The simple lines of this attractive contemporary home disguise a remarkable aspect of its construction: it received the coveted Gold Star rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program. This rating, granted after a third-party inspection, serves as the premier mark in green building achievement. LEED-certified homes cost less to operate, reducing energy and water bills by as much as 40%.
Designed by the Houston firm Murphy Mears Architects (www.murphymears.com), the house earned the LEED Gold Star award because of the firm’s expert use in areas such as water efficiency, sustainable materials and energy strategies. Both principals of the architectural firm hold LEED AP credentials which affirm their knowledge of advanced green building expertise.
To solidify their efforts to win the Gold Star certification, the firm hired Exterior Worlds to design the landscape using techniques that minimize the impact on ecosystems and water resources. Our charge was to employ drought-resistant plants, reclaimed materials and other green hardscapes to help Murphy Mears earn points within the LEED rating system.
In the front yard, we created a rectilinear garden covered with black star gravel. The bed’s straight lines pay homage to the house’s design while the dark gray gravel extends the color palette. In this zone of interest, we planted six ornamental Japanese blueberry trees and contoured them into conical shapes to contrast with the linearity of the house.
The homeowners had found reclaimed marble from a torn-down building and so we used these rectangular forms for the sidewalk. A border of gravel connects the sidewalk to the larger garden bed. The marble, which is striated white and black, also adds an interesting element of movement to the yard. We planted the rest of the yard with Zoysia grass since it possesses exceptional wear tolerance and good drought resistance.
Gravel garden beds extend to the sides of the house, a choice that is both aesthetically pleasing and earth-friendly. In sustainable landscaping, gravel is prized because of its durability, minimal maintenance requirements and because, being inorganic, it requires no watering.
For the back yard, we planted more Japanese blueberry trees and Zoysia grass to continue the theme begun in the front. Other plantings, requiring little water and pruning, were picked from the LEED-approved list. We also laid another pathway using the reclaimed marble, which leads around the property to the grill, patio and a potting table with reclaimed sink in the far back.
We built a patio using synthetic decking material in the same light gray color as the house. The decking material requires no staining and is particularly durable. The patio creates a transition between the interior and exterior, with the glass doors of the house feeding out into the back yard. It is uncovered, playing up the openness of the house’s design and making the most of Houston’s golden morning light with the house creating deep shade in the hot afternoons.
Perhaps the most striking thing that can be said about the property and its LEED rating is this: you’d never know it. That is, the innovative and far-ranging green techniques are woven so beautifully into its design all you notice is a superb house with an appealing landscape.