The solar-powered Yin Yang home in Venice, Calif., does double duty, functioning as a commercial office for the owners while offering comfortable, private spaces for their large and growing family. Brooks + Scarpa purposefully integrated the workspace into the home, making both feel larger than they really are. The well-thought-out design encompasses areas to relax with friends, welcome clients, work quietly, and keep the family’s teenagers entertained. Thanks to a tight building envelope, R-21 blown-in cellulose insulation, passive design strategies, and a unique cantilevered 12-kilowatt solar system, the home exceeds California Title 24 requirements by nearly 50 percent, and produces 100 percent of its energy needs. The house is located in a dense neighborhood near public transportation, parks, schools, and the beach.

Jury: “This project has the best energy profile of any project we awarded. … For a custom home, it appeared to be fairly reasonably priced, and the fact that care was taken to make sure that the building also performs very well—as well as being a great place to live and a wonderful piece of architecture—is to be commended. … It’s commendable that the owner is looking at this in a 50-year-plus horizon and that the investment and the technologies and the durable materials were really viewed as part of what distinguishes this from just another sort of intriguingly designed building. There’s a lot here that suggests that it’s going to be around for a long time and it’s going to be one that can operate with a light footprint.” 

The architects and the contractor, Glenn Lyons Construction, organized the house around a series of courtyards and outdoor spaces that integrate with the interior and provide abundant natural light and ventilation to all rooms. Wide doors and multiple exterior decks and terraces allow the living space to expand outside, where an artificial lawn and native plantings require little maintenance. On the upper floor, each bedroom opens to an adjacent green roof and an exterior deck. A large roof overhang shades all the bedrooms from direct sunlight while providing ample natural light and ventilation. This plentiful access to ocean breezes eliminates the need for mechanical cooling. Energy Star-labeled appliances, high-efficiency solar water heaters, and energy-efficient lighting also significantly cut down on the electrical load.

Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA, principal, Brooks + Scarpa: “One of the team’s primary objectives was to enhance the quality of living for each resident by surpassing standards found in conventional projects. All rooms have minimum 11-foot-high ceilings and large windows with lots of natural light with abundant cross-ventilation. Indoor air quality was emphasized by minimizing off-gassing. Formaldehyde-free FSC-certified cabinetry, low-VOC paints, natural stone, and fluorescent lighting with low mercury content were used to minimize pollution from materials. These details, coupled with the qualities and character found throughout the building, distinguish this project from similar projects and benefit not only each individual resident, but also the community at large.” 

Interior finishes were selected for their high levels of recycled content, low chemical emissions, and use of rapidly renewable materials, including FSC-certified cabinets and flooring. A cost-benefit analysis for the building’s sustainable features estimated them to be 3.5 percent of the project costs. These strategies are projected to have an annual savings of more than $4,400, which translates to a payback period of less than 10 years, using current utility costs.

Building gross floor area:
3,800 square feet
Estimated percent of occupants using public transit, cycling, or walking: 60
Percent of views to the outdoors: 100
Percent of spaces within 15 feet of an operable window: 100
Percent reduction of regulated potable water: 36
Potable water used for irrigation: Yes
Percent of rainwater from maximum anticipated 24-hour, two-year storm event that can be managed on site: 95
Total EUI (kBtu per square foot per year): 8
Net EUI (kBtu per square foot per year): 5
Percent reduction from national average EUI for building type: 94
Lighting power density (watts per square foot): 0.75
Third-party rating: None
Total project cost at time of completion (land excluded): $1.7 million

Data and project information provided by Brooks + Scarpa via AIA COTE Top Ten entry documents.