Couple works to build an eco-friendly house on the island’s West End
Mark Staples and his wife, Theresa Walker, have lived on Galveston Island for 20 years and are finally building their green dream house.
Staples and Walker are aiming for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, and Energy Star certification for their new home, a raised three-story with a view of the Gulf from Lafitte’s Cove, just off Stewart Road on Galveston Island. The certifications represent the builders’ commitment to environmentally friendly design principles, the highest quality energy-efficient building materials and appliances, and a cooperative team approach to reaching goals of environmental sustainability.
At its current stage of construction, the house is bright orange and visible from miles in all directions. That’s because it’s wrapped in VaproShield, a breathable membrane system designed to reduce risk of damage from moisture infiltration. VaproShield also will reduce energy consumption for the life of the building, and it’s environmentally sustainable, emitting no exposure to harmful chemicals during installation and contributing to the builder’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design points.
Staples is the builder and designer of the house and owner of his own small construction company. As far as he and Theresa know, they are the first builders on Galveston Island to use a special eco-friendly siding, not yet installed — Royal Building Products’ Celect siding — with twice the R-value of fiber cement and wood siding products. The R-value is a measure of the house’s energy efficiency and also contributes points toward LEED certification.
At every step of the planning, design and building of their new home, Staples and Walker have conducted extensive research, looking for the most energy efficient products to roof, side, frame, cover and equip their home with the goal of certification in mind, but more to demonstrate values of environmental stewardship they hold dear, they said.
“Mark and I love living in Texas and on Galveston Island and can’t imagine living anywhere else,” said Walker, who lived in Portland, Oregon, before moving here and hails originally from Virginia. “The first couple of years here were challenging for us. It was difficult to recycle and to find organic food.”
Still, the couple maintained a green lifestyle and built their first island home, a 720-square-foot house in Pirates Beach, with green building practices in mind, they said. Ready to expand to a larger home of 2,300 square feet, Staples and Walker recommitted themselves to making the greenest home possible, this time working with a rater who helped them make decisions about building materials, and with the certification goal in mind to keep them accountable.
It hasn’t been easy on a Gulf Coast barrier island to obtain all the materials they wanted, but they’ve persevered and are fast approaching completion of a home that, when finished, will reduce their carbon footprint, conserve energy significantly and withstand future wind and rains storms, they said.
When they ordered special structural insulated panels from Alaska to frame walls, floors and ceilings, an earthquake hit the state just as their truck was heading out, creating a delay. But they wanted the panels, insulated with a foam core, and waited for a new shipment.
“It insulates the house basically like an Igloo cooler,” Staples said. The product also carries a higher windstorm rating and is fire resistant.
Between the delay and a winter of frequent rain storms that kept them from being able to install pilings, it seemed as if the project would never get off the ground, they said.
Now, it’s far along, awaiting inside walls and flooring, appliances, fixtures, siding and detailing throughout.
The house features double-paned, energy-efficient windows and composite plywood steps built from recycled shipping materials in which some of their other building materials arrived.
At every step, they sought the highest quality and greenest possible products in their price range, hoping to find what they needed as close to Galveston as possible, often arriving at a happy medium and sometimes not being able to avoid the carbon footprint of a truck driving all the way across the continent to deliver what they needed, they said.
And down to the last detail, the house’s features reflect its owners’ desire for an environmentally efficient and sustainable presence on the island. Outside lights, for example, will be Dark-Sky compliant, essentially meaning they minimize light pollution.
“Mark’s a perfectionist and I’m an accountant, so we’ve balanced cost and quality well,” Walker said.
“This is different from anything I’ve ever done,” Staples said. “I’ve learned a lot.”