written by:
photos by:
February 1, 2009
Originally published in Green Goes Mainstream
When Greg Reitz was ten years old, he was already so worried about the state of the planet that, without prompting from his parents, he spent his allowance to join Greenpeace.
By raising the structure over the shaded parking area, the designers were able to provide additional cooling air from below, and eliminate the need for air-conditioning.
Photo by 
1 / 4
Throughout the house operable windows enable cross ventilation. The ones Reitz and Kurath used contain krypton gas, a dense gas that enables heat to be transmitted more slowly, between the panes. The dining table and chairs are vintage Danish pieces.
Photo by 
2 / 4
Reitz in the kitchen, which is outfitted with efficient fluorescent lighting and Energy Star appliances.
Photo by 
3 / 4
Inside Greg Reitz's Los Angeles home, the entryway features fly-ash concrete floors and stairs cut from recycled steel. Conscious of the life-cycle of the materials he chose, he settled steel instead of wood on the grounds that it would last longer and wo
The home’s entryway features fly-ash concrete floors and stairs cut from recycled steel.
Photo by 
4 / 4
reitz kurath house exterior
By raising the structure over the shaded parking area, the designers were able to provide additional cooling air from below, and eliminate the need for air-conditioning.
Reitz Residence

When Greg Reitz was ten years old, he was already so worried about the state of the planet that, without prompting from his parents, he spent his allowance to join Greenpeace. Twenty years later, after an unfulfilling foray into management consulting, he turned his passion for the environment into a profession. Reitz became the green building adviser for the City of Santa Monica, advising colleagues and local property owners on how to apply green building measures to new and existing structures. At the same time, he decided to build a house that would showcase the very principles he encourages. 

In Roger Kurath, the Swiss-born founder of the firm Design 21, Reitz found an architect whose ideals and approach meshed with his own. Together they created a 1,700-square-foot house on an 8,100-square-foot lot on a quiet, tree-lined residential street in Culver City, just east of Santa Monica.

At first sight, the steel-frame box with its large expanse of glass would seem to defy energy conservation. But through a combination of passive energy-saving measures and advanced insulation materials, the pair claim to have achieved energy efficiencies that exceed both California’s Title 24 requirements as well as the minimum requirements demanded by Santa Monica.

The house consists of a south-facing, loftlike kitchen/dining/living room with three bedrooms and two baths on the rear of the house. “Probably the most effective measure,” says Reitz, “was just to look at the placement of the house on the site and then the windows on the house, so as to take advantage of passive solar heating and natural ventilation.” The majority of the glazing is on the south façade, which allows for “solar control and for winter sun to penetrate.”

By raising the house over the shady parking area, the collaborators were able to provide additional cooling air from below, and eliminate the need for air-conditioning. “The stack effect cooling, the ventilation through the skylights, and intake from the ground floor are the things that are free,” explains Reitz. “And they are something we forgot how to do when we found all the cheap fossil fuels.”
Reitz and Kurath’s contemporary design melds time-tested temperature-control methods with advanced materials. It was possible to have such a large expanse of glass by using high-performance, double-glazed windows imported from Switzerland—an added expense, says Reitz, that was offset by the long-term energy savings. The home’s in-floor radiant heating is a more efficient form of heating, says Kurath, because “if your feet are warm, you feel the increased temperature quickly and don’t need to run the heating for so long or so high.” The thick concrete floors provide thermal mass, moderating dramatic heat swings and storing  heat for when it is  cool  and vice versa. The stud-and-drywall walls are highly insulated, stuffed with blown-in insulation material made of recycled newsprint.

In addition, Reitz and Kurath selected materials according to their environmental properties: rice straw core doors, recyclable steel, and concrete partly made of fly ash. But Reitz went a step further and conducted a life-cycle analysis of the wood, steel, and concrete they planned to use, discovering which materials used the most (and least) energy in their production. He found that wood and steel came out even, both ahead of the concrete. He chose steel, on the grounds that it would last longer, and would not harbor termites or mold.

Construction of the house came in at a relatively low cost of around $200 per square foot, excluding the expense of the site, thanks in large part to Reitz himself taking on the “headaches” of functioning as contractor. He says that the additional cost of making the home green was less than 1 percent. “Some things, like the elimination of A/C, reduced costs; many things were cost neutral; and only a few of the strategies—like the demand hot water circulation system—added cost.”

Despite these cost savings, Reitz invested substantially, in time and money, to create his showpiece green house—so much so that for a while he had to rent it out, and live in the 900-square-foot 1922 bungalow already on the lot. Now he occupies the house by night and on weekends, and rents it out to a friend for use as an office during the day. But he considers the investment wholly worthwhile. He’s not only proven “you can build green and contemporary and make it affordable,” but by doing all the research to design and build the house, he feels more credible when giving advice to others. His efforts have also paid off in helping spread the faith a little further. The City of Culver City is now, with his input, developing green building policies of its own.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016
When a garage damaged by termites had to go, a studio emerges.
June 19, 2016
the blue lagoon iceland geothermal spa hotel water visitors
The famed geothermal spa outside Reykjavík, Iceland, is entering a major new phase—paving the way for the area’s first five-star hotel.
June 19, 2016
heaven on earth maya lin topography what is missing california academy sciences wood video
A new monograph by Rizzoli explores the memorial project by the renowned artist.
June 19, 2016
gable game austin texas cantilevered home facade windows upper level car port
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to indoor/outdoor living. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
June 18, 2016
Modern prefab lakeside home in Bloomingdale, New Jersey
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
June 18, 2016
Rectangular bento glass table with compartments.
These top-notch projects by design students earned a spot on our honor roll.
June 18, 2016
bozley all
Jory Brigham picks up his family’s trade and takes it in unexpected directions.
June 17, 2016
The outlandish Belgian fashion designer, a member of the iconic Antwerp Six, creates a quirky pattern-filled capsule collection for the Swedish mega-retailer—with a high-tech twist.
June 17, 2016
2016 Triumph Pavilion
A creative take on the classic children's toy.
June 17, 2016
planar and simple chicago farmhouse addition kitchen mutina cabinets tiles pella window kohler faucet
A relaxed interior and radical roof make a home more sociable and energy-efficient.
June 17, 2016
up and away renovation san francisco family room richard wright painting sofa
A couple bring cohesion to an architectural mishmash in San Francisco.
June 17, 2016
new head of its class connecticut renovation summer home facade bleached cedar siding volumes glass bridge
A Connecticut home with a notable architectural legacy gets an expansive update for a family of six.
June 17, 2016
Rockefeller Center filled with cactus during the month of June.
To welcome summer, the plaza at Rockefeller Center transforms into a desert landscape.
June 16, 2016