Going Green: A Charlottesville Couple Builds the Simple Life

On a quiet street located within biking distance of three city parks, one mile of Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, and a healthy jog away from the University of Virginia, there is a brand new “green” house. Not a greenhouse, mind you, and not a house painted green, but nevertheless green in the newest sense of the term: a structure demonstrating individual and social responsibility for Planet Earth.

Owners Tammy Wilt, a branch manager at Movement Mortgage, and Angela Orebaugh, assistant professor and director of cyber security and information technology programs at University of Virginia, began building a futuristic home three years ago to accomplish their environmental and lifestyle goals. “We wanted to contribute more to the earth and society than we wanted to collect and consume stuff we didn’t need,” says Tammy.

GoingGreena“Our goals were reduced environmental impact, improved air quality, lower utility costs and reduced home maintenance,” adds Angela.

The couple decided to contract the home themselves. Tammy would find the lot, and handle the construction budget; Angela would conceive the home design and research the building products needed. Both knew that building green offered challenges. First, they’d need to think ahead, taking the time to research and acquire environmentally friendly products. They also knew they’d have to be vigilant about vetting their materials.

For example, did products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that evaporate at room temperature and pollute indoor air? Was the wood they wanted certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, demonstrating responsible forest management? Finally, they’d need to consider the bottom line.

”Building green is great, but some products cost more,” Angela says. Tammy adds, “Our building costs ran around 20 to 30 percent above standard costs.”

Yet the result after 27 months of work on the project is Lohala Downtown, their home on Westwood Road, its name coined from three words: LOve, HAppiness, and LAughter. It was a dream conceived from years of consideration of how they wanted to live.

Career paths led them to Washington, D.C. during the early 2000s. While living there, they built a log home which they called Lohala Lodge, not far from Crozet in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But commuting to Washington created a problem.

GoingGreend“With a mountain house of 5,000 square feet on 22 wooded acres, commuting back and forth, and crazy work hours, we had little free time,” Tammy explains. “It all became too much, and it wasn’t the way we wanted to live our lives.”

During monthly trips to a Myrtle Beach condominium, their “snowbird getaway” one-fifth the size of their lodge, they experienced an epiphany: Less “stuff” in less space meant more freedom. The insight was transformative. They decided to downsize and “go green.”

“We wanted to lower our carbon footprint. We wanted a change of lifestyle,” Tammy says.

Angela smiles. “We had kayaks; we had motorcycles—fun things and no time to use them because we were taking care of the house, the land, driving to and from town all the time. We had things taking up space—clutter that just caused anxiety and stress.”

GoingGreenfGreen guidelines abound in the building industry, emphasizing efficient, healthy environments for those who inhabit them. In 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council was created to promote sustainability-focused practices in the construction industry. A green building rating system was established known as LEED, for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which certifies environmentally sound buildings. LEED encourages resource efficiency in terms of water, energy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Tammy and Angela followed green guidelines; they also developed green definitions of their own: “Being green means being able to use as many sustainable products as possible, and things with low toxicity,” Tammy explains. “One of the challenges was finding building materials that were environmentally friendly.”

Angela defines green building as the ability to create a healthy environment for occupants while having the lowest impact on the environment. “As occupants we wanted things inside that wouldn’t negatively impact the air quality (like a fireplace), things that are not going to off-gas and cause indoor pollutants,” she says. “Many times your indoor air is a lot more polluted than the outdoor air.”

GoingGreenhBy 2013 they were ready to put their vision in place.

Settled on Charlottesville as their choice locale in which to live and work, they considered various neighborhoods, favoring the Rugby/Rose Hill area. They purchased a quarter-acre lot and drafted a design using a 3D design program for the Mac. Before long Angela carefully placed a scaled plan on an aerial view of their lot via Google Earth. Voilà! It fit!

Having successfully built Lohala Lodge a few years before, the couple was comfortable as contractors, and they hired an architectural firm familiar with the green movement in Central Virginia. By December 2014, with building permit in hand, they were ready to break ground.

But before they did, they let the neighbors in on their plans.

Westwood is a mid-American neighborhood of brick, ranch-style homes, mostly built between the 1950s and 1980s. The home Tammy and Angela planned to build was almost cubist in design, with architectural elevations and irregular roof lines, including a variety of structural materials of metal, cedar plank and a color palette of grays. Its presence along the street, they knew, would be strikingly different. Also, in a settled neighborhood, any construction is disruptive, and the couple wished to keep that at a minimum. So, with candies as gifts, they called on nearby residents to explain the concept they had in mind and their answer to construction clutter: They would not plant a dumpster on site.

