Eichler Remodel

by / Thursday, 18 September 2014 / Published in Green Building Consulting
Eichler MC-674 Street View

Eichler Remodel – Healthy & Efficient Home

Why write about an Eichler remodel? Because my family is lucky enough to call this our first home, and remodeling has almost completely absorbed me for the past 3 months! This isn’t just a remodel, it’s a green Eichler remodel.

What is an Eichler?

Joseph Eichler was a very unusual man. He built more homes than almost any other production builder of the time. Eichler was heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wrights architectural style, and equally passionate about minimizing material costs and maximizing construction efficiency. He was among the first volume builders to hire architects and incorporate now-common concepts of urban and neighborhood planning, such as including space for community centers and schools, and having wide sidewalks where pedestrians can stroll safely and pleasantly while viewing his buildings and the lovely settings he chose for his developments. For more about Eichler, the most comprehensive collection of facts and pictures are included in Eichler: Modernism Rebuilds The American Dream.

Eichler built over 10,000 residential units, with the vast majority in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are large Eichler communities in San Rafael, Terra Linda, San Mateo, Redwood City, Walnut Creek, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and San Jose. Once you’ve been in an Eichler neighborhood, you’ll know the next one! The floor plan with an atrium and post-and-beam modernist style is instantly recognizable.

green Eichler remodel

Eichler Homes Bay Area Map

Eichler Home – Original

green Eichler remodel

Eichler MC-674 Street View

In 1965, almost exactly 50 years ago, Eichler Homes built a home designed by Claude Oakland & Associates for a lot in Marin. It’s a spacious home that abuts protected open space, and every window lets in light and views of the surrounding hills. After WWII, in the 50s and 60s, Eichler Homes marketed to the middle class and offered designs with architectural flare generally reserved for custom single-family homes. While some investors and realtors worried the designs were too radical, almost all of his developments sold out quickly and now their unique architectural style is coveted. Ask a Bay Area resident about an Eichler home. You may be surprised at the story you hear. It is bitter irony that these lovely suburban homes so close to San Francisco – once  attainable for the middle class – are now only within reach for the 5%. Location is probably the biggest reason for the price inflation, but the unique style and cachet of Eichler must have an impact.

It’s a 2×4 stick frame house, with large 4×12 beams running the length of the home. Cost was a huge driver in Eichler’s designs, and he challenged his architects relentlessly to reduce costs of materials and construction. Eichler homes were cheap to be build and went up fast. Exterior sheathing and siding are one-piece and made of engineered plywood. Eichler homes are slab-on-grade, don’t have an attic, and often incorporate flat roofs. In addition to these cost-saving measures, at the time it was less expensive to have in-floor radiant (hydronic) heating. The uninsulated slab and expanses of floor-to-ceiling glass do pose an energy efficiency challenge, but in Marin’s mild climate it’s not too significant and most Eichler homes still have the original glazing. Ours even had the original 1965 boiler nicknamed “R2D2.”

As an Environmental Inspector, I appreciate not having a crawlspace or attic where problems can hide and linger. And now the trend for custom homes is toward radiant heat because it’s a superior form of heating. From a Green Building Consulting standpoint, I prefer radiant heat because it doesn’t require blowing warm dry (negative ion deficient) air though dirty duct systems.

Energy Efficient Remodel

Many best practices were followed during our green Eichler remodel, but due to budget and time constraints – real limitations felt by most of our clients – some of our dream upgrades will have to wait.

green Eichler remodel

Eichler Flat Roof Demolition – A Messy Affair

  • Roof – The original roof was tar and gravel over a 2×6 tongue and grove roof deck. Someone has come back later and covered the whole thing with closed-cell spray foam. I’m not a fan of foam in general because of health concerns over flame retardants and extremely high embodied energy costs, but in some applications and on a budget it’s the best solution available. The old roof was removed and we fixed any dry rot boards. 1″ rigid foam boards were cut around the new electrical and data wiring on the roof. 2″ rigid foam covered that, so we have a continuous 3″ of foam across the entire roof surface. And on top of that we installed a tapered rigid foam to create a 1″/4’pitch to minimize pooling. This means that portions of our roof near the middle have up to 9.5″ of foam. The foam was then covered by DensDeck to protect the foam, and lastly by a white GAF 60 millimeter TPO membrane with a high Solar Reflectivity Index (SRI). This roofing system will help retain interior temperatures in the winter, and reflect unwanted solar heat gain in the summer. It’s lightweight, durable, and has a 20 years parts and labor warranty from GAF.
green Eichler remodel

