of the shape of the house, and reorganized some of the interior space use. When I saw the shape, it screamed “water catchment device” to me. This became central as we developed the garden integration and considered the impact of storm water runoff on a coastal site.
Talk about home being one of the basic necessities for living. How is your home that and more?
For me – beyond providing shelter – this place represents an opportunity to share what I know and how I live – with my friends, my community and the millions of Americans who live in typical mid 20th century housing who might want to upgrade their homes while integrating new (and more sustainable) principles into their lifestyles. As an example, I believe that more gardeners in the world will make the world a better place. When you experience the pleasures of the process and product of living with a garden, you are more likely to actually do it. This house and its renovation are providing me with a vehicle for sharing with what is hopefully a broad reach.
Top image: Computer generated image of Hoffman’s Gimme Shelter Project