LEED-Certified Home: Casa Águila Rose From The Ashes To Set A Precedent

The California luxury home is a model for sustainability and innovation.

A residence that is certified in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is, in layman’s terms, the greenest place possible. LEED-certified homes have taken major precautions to be exceedingly environmentally friendly—which ends up costing the homeowner less while increasing the home’s value in the long run.

Casa Águila puts the “Leadership” in LEED. This platinum-certified home’s beginnings are inarguably poetic: in 2007, California wildfires ravaged Amy McQuillan and Pete Beauregard’s San Pasqual Valley home. The pair decided to turn this tragedy into opportunity by building a new home with eco-friendly features in every last detail of its design.

McQuillan and Beauregard enlisted architect Andy Wilt to design Casa Águila and Alliance Green Builders and KNB Associates to build it. The team’s four key goals were: passive solar design strategies, water self-sufficiency, permaculture, and eventual grid-disconnection, all within a beautiful 4,215 square-foot luxury home.

Energy Efficiency

Casa Águila’s energy system is a model of triumph in its steps toward getting the home completely off the main electricity grid. The home runs off a 40kW battery system, utilizing the grid only as a backup—a reversal of how most houses rely on the grid and keep a backup power source just in case. Casa Águila even generates its own energy with a massive 45-foot wind turbine on a hill just above the residence.

In addition to being LEED-certified, Casa Águila also qualifies as a Passive House by adhering to the strict energy efficiency standard originated in Germany. Casa Águila has an induction stovetop, which is the most efficient way to cook, and boasts a heat-pump dryer that is non-vented and requires no make-up air. The home uses high-efficiency LED lighting indoors and outdoors. The home is entirely electric, except for using propane in the barbecue grill, backup spa/pool heating system and its outdoor porch heaters.

Insulation and Fireproof Design

Casa Águila’s history has informed its modern design. The home is extremely well-insulated, air-sealed to Passive House standards and includes bulk-moisture and vapor barriers. This airtight seal is both energy-efficient and fireproof.

Wildfires in the area are still prevalent, usually occurring in Santa Ana conditions with winds over 90 mph. These high winds can hurl rocks and shatter windows, resulting in hot embers entering the home. Sadly, this is exactly how many buildings and residences in the area are destroyed by fires. To prevent another tragedy on the lot, Casa Águila has combustion-proofed exterior wood and triple-glazed bulletproof glass on all the doors and windows.

Solar Energy

Casa Águila is equipped with three large dual-axis solar trackers, each with 24 photovoltaic panels that track the sun’s movement and angle themselves to absorb the most energy possible throughout the day, almost like a phototropic plant.

The home’s hot water comes from nine 4x10 solar thermal collectors. The home is designed to minimize hot water energy use while keeping waste to only one cup before it reaches any faucet. It also has low-use fixtures installed throughout.

Water Collection and Reuse

Casa Águila is the first home in San Diego County to use rainwater for 100 percent of its indoor potable use. It has five 10,000-gallon rainwater collection tanks for this purpose which can also be used for fire suppression.

Casa Águila also the first to receive a permit for recycled blackwater, or wastewater from toilets. Rainwater, blackwater and greywater (waste from non-toilet home use) is stored in another four 10,000-gallon tanks and is recycled for irrigation of the surrounding food forest and landscape. This innovative closed circuit of capture, use, reuse and redeposit is certainly one of the house’s most impressive features.

Casa Águila’s accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. The home is frequently used as a model for residential sustainability and design in California and around the world. It was even awarded the 2017 Department of Energy’s Housing Innovation Award and was showcased by The Verge’s “Home of the Future” series.

Amy McQuillan and Pete Beauregard further continue to plume the feathers of their ash-risen phoenix by conducting sustainability workshops and welcoming members of the community into their LEED-certified home for tours.

If you're interested in learning more about the specifics of LEED-certification, take a look at USGBC's Guide to Certification.