Gabriel Taylor and Sarah Karliner wanted more than a “green” place to live. They wanted a home to get people talking.
So when the couple practically rebuilt their East Sacramento house, they included plenty of conversation starters. Check out that floor-to-ceiling spiral of copper pipe and tubing in the downstairs powder room. What about those mysterious green buttons in the kitchen and master bath? Or the slim white boxes mounted near the ceiling in every room; what do they do?
Taylor and Karliner will gladly explain.
Their house now serves as more than an inviting, comfortable home for their soon-to-be-growing family. In one of Sacramento’s older neighborhoods, it’s a cutting-edge example of efficiency.
And that could provide new answers for neighbors looking for more ways to save energy, water, time and money.
“Our whole design concept was built predominantly on energy efficiency,” explained Taylor, an engineer and public policy adviser to the California Energy Commission. “I work on energy policy and trying to come up with efficient solutions; that’s what I do. I’ve had this plan in my head for 20 years.”
The public is welcome to check out the results along with other jaw-dropping makeovers during this month’s Urban Renaissance Home Tour. Set for Sept. 27, the tour features remodels and new homes in East Sacramento, with proceeds benefiting McKinley Park’s renovated rose garden and other projects.
Located near McKinley Park in a 1940s housing tract originally dubbed Meister Terrace, the Taylor-Karliner house is totally modern but looks like it’s always been there.
“It’s really wonderful,” said tour organizer Lisa Schmidt. “It shows what you can do that’s energy efficient while still keeping in the spirit of the neighborhood.”
Friends of East Sacramento started this home tour about 15 years ago with an emphasis on remodeling, she explained. Older houses – such as those that fill the area’s shaded neighborhoods – don’t always fit modern family needs. This tour spotlights updated houses that make the most of their often-limited footprint while blending in with their surrounding neighborhood.
“About 50 percent of the people taking the tour are thinking about renovations for their own homes,” Schmidt said. “They ask really good questions. This is a chance to ask the homeowners how they did it.”
This project started small: The original one-story 1947 tract house, which they bought in 2002, measured less than 1,200 square feet.
“It had no insulation, no air conditioning; the furnace was a steel box in the floor,” recalled Karliner, a music teacher and professional musician who is expecting the couple’s first child in February. “Windows didn’t open. The place had been a rental with a junk car parked on the front lawn. We got a great deal on the property because the house had been trashed.”
“We wanted a fixer-upper and we got it,” added Taylor. “Then we spent our life savings making it into our dream home.”
A decade passed between purchase and the start of that makeover. The spur that really got them started came from another East Sacramento remodeled home on an earlier Urban Renaissance tour.
“Coincidentally, we took this same home tour a couple of years ago and met a contractor we really liked,” Taylor said.
Putting together the right team is the secret to remodeling success, he added. A longtime specialist in green design and construction, Susan Prang of Creative Eye Design + Build became their renovation quarterback. She brought in architect Ted Smith, and they worked with the couple to create a home that lived up to their expectations.
The couple laid out their ideas including several unusual energy-saving concepts that Taylor wanted to try. Over several informal meetings with their design and construction team, the new-old house took shape. The original nondescript bungalow was taken down to its foundation to be replaced by a two-story, four-bedroom, 21/2-bath Craftsman-style family home with 2,250 square feet of living space. Their remodeling budget: $475,000.
Completed in October, reconstruction took 10 months. During that time, Taylor and Karliner rented a cozy apartment downtown.
“Plus a gigantic storage unit,” Karliner added.
As a musician, Karliner demanded good acoustics in her remodeled home. An assortment of instruments – including her drum set at the top of the stairs – are part of the furnishings.
“I wanted a place where I can give lessons without students trekking through the whole house,” she said. “I also needed a place where people could feel relaxed.”
She now teaches piano and flute to students ages 5 to 82 in the comfort of the new great room. Nine-foot ceilings let the room, which looks out over the front porch, feel extra spacious as the music soars. But insulation in the walls and double-pane windows keep the sound indoors.
The open floor plan wraps around into a spacious kitchen. The counters look like marble but are actually easy-to-clean Silestone. Throughout, the floors are walnut-stained bamboo. Every light in the bright space is LED.
“We both really, really love to cook, and this is the perfect kitchen,” Karliner said. “The counters are completely nonporous, so they won’t stain – even with red wine. We tested it.”
With two pets – Watson the dog and Jack the cat – plus a baby girl on the way, the couple made easy-clean surfaces a priority along with energy efficiency.
“Everything is scrubbable,” Karliner said with a smile.
Perched on the kitchen wall is a white box that serves as climate control. It’s the visible part of the home’s unusual heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. Each room has its own small wall-mounted blower in this ductless “mini-split” system.
“Normal HVAC systems use air ducts, which are horrible for heat transfer,” Taylor said. “They leak like a sieve and they also take up a lot of space. Instead of air, this system uses liquid in quarter-inch copper tubes in the walls. Each room has its own control head, which can be individually adjusted.”
“The great thing: Every room is heated or cooled individually,” Karliner said. “You can heat one room downstairs while keeping the upstairs cool.”
Those magic green buttons turn on the home’s tankless hot water system. It delivers hot water to the master shower in six seconds. “I’ve timed it – probably a hundred times,” Taylor said.
That sculpted, twisting copper in the downstairs bath? That’s a heat-exchanging “power pipe.”
“It lets us recapture most of the heat from the hot water used in the master shower instead of just letting it go down the drain,” Taylor said. “Usually, those pipes are hidden inside the wall, but they looked so cool, we kept it exposed.
“We’re early adopters,” he added. “We wanted to test things and find out exactly what works. ... I also wanted a conversation piece to talk about plumbing and efficiency, and I got that with this power pipe.”
Starting energy-minded conversations motivated the couple to be part of the home tour, Taylor said. They want to share these new ideas with neighbors who might be looking for inspiration just like they found on that earlier tour.
“And we’ll be here to answer questions,” he said. “We expect quite a few.”
Urban Renaissance Home Tour
Where: Five remodeled or new homes in East Sacramento; start at 1425 46th St., Sacramento
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27
Admission: $25 in advance; $30 day of tour (cash or check only)
Details: 916-452-8011, sacurbanhometour.com
Also: Advance tickets are available at East Sacramento Hardware, 4800 Folsom Blvd., or online via the website.