Cleaned Off Roof Deck, Ventilation Fan & Skylight Boxes, Foam Installation Around Utilities and Solar Standoffs

green Eichler remodel

TPO Membrane Roof w: Solar Standoffs, PV and Solar Thermal Panels

  • Plumbing & Heating Systems – Heating and domestic hot water are now provided by one combined, super-efficienty, gas-fired system. The Versa-Hydro combination appliance offers up to 96% thermal efficiency, 93% combustion efficiency, and is ready-made for solar hot water integration. It required significant additional plumbing and is a real whooper in the garage, but it’s quiet and efficient and now provides both domestic hot water and heat for the 1965 home. All the plumbing runs in uninsulated pipe through the uninsulated slab, so we also installed a motion activated TACO On-Command Hot Water Recirculation Pump at the farthest bathroom fixture. This helps ensure that we have hot water quickly at any tap or bath all the way across the house, and it reduces water waste.
green Eichler remodel

Eichler Water Heat & Boiler Before & After

green Eichler remodel

On Demand Water Recirculation Pump Diagram

  • Renewable Energy – For photovoltaics (PV) we collaborated with another Certified B Corp, Solar Works out of Sebastopol. Due to some unforeseen issues we changed the system design to incorporate numerous “micro-inverters” by Enphase. The system was sized without having historical use data, so we assumed our efficient lighting and use patterns… and assumed we wouldn’t keep the pool… and came up with a 3.0kW system. There is extra racking and solar standoffs on the roof in case we find we undersized the system. We also installed two 4’x8′ solar thermal (hot water) panels that tie directly into the VersaHydro. This is the first time I can say I’m eager to get our PG&E bill! We’re really curious how much energy we’ll use above and beyond what we’re creating onsite.

Healthy Remodel

  • Paints & Coating – We specified low-VOC paints and primers throughout the home, and scheduled 3 weeks of dry time for the paint to cure and off-gas before we moved in. Even though it might not have fit with the architectural style I would have loved to utilize a clay plaster, but time and budget didn’t allow.
  • Flooring – We chose a laminated hardwood floor product, and an untreated wool carpet pad and carpet for two rooms. Carpet is generally a no-no in a healthy building design, but as a husband I must chose my battles. They do feel good on the foot. Rowena Finegan at Pine Street Natural Interiors was a great resource for healthy flooring and coatings. Despite all my planning and caution, the flooring contractor ended up using an adhesive for the carpet pad. I feel like such an idiot for missing this detail during installation, but I couldn’t catch every detail. So – windows are open and we continue to try to off-gas the carpeted rooms. This was a big mistake in my opinion. If it still smells in October I may rip up one room and replace the pad. I didn’t do any air quality testing as I’m afraid what I’d find!
  • Ventilation – To provide outside air ventilation and minimize humidity indoors we installed more robust and efficient exhaust fans over the kitchen and bathrooms. The bathrooms are outfitted with Panasonic Whisper Green Select fans. These are super quiet, have LED lighting, and are programmed to run continuously at a low CFM even when not switched on. When turned on the fans ramp up and are programmed to run on high for 20 minutes after they are switched off. This combination ensures efficient delivery of outside air via cracks and gaps in the envelope of the home. In a super tight building, or a home with an attic or crawlspace, I wouldn’t recommend this approach to ventilation. But for our leaky Eichler it is appropriate since we know where the makeup air is coming from (directly outside) and we’re in a temperate climate zone (no risk of condensation or extreme energy loss). The folks at Beanstalk Energy were super helpful in sizing and installing the exhaust ventilation systems.
  • Safety Film – The 1965 glass is not tempered and therefore poses a safety risk in case someone walks through a window or a window breaks during an earthquake. Toddlers with rocks and teenagers with BB guns also pose a threat! We’re installing a window safety film and I was disappointed that the there doesn’t seem to be an energy efficient (“low-e”) window film that also serves as safety film.
  • Smoke and Carbon Monoxide (CO) – We hardwired a security system and smoke/CO alarms in all bedrooms and the hallway. I was pleased to learn this resulted in an approximate 10% discount to our homeowners insurance.
  • Whole-House Water Filtration – Michael Davis from US Pure Water helped specify and install a whole-house water filtration system that meets our needs. It’s a relatively low-tech system that doesn’t require power or waste water with flushing, but the filters do require replacement every 6 months. We haven’t had a need to do any water quality testing, but the water in the house doesn’t smell like chlorine and the toilets get dirtier more quickly than our last rental. I take that as a good sign the THMs (chlorine byproducts) have been adequately removed.

