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Pavers Go Green in Exciting New Project

By Michelle Brown, consultant to Pavestone Company

Landscape Communications
John Deere
Valmont Playworld

Green and gorgeous, the Margarido House in Oakland California is about to become that state’s first LEED-H Platinum rated home. A living roof, solar electricity and hot water, sustainable timber, recycled glass countertops and concrete throughout are some of the features that meet the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design goal that a building be an “environmentally responsible, profitable and a healthy place to live and work”.

As we are inundated with the “go green” message everywhere we look, it becomes apparent that environmental consciousness is not just for tree huggers anymore. So it’s no surprise that the folks at McDonald Construction and Development, Inc. not only got the message we are all hearing—but they also ran with it.

The result is the one-of-a-kind Margarido House in northern California that has been featured on the Discovery Channel’s Planet Green Network “Renovation Nation” television series.

Located in the Oakland Hills overlooking such landmarks as the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco, the view is not the only remarkable thing the structure boasts. Completed in the spring of 2008, The Margarido House is the first new home in the country to be both LEED-H certified and GreenPoint rated. Featuring top to bottom green strategies, it is 55 percent more energy efficient than required by California’s tough standards.

Mike McDonald, president of McDonald Construction and Development, Inc., says this is a very difficult task to achieve. “To put it in perspective, the Margarido House will be the first custom home in Northern California to be LEED-H Platinum certified,” he explains. “We had to look at and document every element of the project from initial design meetings, to construction practices, to waste and recycling management, to insulation, finishes, active and passive solar, air infiltration, landscaping and hardscaping.” McDonald says a GreenPoint rating is also difficult to come by with an equally rigorous checklist.

McDonald says the site where the house was to be built provided some unique design challenges. “The lot was a burn lot from the devastating 1991 Oakland Hills firestorm that destroyed 3,000 homes,” he says. “It included a fairly steep “upslope lot” that produced driveway and access challenges. A normal solution to this kind of lot would be to bunker a garage in at the street and then have 200 steps up to the house sitting high on the site,” he explains.

The team decided to carve up the site a bit and bunker the house into the hill and construct a “not too steep” driveway up to the house. This allowed the house to sit low on the site, respecting neighbors’ views and giving nice access to the home without having to walk up hundreds of stairs. As a result, the design takes advantage of geothermal heating and cooling properties as most of the first story of the home is bunkered into the earth.

After the initial siting issues were solved, the overall design really came together. “From there we had a pretty clear idea that we wanted a clean, warm and modern home with a lot of glass, steel, concrete, and wood,” McDonald says. “We wanted an open floor plan, lots of light, and eco friendly finishes and technology.”

When looking for eco-friendly products to incorporate into the design of the house, it’s no surprise that McDonald and his team chose to use permeable pavers. “Maximum site permeability of hardscape and landscape is a key component to building green,” McDonald says. “Permeable surfaces manage storm water run off and in our case, feed a 4,000 gallon cistern that supplies all the irrigation water for all landscaping on the site, including the green roof. Permeable pavers just made complete sense in our application.”

McDonald says they not only loved the functionality of the pavers, but loved the look as well. “We were especially pleased with the specific Pavestone pavers we used on the Margarido House,” he says. “Given that the home has a fairly contemporary aesthetic, we were initially having trouble finding a paver that didn’t look colonial or more traditional. When we saw the InfiltraStone™ by Pavestone, we were immediately struck by how modern it looked installed, with hundreds of small and neatly aligned holes that looked great and had great function.”

At over 4000 square feet, this house actually began with negative points on the LEED scale but owner/builder Mike McDonald set out to prove that even a large home could be energy efficient. The finished house, with its rain collection system and drought tolerant landscaping and it’s use of local materials, has far exceeded the 102 points necessary for the Platinum rating and it has even been filmed by The Discovery Channel Planet Green Network.

McDonald says his team is also very happy with how easy the pavers were to install. He also found that the overall cost of using the pavers was comparable to alternative driveway surfaces such as highly finished concrete. Pavers have a reputation of being both an economical and durable hardscape product. Their strength and flexibility allows them to withstand the forces of weather, water and traffic. With high-product density and low-product absorption, they are extremely resilient under even the most adverse environmental conditions. Furthermore, they are designed to withstand freeze-thaw conditions, making them a good choice for both cool as well as warm climates. Even under the most unfavorable conditions, pavers are designed to last for at least 30 years.

McDonald is pleased that they were able to achieve such high sustainability and a breathtaking design. “The permeable pavers are a great example,” he explains. “They provide an important functional role in the project allowing all water that hits the driveway area to quickly find its way into the 4,000 gallon water catchment cistern.”

However, along with functionality, McDonald says the pavers are also absolutely beautiful, and are a perfect fit for the contemporary design of the home. “We like to say that green can be beautiful and sexy,” he says. “Green doesn’t have to be crunchy.”

Exterior Innovation and Design Elements for Extra Points


  • More than the required amounts of permeable area; 90 percent of the lot (not including the building footprint) is permeable, including most of the driveway via a “permeable paving system.”
  • Comprehensive rainwater and groundwater catchment system; 4,000-gallon underground cistern captures rain, roof and groundwater for irrigation needs.
  • Minimum 25 percent fly ash content in all concrete site and retaining walls.
  • 600-square-foot “living” or “green” roof and deck.
  • Energy Star cool roof
  • Solar PV system; Solar Thermal (hot water) system
  • “Thermally broken” dual pane, low E, Solarban 60 windows and doors
  • Innovative LED lighting for all exterior and landscape lighting; 260 percent better than Energy Star lighting requirements
  • Passive solar design that incorporates a unique aluminum and steel shade canopy, large upper-story “eyebrow” shading and floor-to-ceiling windows oriented south and west.
  • Operable windows and doors designed to take advantage of prevailing winds coming off the bay; no mechanical cooling required.
  • Use of recycled kiln trays from Heath Ceramics as exterior wall tile and pavers.
  • Rain screen wall system (creates an air cavity between siding and waterproofing material).


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November 13, 2019, 7:25 pm PDT

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