By Lura Readle-Scarpitti
Photos by Mandy Cheng Design
From the front, the home at 415 Ocean Vista Avenue is what you would call “intriguing” in its simplicity. The stark white stucco walls and simple framing set against the dark wooden fence and mahogany front door makes you think that the structure’s interior would match the modern exterior — and you would be right in that thinking.
But the word “modern” gets a bad rap sometimes. People immediately default to “severe and sterile;” not “cozy and comfortable,” and while that is certainly true in some cases, with this home, it is not. And a closer examination reveals that this white house is actually really very green.
No, not the color “green;” the environmentally-friendly-construction “green.” Architect and homeowner Rory Reynolds designed this house to be one of the greenest houses in Florida, if not the greenest.
“There’s a system called “HERS” (acronym for “Home Energy Rating System),” Reynolds explains, “which takes into consideration a lot of factors concerning the building materials, appliances…even the way the house is situated and how the windows are placed. That’s used to estimate the annual cost for utility bills. The HERS rating is this estimation compared to standards of homes built by or before 2006. This house is at least 50% more efficient than a home built in 2006, which means a HERS rating of 50.”
According to Reynolds, that puts The Live Oak Home, as they have dubbed it, in the running to be the greenest house in possibly the entire state (currently they are waiting for certificatoin from the U.S. Green Building Council for confirmation on that). The name, by the way, stems from the Live Oak tree which the house was literally designed around.
“One of the things about green construction is the focus on conservation of the existing trees on a lot. Of the thirteen on this one, we saved eight, including this one,” Reynolds says, indicating a mature Live Oak which, indeed, the entire house seems to surround. They had to go as far as getting a variance to move the entire house 10 feet forward to save that tree — hence the name.
The landscaping is simple — sand and soil on top of coquina — which requires zero-to-no water to maintain. The pavers too are situated so that the water doesn’t pool in the cracks, but seeps through and back into, the ground. French Drains on the waterspouts which divert water to underground dry wells — it’s all about funneling it back into the aquifer.
Does this all seem that a LOT of forethought and planning went in building this house? And it did. Reynolds talks about each design decision, from the EnergyStar rated Fisher & Paykel appliances to the WaterSense plumbing fixtures (including low-flow, 1.8 gallon flush commodes) to the simple, yet stunning, dark-stained maple staircase which ascends to each of the three floors (with the beautifully simple Bocci chandelier which travels from top to bottom), with a sense of pride. Even seemingly small design details, such as the placement of the three hanging glass globe lighting fixtures in the galley-style kitchen, are given a great deal of consideration (all fixtures are energy-efficient too). If you look from the fixtures towards the gas stove, you’ll see that it aligns perfectly with the center of the stove and the oven exhaust hood.
And let’s talk about that hood (and the other house exhaust fans located in the bathrooms). All of the air sucked out through those exits the house so that dirty air isn’t recirculated. An ERV ventilator ups that even further by recycling the cold air, removing stale air and introducing fresh outdoor air. Air is another closely monitored factor in a green house, so much so that all finishes, meaning paints and stains, are low-to-zero VOC (containing zero-to-no toxic chemicals). Clean air is of such vital importance that Reynolds advises taking off your shoes the moment you walk into the house, which cuts down on dirt tracked into the house and on the bamboo floors (also a green element, bamboo being an ecologically sustainable wood).
With all of this discussion about what went into making this such a special house, there’s been little talk of the house itself. The 2000-square foot home boasts three bedrooms (two on the bottom floor and the master in the back of the the main floor); two and one-half baths with Quartz counters and maple cabinets; a spacious second-floor breakfast nook and galley kitchen windows placed in such a way that the light is diffused throughout the space, give the entire common living area an airy feel that gives this “modern” space an open and surprisingly livable feeling. The fact that the windows off the nook look out on the natural splendor that is Salt Run and the dunes of Anastasia State Park only lends to the “Wow” factor.
As for outdoor living (an absolute must for Florida living, no matter what style the home is), there’s a first floor patio, a deck off the master bedroom and a third floor deck with an outdoor fireplace which overlooks… wait for it…the St. Augustine Lighthouse.
Yes, in the spirit of leaving the best for last, possibly the best part of the house in a home with many “best parts” is the location…and the view. The Live Oak House is located next to the Lighthouse Park boat ramp and the upper back deck looks out on one of the most recognizable and inspirational landmarks in the area.
And we didn’t even get a chance to talk about the roof in real detail, which is built so that you can grow a garden on top.
The very best for last — usually, building a “green” house takes serious money (“serious” meaning over $1 million dollars or more). Reynolds, acting as his own builder, choosing the materials and hiring the subcontractors, was able to keep that well under that figure… proving that living green doesn’t take a lot of green as well.