Future Green Eichler Remodeling Projects

Someday we’ll do some more to this darling Eichler…

  • Landscaping – native, allergy-free, animal friendly, and low-water plants with drip irrigation
  • Windows – upgrade to energy efficient windows
  • HRV – install one or two Heat Recovery Ventilators to ensure sufficient air exchanges and delivery to bedrooms
  • Pool Conversion to Rainwater Cistern – cap the pool and convert it into a rainwater cistern and emergency water supply
  • Walls and Air Sealing – pull the exterior siding, air seal, and replace fiberglass insulation with dense packed cellulose

Please call us if you’re mindful of energy efficiency or healthy building and have an opportunity for remodeling. While she hasn’t seemed too accessible or interested in speaking with me, Renee Adelmann has a pretty and resourceful website (www.eichlerforsale.com) for purchasing or remodeling Eichler homes. Liz McCarthy, of  McGuire Realestate, was our real estate agent. Her and Justin Kai were awesome the whole way through.

We’re blessed to have such an amazing roof over our heads and I have you and Eichler to thank!

20 Responses to “Eichler Remodel”

  1. Alex Stadtner says :

    Thanks for the note.

    Healthy Building Science can help itemize opportunities from an occupant health standpoint. I can think of none better. But a good general contractor is probably who you’ll need to put numbers to all the jobs and also to help address non-health-related improvements you may be interested in.

    Where is your Eichler? We have good relationships with General Contractors all around the SF Bay Area, but most GCs don’t travel too far from their office.

    -Alex

  2. MARK WILLIAMS says :

    Alex – Great article! I’m looking at an Eichler which will need much of the same work you have described. What I am looking for is an Eichler specialist who can look the home over, advise on what is right or may be wrong with the home, and put together a summary of the costs involved. Is there anyone providing this service that you could recommend?
    Thanks!

  3. Alex Stadtner says :

    Hi Carl,

    Thanks. And congratulations on scoring the coveted “double A!”

    Since the chills have set in we can really feel the single-pane windows. We did evaluation having them all replaced with double-pane, but the price tag was >$60K and we decided to postpone that significant upgrade. During the research process I did research the Indow Window option. At first glance I loved the idea!

    Unfortunately they cannot make an insert the full size of a floor-to-ceiling window. So you’d have to have a “seam” or metal bracket cutting the visual effect of the window somewhere. When I heard that we decided against the Indow Window option. But I remain intrigued and recommend them for clients all the time. Now that I’m typing this I may just try an Indow Window insert in two bedroom windows. It could help keep the rooms more comfortable, quiet, and condensation free during the cold winters. But for the floor-to-ceiling we decided the chopped up window look wasn’t going to work.

    They’ll send someone out to give you a free estimate. Doesn’t hurt to see what they’ve got. And if you’re not opposed to the aesthetic change – go for it!

    Best of luck. Please let me know how it turns out.

    Happy Holidays,
    Alex

  4. Carl Lenox says :

    Hey Alex,

    Great post, very useful! I recently moved into a double “A” frame Eichler in Lucas Valley and as an energy geek (PV industry) am trying to figure out how to wrestle this beast to ground from an efficiency & comfort perspective.

    I was specifically wondering if you’ve looked at window inserts (e.g. Indow) as an alternative to replacing the vast expanses of glass with double pane, and if so if you have any thoughts on this approach Like you, with young kids, we put in safety film before we even moved in …

    Thanks,

    Carl

  5. Alex Stadtner says :

    Hello,
    Oh, now I think I get it. Than it would be relatively easy to install additional insulation up top.
    There are many different modeling software to enable you to calculate the influence of more insulation on thermal comfort and energy performance of the building. It’s a rather common question. Of course it will take money to build the computer model and run the various scenarios, but it can be done.
    -Alex

  6. Suzanne says :

    Alex, Thanks for the response. I guess I did’t express myself very clearly. We don’t have foam inside the house. In the late 90’s we had the old T&G removed, upgraded/added some electrical, and had a layer of rigid foam added on top of the deck and electrical, topped with new T&G with white dolomite for best reflectivity. I am sure the standards and materials now will allow us to get an even higher R-value, and possibly better reflectivity, but I was wondering if there is any way to accurately estimate how much extra comfort we will get on those ridiculous 95-105 degree days that occasionally crop up now, and seldom did decades ago. And yes, adding ceiling fans is also a great idea which we will pursue. Thanks again.

