Inside and out, Bonnie and Bill Clarke’s Loveladies home is the epitome of gracious living. Situated on the juncture of two lagoons, the house has endless bay views from its screened gazebo overlooking the pool and outdoor kitchen. It’s where Bill and Bonnie’s family–three children, their spouses and the Clarkes’ brand new grandbaby–gather with their friends, friends of friends, and furry friends. In short, it’s a great place to hang out.
“On a typical weekend, we can sleep 14 in beds, but we have gone up to 20 for family gatherings,” laughs Bill. “And, of course, Bonnie has her ladies’ week, which is very special for her and her friends.” With seven bedrooms, six baths, a great room, a separate media room, office space for two, various private nooks and even a meditation room, crowding is never a problem.
The floor is tiled with 17th and 18th century blanc rose terracotta salvaged from the Loire Region in France. As an aside, Bill likes to point out the ancient paw print embedded in in the foyer area–proving that little doggies in the 1700s were just as mischief-prone as the their 21st-century cousins. “We wanted the home to feel as if it’s been around for a long time,” explains Bonnie, “and flooring plays a large role in setting the tone.”The powder room on the main floor has a custom silk light fixture that matches a much larger chandelier over the main staircase leading to the second floor, where each bathroom includes salvaged encaustic tiles from Denmark and Belgium (circa 1790) to create interest and whimsy.
“The Clarkes took advantage of an another easy–and affordable–energy-saving solution that most of us overlook: virtually their entire home is equipped with LED lighting. LEDs are 80 percent efficient (80 percent of energy is converted to light, 20 percent to heat) compared with incandescent bulbs, which produce 80 percent heat and only 20 percent light. For each bulb switched to an LED, you can save $30 a year with average use. For Bonnie and Bill, this meant retrofitting some fixtures-
But as impressive as these details are, it’s what you don’t see that makes Bill and Bonnie’s home unique: more than one hundred rain spouts embedded in the walls, 40 photovoltaic solar panels atop the roof, seven geothermal wells, and a 6000-gallon water-collection system under the house, to cite just a few of its environmentally-friendly innovations. Look deeper and it soon becomes clear that the Clarkes’ isn’t just another example of LBI Livin’ Large, but an experiment in sustainable building and an investment in the future.In fact, Bonnie and Bill’s home is Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certified–a distinction held by only 12 single-family houses in New Jersey. LEED certification, awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council to projects that promote energy-saving and environmentally-sound building practices, requires evaluation in eight areas: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, material and resources, indoor quality, innovation and design, location and education. The number of points a building earns in these areas determines its certification, with Platinum, at 80-plus points, being the highest. LEED certification can be a long (the Clarke house took four years to build) and expensive process (Bill estimates that it added 40-60 percent to the home’s cost), but the Clarkes aren’t the type that are easily discouraged.
Their interest in sustainability began more than 11 years ago and now spans four continents. That’s when they began working in WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene)–an acronym coined by the international community to bring attention to these three interrelated public-health issues that are so crucial to improving wellness, life expectancy, student learning and gender equality in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization, 3.4 million people die each year from water/sanitation/hygiene- related causes, including cholera, dysentery and acute diarrhea. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths occur in the developing world and, unfortunately, most of them are children.“Adequate water is a human right,” explains Bill, “a critical resource. So is access to clean, healthy water .” In-country partners financed by the Clarkes are building water systems and latrines, installing pumps, and constructing dams and concrete water tanks. Their programs also teach villagers how to maintain the projects by providing spare parts, making them sustainable. “One of our current projects,” says Bill, “is creating sand dams in streams in Kenya so water will be available year round. We’ve also built rock ‘catchments,’ which are essentially dams on rock ledges to catch rain water."
Bonnie also sees clean-water availability as a women’s rights issue. “In many parts of the world, it’s the young girls’ job to fetch water–often many times a day and from many miles away. While they’re busy doing this, they can’t attend school. So a ready source of clean available water allows them access to education.” Another of Bonnie’s special projects is clean and improved cooking stoves. “Four million women die each year from inhaled cooking smoke,” explains Bonnie. “Substituting a clean-burning cook stove for an open wood fire not only saves lives, it helps prevent deforestation.”With their background, it’s easy to see how building a LEED home on Long Beach Island appealed to the Clarkes. “Our work overseas made me aware of the needs of the world and just how many resources Americans use in proportion to our numbers, so it’s hard to ask developing countries to act responsibly,” says Bill. This quandary got him thinking–and doing research. If he could build a sustainable home that was comfortable–even luxurious–it might inspire others. “I wanted to show it can be easy to live with environmentally-friendly installations and that they can be convenient–because if they’re inconvenient, people won’t adopt them.”Of course, Bill also knows it’s not always practical for homeowners to install rainspouts in their walls or dig geothermal wells in their backyards. That’s why he and Bonnie have offered some easy and affordable tips to conserve energy and go greener (see box on page TK). “We’re in a race against environmental disaster that we are not winning. Everyone is competing for a finite amount of resources, so we all need to use them more responsibly,” says Bill. “I want to get people thinking, plant the seeds. I don’t expect to see the end results in my lifetime, but we have to start the ball rolling."
The 40 photovoltaic solar panels on the Clarkes’ roof generate 13,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year (nearly 45% of their needs), contributing to significant savings. But, Bill is quick to point out that other changes—adding insulation, sealing cracks, unplugging appliances when not in use–can also add up. Bonnie suggests monitoring your window coverings. “Ours are programmed to lower one-fourth at one in the afternoon and drop to one-half by two,” she explains, “that’s something you can easily do yourself.”