Being green: Conscious couple's home is innovative, efficient
When they decided to build their Westwood Park house 14 years ago, Kirk and Joan Gastinger aimed for a design trifecta — a “green” home where practicality met style. “We wanted to design and build a beautiful, functional home that would also be environmentally responsible,” Joan says.
For Kirk, Fellow of the American Institute of Architects principal at Gastinger, Walker, Harden Architects, creating a unique home while being conscious of resources used to build it was very important. Besides the solar panels, which save the couple up to 45 percent on their electric bill, sprinkled on the roof’s south side, theirs was the first residential house in Kansas City to install bamboo flooring, which they have throughout much of the two-story home. At the time, there were only two sources in the Midwest to find the necessary supplier.
But it’s not the bamboo floors that first catch your attention in this contemporary home. Upon entering, your eye travels to the massive brick and tile fireplace that stretches floor to ceiling in the soaring dining room. Sitting nearly center in the home, it serves as a colorful focal point. Looks aside, the fireplace serves a purpose: it provides radiant heat to their home. “By lighting two fires a day, it actually helps keep (our) heating bills down,” Joan says.
Though not a huge home — it’s a compact 1,900 square feet — the open spaces, use of natural light and clever mix of materials make it feel spacious. It was designed around natural sunlight or “passive solar,” as opposed to “active solar” rooftop panels. “It takes advantage of the natural sun by the way the house is oriented,” Joan says, explaining that the majority of the windows face the south side to soak up the sun.
Three small windows face the north. To solve the issue of too much sun in the summer, large southern-exposure overhangs help keep the house cooler. They are aided by four oversized, adjustable Levolor-style panels that slide to cover the windows. “I love having lots of natural light in the house,” she says. “But it’s nice to have window coverings you can adjust.”
A low consumption of energy was a goal from the start for the Gastingers. Besides the solar panels, they said yes to a pervious driveway (water seeps into the ground through the concrete so there’s no run-off) and no to grass. Instead they use ground cover and rocks. “We wanted something low maintenance and grass is not very environmentally friendly, because you have to use a lot of products to make it look good and you have to use gas in the mower and that pollutes the air,” Joan says, adding, “All these things make sense and a lot of people don’t even think of it.”
The environmentally minded couple uses a rain barrel to water flowers and wash their cars, and also installed specially designed rain gutters with square-shaped cutouts to water their enclosed courtyard. Sandwiched in between a cozy sun porch and screened-in porch, the courtyard is a serene oasis of evergreens, a sculpture, colorful summertime flowers and herbs, all surrounding a bubbling fish pond. In fact, to enter the Gastinger home, you climb a wide flight of stairs to the front door nestled in the courtyard, giving it a tree house-like vibe.
Adding to that feeling, is an impressive glass walkway stretching along the south-side windows that functions as a hallway, linking the master bedroom with a loft area and second bedroom. Glass proved to be the perfect material for the walkway because it let more light shine below. And as a bonus: “The grandkids love it,” Joan says, smiling. “When they walk on it barefoot, they can see their feet below.”
Both Joan and Kirk provided design input for their house. Note the nautical round windows sprinkled throughout, a throwback to their sailing days, or the ingenious compost container built into the granite countertop (making cleanup a snap!), or even the convenient pull-out recycling center. They also designed a clever Murphy bed hidden in cabinetry in the exercise/guest room. “We make use of all our space,” Joan says. “We didn’t like the idea of a room that didn’t get used.”
Their intent was to create a beautiful home that welcomed their friends and family, as well as fit in with the surrounding houses. “You think a lot about how you live and how you want your home to accommodate how you live, and then you make it work for you,” Joan says. “People say they love this house because it’s very different and unique.”
Small ways to make a big difference
Making minor changes in your home gives major payoffs for the planet and for you. Here are some easy ways to “green” your home:
• Replace appliances with Energy Star models to use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water. If every 1 in 10 homes did this, it would equal planting 1.7 million new acres of trees.
• Save water by putting an aerator on all household faucets, cutting your annual water consumption in half. Additionally, upgrade toilets to low-flow models.
• Turn down the thermostat in cold weather (68°F or lower) and keep it higher (78°F or higher) in warm weather or install a programmable thermostat. Don’t forget to clean your furnace's air filter monthly during heavy usage. Also, try using ceiling fans instead of air conditioners to further save energy.
• Wrap an insulation blanket around the water heater to lower its running cost. Consider upgrading to a solar water heater.
• Stop buying toxic cleaners. Look for environmentally friendly versions of your favorites, or use simple ingredients such as water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice or borax.
• Replace your standard light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs). They use 66 percent less energy and last 10 times longer. Also, try installing dimmer switches to further reduce your energy usage.
• Remove yourself from junk mail lists. Each person will receive almost 560 pieces of junk mail this year, which adds up nationally to 4.5 million tons.
• When getting ready to decorate your home, opt for low and no-VOC paint, stains, carpets and rugs and engineered woods.
• Choose furniture made from eco-friendly sources, such as sustainably managed forests, bamboo and reclaimed wood. Also consider buying vintage furniture.
• When tending the outside of your home, avoid chemical pesticides. A better alternative is to try organic materials or methods. Try pouring boiling water on weeds, using beer to bait slugs or sprinkling coffee grounds on flower beds. And start composting.
• For shade and to reduce cooling bills, plant trees on the south and west sides of the house, especially around air conditioning units, if possible.
• It may be a cliché, but the best way to be earth-friendly is to cut down on what you consume and recycle whenever you can.
Photography by Megan True