  7. Alex Stadtner says :

    Hello,

    I suspect an additional layer of foam and a new exterior coating/finish layer will make a significant difference. You didn’t say where your Eichler is located, but for ours in Marin County it has kept the place much cooler in the summer. Be sure to select a light color and opt for a “reflective” coating if that’s an option. Most roofers know about “cool roofs” with high a “Solar Reflective Index” (SRI).

    While you’re doing the roof, consider adding some electrical for ceiling fans. Fans and air movement really help the human body thermoregulate in the heat.

    Lastly, I must complicate the situation and momentarily venture into building science warning mode. You mentioned you already have foam on the interior, below your T&G roof deck / ceiling. If you add foam above the roof deck you’ll have completely encapsulated your wooden roof deck between two layers of foam. This is considered a bad practice, because if moisture gets to the wooden roof deck it will not have a good capacity to dry in either direction. Frankly, since you applied foam on the underside and it’s probably not a vented assembly – you may already have this problem. I’d have a company such as Healthy Building Science review the proposed new roof design before installation. A little bit of precaution up front can save you 10’s of thousands down the road.

    -HBS

  8. Suzanne says :

    Thank you for sharing this information, and congrats on the house! I am wondering how cool a new, more highly insulated roof will keep our Eichler in summer. We are retired and my 90 year old mom lives with us, so we are all around during the heat of the day, and my mom doesn’t thermo-regulate so well any more! Up to 80 we are good to just keep the windows open. If it will be 80-90 we leave windows open at night, catch the cool, and close up in the morning. This keeps us ~8-10 deg cooler inside than out, and is OK into the low 90s. We have about 2-3″ of rigid foam insulation under our T&G, dating to the late 90’s. Will the newer, thicker, better insulation keep us comfortable (i.e., inside temp ~85) up to 100, or had we better think about more active cooling ideas? Thanks!

  9. Laurey says :

    Thanks for getting back to me Alex! We are in Terra Linda and just went to visit “Smollen the Builder” yesterday. We are planning to redo our windows to double pane by the original manufacturers (sliding glass with thin aluminum frames). We’ve had trouble after the recent rains with mold in a bedroom, and before that with condensation, and our wall of back windows faces south. The architect said the radiant heat takes care of moisture problems. Has the film worked well? I like your idea of fans in the rooms! We are also looking to remodel the bathrooms which also need fans, the little original windows just don’t do the job with so many in the house, mostly teenagers. We have baseboard heaters, but are considering to take the leap of fixing the old or getting new radiant heating, which they recommend. it will be a bigger project than we had been thinking, and they are recommending that we move out, and all our stuff too if we get the floors redone! just wrapping my head around that. Thanks for your wonderful and informative article! By the way, we use nice old carpets from central asia we got from a great guy in Berkeley (Devil Dingo Rugs) really beautiful alternative floor coverings. Thanks!, Laurey

  10. Alex Stadtner says :

    Hello Laurey,

    Sad story about the roof. It leaks! Northern California Roofing Company installed a GAF TPO membrane roof over rigid foam. I liked that they used a layer of DensDeck (rigid fiber board) under the membrane. Something about either the product or the installation was a total disaster. Over 15 separate leaks. We’ve given up on Northern California Roofing and are now working with another GAF-certified contractor. I wish I had gone with McLaren Roofing Co, as I’ve heard really good things about them.

    We are third-party consultants and would be happy to join your team. At the front end we like to start with an assessment of the current building and brainstorming with the owners about their goals for sustainability. Lead and asbestos are identified so everyone plays safe during demolition. We ask the architects and builders tough questions and make sure they’re following best practices. We often get involved with material selection to ensure healthy materials.

    Do let us know if you’d like to discuss your project in more detail and learn if it would be a good fit.

    Sincerely,
    Alex

  11. Laurey says :

    we are embarking on a similar project. can you recommend your roofer? That’s the kind my husband wants. are you an architect/contractor? Perhaps we could work with you on our project!:-) Thanks!

  12. Alex Stadtner says :

    Hi Sundong,

    Thanks for the congratulatory note. We are very blessed in many ways.

