California Dreaming 
Private Residence, Hermosa Beach, CA
Architect: Robert Nebolon Architect, Berkeley, CA
General Contractor: John Madison Construction, Manhattan Beach, CA
Masonry Contractor: Madison Masonry, Manhattan Beach, CA
Block Producer: Trenwyth Industries, Phoenix, AZ

When Robert Nebolon, AIA, designed this colorful, multi-story tower-like home, he always had “green design” in mind. He knew it was possible to design a green single family dwelling using durable materials such as concrete masonry, maximize the small 30' x 50' site within a dense community, while making the most of the close proximity to the beach. At the time it was built, it garnered 81 Build-it-Green points and surpassed the strict State of California Title-24 Energy Base line by 36%.

The house is designed to take advantage of the costal breeze. Windows on the beach side of the house open to let the prevailing winds enter the house, move through the staircase, and up through a thermostat-controlled skylight. This chimney effect naturally cools the entire house.

(Click on images to enlarge.)

Built on a small lot, the house had to go vertical to provide enough space for the family to live comfortably. And to provide the durability and aesthetics Nebolon had in mind, the structure is based on concrete masonry. Colorful glazed blocks are arranged in a playful mural in the entryway and sand colored split-faced blocks are used throughout the rest of the first floor. Upper portions of the house are clad in locally produced aluminum frames and colored stucco. Other green features include large, roof-top planting beds, durable finishes and non-wood construction materials meant to withstand the sea climate and the roof is pre-wired for the future addition of solar panels.

There was really only one direction in which to build when Brent Farrow, an architect in San Diego, California, decided to remodel a 100 year old home to incorporate a home and studio. He didn’t want to sacrifice the small amount of yard in the back of the lot, so he decided to go upward on the street side of the lot. With a small site and neighboring structures right up to the property line, he needed a solution that would allow him to make the use of every inch of space he had. Concrete masonry units (CMU) allowed him to build right up to the street and against the property line without requiring room for large construction equipment.

Farrow had a green ideal in mind when he planned this live-work space. The rear yard, which contained a large concrete slab, was returned to vegetation so that the space could provide organic food and an urban oasis. As much of the 100 year old house was retained, re-used, or re-purposed so that there was little construction waste. The new construction of load-bearing CMU was mostly built without any interior or external veneer or covering to keep the number of products, chemicals and potential volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to a minimum. The exposed CMU also acts as acoustical insulation, while also providing a high degree of thermal efficiency—both important on a structure on the street in a busy mixed-use neighborhood. The CMU used in the project was locally manufactured and did not spend a lot of time on the road. Creating a live-work space made it possible for Farrow to develop a nearly car-free life—also an important green-living principle.

Farrow managed to maximize the space by creating separate entrances for the office and the home which will allow for the property to be used as a duplex in the future. This is not Farrow’s first downtown San Diego residential renovation project, and most likely won’t be his last. He wants to provide green-inspired city living to as many people as possible because “residential units help the city keep that sense of community.” Farrow continues, “Besides, it keeps another strip mall or amusement park from building in space were families could live and work and enjoy urban life.” CMD