GoingGreenk“Our job was to manage waste and recycling through the entire project,” Angela wrote in their blog of the building experience (lohala.org). “We collected and sorted everything from nails to roof trimmings, cardboard boxes, product packaging and electrical wires. We researched creative ways to repurpose waste. We donated wood scraps to a local school. We donated wood and buckets of drywall mud to a neighbor. Usable leftover material was taken to Habitat for Humanity. We made sure that the site was clean at the end of each day, and we loaded up waste and recyclables to haul away. It was a lot of work, but we successfully diverted tons of waste from the landfill. It was worth it.”

By February 2015 they hired independent subcontractors to dig the basement, put up walls, pour the floor, and install foam and pre-insulated concrete for energy efficiency. A winter snow caused lost time. By March, however, they had framed walls, a front porch, and a second floor; by April, they installed heating and air conditioning along with plumbing and a steel beam for the rooftop deck. By July they put up cabinets and trim. In August 2015, after a few coats of paint, they moved in.

The new home at 1448 Westwood Road is unique to the neighborhood, yet Angela finds that many people have a distinct style to their homes. Meanwhile, people have been complimentary of their design and supportive of their goals. When Tammy and Angela threw an open-house party, the neighbors heartily accepted!

GoingGreenmToday, viewed from the street, Lohala Downtown is a 2000-foot original design with an Englert long-lasting metal roof that requires little maintenance. For trim the couple used MiraTEC®, an exterior composite with no added formaldehyde that resists rot and termite infestation. The home exterior siding is Hardie panel, a concrete composite for durability and low maintenance. Garage doors are energy-rated insulated doors, custom designed to feature windows running vertically down the side to echo the look of the windows on the front door. Exterior doors are Energy Star fiberglass. Outside decks are made of MoistureShield, composed of 95 percent recycled content.

Inside, the new homeowners experience expansive space with ceilings that vary from 9 to 18 feet in height. Walls painted with Benjamin Moore Zero VOC paint reflect earth-inspired shades of tan and gray; vibrant colors in décor and light fixtures offer splashes of bright contrast. The home contains sleek architectural lines, smooth surfaces, and modern minimalist furniture—all in functional spaces.

High clerestory windows capture low southern sun in winter for passive heating. Roof overhangs protect from high sun in summer, maintaining even temperatures that yield an electric bill barely reaching an average of about $115 per month. Marvin Integrity windows with dual pane and low-e coatings minimize ultraviolet and infrared light without compromising transmitted visible light.

For heating and cooling, the couple chose an Energy Star Lennox heat pump with a programmable thermostat and an energy recovery ventilator to circulate fresh air. On the second floor, they installed a Mitsubishi Mr. Slim mini split which allows them to heat and cool the second floor only as needed—making duct work necessary only on the first floor. Interior doors are masonite solid core Emerald Green series, with no added formaldehyde. Columbia Flooring Originals supplied verified sustainable hardwood, local to the East Coast.

GoingGreenqBeing conscientious, the women wanted to be efficient with light fixtures and water. They selected LED and CFL lighting, low flush toilets, and WaterSense faucets that use one-third the amount of water flow of standard bathroom fixtures. Most products chosen were made in the U.S., and the couple tried to source things locally when possible.

Lohala’s light and airy kitchen features LG Energy Star appliances. Utensils, pots and pans are tucked under countertops of Silestone quartz and local soapstone for enhanced indoor air quality and the pleasing ambience of efficiency in uncluttered space. Daily disorder, like catalogs, bills and circulars, is minimized by online shopping and bill pay. Clothing and shoes are shelved, belts are hung, and jewelry is arranged in home cabinets, drawers and ample closets.

To save on energy costs, Tammy and Angela do laundry before 10 a.m., and run the dishwasher at 10 p.m., avoiding peak hours of electricity use. The house is wired for solar panels, but they are not installed yet. Tammy says it takes a year to determine energy usage and whether solar panels will pay off. Meanwhile they’ve wired for the future, and Angela is on the waiting list for a Tesla Model 3 electric car. “When you have an electric car, that battery, in effect, is your battery storage in the home,” she laughs.

GoingGreenpUltimately the couple’s goal is a zero net energy house. With renewable energy, solar or wind, they hope to own a home that pays for the added construction costs with energy savings.

Until then, they are simply enjoying life—Charlottesville’s downtown, the parks, and cultural events within walking distance. No longer a slave to home upkeep and excess things, they find peace of mind. “We want to live simply. We don’t need a lot of things. When our parents offer gifts, we say, let’s have experiences like a concert or dinner,” Tammy says.

In the mid-1800s American writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau embarked on an experiment in simple living “to front only the essential facts of life” in the Massachusetts woods near Walden Pond. After two years, two months, and two days, he returned, inspired to urge fellow Concord townspeople to “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” their lives.

Perhaps today in this more complicated 21st-century, like Angela Orebaugh and Tammy Wilt of Charlottesville, Thoreau might update his urgent directive.

Maybe he’d say, “Just go green.”