Calif. Home Goes BIG Into Green
This huge house requires energy efficiency on a grand scale -- and a slick home control system makes the savings easy.
Credit: Stephen Morales
October 11, 2010 by Steven Castle

Being green and energy-efficient is often considered a mindset. The mantras of reduce, re-use, and recycle are repeated ad-nauseum. But one doesn’t need to adopt a minimalist mindset to be green and energy-efficient. In fact, Steve and Mashid Rizzone were of the mind that their new home, six years in the works, would be both green and energy efficient—and their contemporary California spread is as far from minimalist as you can get.

The nearly 12,000-square-foot Newport Beach compound encompasses three levels, with two kitchens, nine baths, a four-car garage, a gym, a state-of-the-art 14-seat home theater, 16 TVs, an infinity-edge pool, outdoor cooking area, motorized and movable glass walls, nine zones of heating and cooling, 17 zones of audio and video, an indoor waterfall, 11 closed-circuit security cameras, five biometric (fingerprint) access points, and nearly four miles of cabling. Oh, and there are views of the harbor to kill for. (Click here to view a slideshow of this California home.)

So … um … how do you make all of that green and energy-efficient? Start with 3,000 square feet of solar panels mounted on a hillside to provide the home’s electricity. Add hundreds of super-energy efficient and long-lasting LED (light emitting diode) lamps throughout the house. Stir in ample helpings of an easy-to-use Savant home control system that operates nearly everything. And mix with generous portions of green building features, including a structural steel framework, recycled steel studs, concrete walls that help warm and cool the home, blown-in cellulose insulation, Energy Star-rated appliances and a rainwater harvesting system for landscape irrigation.

“This house has been a labor of love,” says Steve Rizzone. “We started about six years ago. We bought the property and decided that we wanted to build an energy-efficient house and be specific in terms of construction materials. In the interim we had two children, and we felt it was important to send a message to the kids. This was capped by what has happened in the last two years with energy and the cost of it, and what’s happening with the planet.”

The homeowners have applied for the highest level of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes certification. The LEED system typically won’t certify a home that’s as large as theirs, but the Rizzones are not easily deterred. They’re still going for Platinum-level certification.

Neither are the Rizzones deterred by technology. In fact, they insisted on it. Steve and Mashid are both high-tech executives, and both are very interested in using technology. Consequently, high-end home technology was incorporated into the design phase at the very beginning. The couple’s previous home had a control system, so they knew, basically, that a good control system could help them operate all the subsystems in a house and ultimately help them save energy. “This is the third house we’ve built, and we’ve always had electronics,” Rizzone explains. “We just wanted to take it to next level.”

BIG on Solar

The most prominent feature of the Rizzone house, especially if viewed from the streets or the harbor below, is the 3,000 square feet of Sharp solar panels—128 of them, to be exact—mounted on the hillside below the house. The 36-kilowatt array looks like an enormous solar slide extending from the house above. The solar array has become controversial, sparking protests from neighbors about the appearance and glare from the panels. “As we’ve talked to more neighbors and educated them on the benefits [of solar power], we’ve been able to turn some of the naysayers into believers,” Rizzone says.

Rizzone believes his mega-solar array could provide enough energy to power his entire house, though they won’t know for sure until they’ve lived in the house for a while. (They had just moved in when this was written.)

“Today with the cost of energy and our energy demands, all of those things are averted with the solar system,” Rizzone says. Solar contractor Premier Power Renewable Energy in El Dorado Hills, Calif., did a comprehensive study of the home’s energy requirements and placement of the array and its size. “They studied the path of sun. We originally tried to put it on the roof, and ran into problems with the homeowners’ association,” Rizzone recalls.

Premier Power also monitors the system’s energy production via a web-based interface that the Rizzones can access via their home system.

LEDs or Bust

The Rizzones are also big on LED (light emitting diode) lamps, which are 90 percent more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs and can last 10 to 20 years or more. The only problem with LEDs are their high costs, which can discourage even affluent homeowners from equipping their entire house with them. Instead, homeowners often opt for a combination of LEDs, CFLs (compact fluorescents) and even some incandescent and halogen lights—and some of the lights can dim and others cannot.

Not so with the Rizzones. They went all in on LEDs, to the tune of 166 loads of them—with many loads made up of several LEDs. There are LED recessed lights, LED rope and cove fixtures, LED uplighting on the walls, LED exterior lights, you name it. They’re governed by a Lutron HomeWorks lighting control system to turn on and off in groups and to dim. This way the Rizzones are able to turn on only the lights they need—and at the levels they need—in preprogrammed lighting scenes.

The efficiency of the LEDs actually presented a small challenge for electronics installer Jeff Goold of Pacific Digital Home in Mission Viejo, Calif. Some LED lamps use only 5 watts, for example, and since the HomeWorks system required a minimum load of 50 watts, Pacific Digital often had to group several LEDs in one lighting load, meaning they go on and off together.

That’s no problem for the Rizzones, who love having a variety of lighting scenes—and using their slick Savant control system to operate them.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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