    As for moths in the wool carpet… we haven’t had any yet! It’s a good question that really hadn’t occurred to me. I think you’re right to assume that high-traffic or well-aired areas won’t become nesting grounds, but areas behind/under cabinets or beds might someday become a problem. Perhaps we’ll have to replace the floor trim with untreated cedar. I will report back if it ever becomes an issue. It would be terrible to move a dresser only to find a big chunk of carpet was devoured by hungry moths! The carpet and pad completely lacked the common “chemical scent” found in carpets and pads. I cannot believe I missed the pad adhesive detail! What a rookie mistake. That smell has completely gone now and I’m presently very happy with the untreated wool pad and carpet.

    Over the years we have done reviews of US Pure Water products, not so sure about Life Source and Puronic. There are so many variables to consider and so many misleading marketing claims that discriminating between water filters can be a real task. We do this sometimes for clients, but when it came to me I simply relied on a local expert I trusted. While slightly better in performance and lifespan of filter media, I didn’t want a system that required backflushing. In addition to the water waste (we don’t yet have graywater reuse), running power and having a drain in that location would have added cost and complexity.

    Someday I’d like to run some graywater (especially laundry) to landscape irrigation. We’re doing this now in a very ridiculous way… that involves opening a door and connecting two pipes every time we do laundry. But someday we’ll make this more official and seamless.

    Always good to hear from you,
    Alex

  13. Sundong Kwong says :

    Congratulations on your new house and thanks for sharing with us on your remodel. I also like the untreated wool carpet. I would like to know how do you keep it to repel moths, especially the carpet under the bed? I have a hard time to decide for my own remodel.
    Did you get a chance to compare US Pure Water with Life Source and Puronic, like which one the most convenient, easy to operate, an cost, etc.

  14. Andy says :

    Thanks for the response. That recirculation solution is brilliant. It certainly beats letting the water run for five minutes!

  15. Alex Stadtner says :

    Thanks! Remodeling if full of tradeoffs. We did our best, but definitely compromised at times. Look forward to your next visit!
    -Alex

  16. Jennie Fleury says :

    Congrats on the new house! Thanks for sharing all the info on your remodel. Very interesting. The water system sounds great. Might have to look into that for future use in our place (along with new windows, solar panels, etc.). It’s tough to make the trades of what you want vs what is right vs what you can afford. Hope to see your new place next time we are in SF!

  17. Alex Stadtner says :

    Hi Andy,
    Thanks for the note.

    1) It’s an ingeniously simple water recirculation system. All you need is access to the supply hot/cold plumbing and a 120V outlet. We did not have to add another plumbing pipe for the recirculation, as the system pulls hot water from the existing hot water supply line, and forces hold water back via the cold supply line. I was amazed how ingeniously simple this retrofit was. There are motion detectors at each bathroom and the pump is only activated when someone is in the bathroom and there isn’t warm water right beneath the sink. We did future-proof by adding new hot/cold supply lines to the two bathrooms from the garage, just in case the slab plumbing ever fails, but these lines remain stubbed out and empty for now. We did not demo or trenching in the existing slab.

    2) Running electrical over the top of the foam would have created dams for leaves and debris to collect, and resulted in many more penetrations through the waterproofing layer. Above each ceiling mounted fixture is an electrical box that is accessible from below, but I hope and pray we don’t have to access any of those wires for the rest of my years!

    3) The old roof was leaking and pooling. There was evidence of minor to major leaks in many parts of the old foam roof. It was a mess and created a lot of waste, but I wanted something I was fully confident wouldn’t leak or need major attention for at least 20 years. The rigid foam was hard for me… for several factors already mentioned… but it seemed most suitable for what we needed and could afford. And all the foam/TPO companies insisted on building up from the roof deck and wouldn’t build up over an uneven spray foam surface.

    Good questions. Cheers,
    Alex

  18. Andy says :

    Cool project! A few questions:
    – Did you put the water pipes for the recirculation system into the slab? I didn’t see them on the roof.
    – Why not run the electrical up over the top of the foam? Seems like it’s going to be hard to access.
    – Why replace the old roof at all, given that replacing it creates a lot of waste and the new materials consume a lot of resources. Was it already having other problems?

  19. Alex Stadtner says :

    Thanks so much, Josh. I think of you and your family often, and hope you’re doing well.
    The house really is a humdinger, and we feel very fortunate to have such a fine roof over our heads.
    Native and drought/deer-resistent landscaping is next – where’s your nearest nursery?!?!
    Please stay in touch,
    Alex

  20. Josh Fodor says :

    Congratulations Alex! What a score. Excellent job on te remodel and good article for us all to enjoy.

    Best Regards

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