Sierra Sustainable Builders

SierraSierra Sustainable Builders quickly made a name for itself in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., for its responsible building methods and remains just as innovative 15 years later.

By Janice Hoppe-Spiers

Longtime friends Cory Hannaford and Danny Webb grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where they experienced firsthand the impact that large scale forestry practices had on the wild places they loved. This rapidly changing landscape left an indelible mark on them both. Years later, when they began working in the construction industry, Webb and Hannaford witnessed firsthand the connection between the devastating clear-cuts of their childhood backyards, and the wasteful approach to building they currently experienced.


In 2003, they founded Sierra Sustainable Builders in their current home of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., on the principle that change was imperative, and vowed to be the change they wanted to see in the industry. “Making that connection and receiving mentorship from some key builders in Northern California, builders who did things differently and used materials more wisely, guided us along,” Hannaford remembers. “Once we got into the industry, we saw the level of waste and the immense amount of materials being used, which made us question the standard approach we were seeing. We began to consider how we would make improvements if we had our own company. Primarily, our approach was to build in a way that addressed our concerns about the protection and preservation of natural resources.”

Like the name suggests, Sierra Sustainable Builders specializes in sustainable building methods for residential and commercial projects in California and Nevada. “Our name gave us an identity as we made a mark in the community, and the community embraced us for it.” Hannaford says. “On our first project in 2003, we took a holistic approach implementing a vast number of green building techniques which people took note of and we gained a lot of interest through that. We integrated into a community of people who were looking to see that change take place and no one was really doing green building in our area when we started.”

Since then, Sierra Sustainable Builders has developed a solid reputation as professional builders who are communicative and show a higher level of concern and care for the outcome of every project. “Our skillset hones towards modern design and we have a proven acumen for achieving it,” Hannaford notes. “I don’t think many people understand that the clean look and simple appearance in modern design is deceiving.  It is actually far more challenging than traditional building and achieving it, has drawn us into a luxury market where most of the demand is.”SierraBox

Modern architecture has been trending for a while in the high-end market, but Sierra Sustainable Builders is noticing an increased desire from the middle class for that look and aesthetic, and that they are willing to spend more to get it.

“We are collaborating with a renowned local architect who typically does high budget projects, to design a two-bedroom house in South Lake Tahoe, staying within a cost our client can afford,” Hannaford says. “We are working to crack the code on how to bring exceptional modern design to a more attainable level. In the Lake Tahoe luxury market modern homes start at $500 to $600+ per square foot. We are developing design strategies to deliver modern architecture in the $300 to $500 range.”  (Due to some of the highest snow loads in the country, Tahoe has increased building costs)

The Evolution of Sustainability

From its inception, Sierra Sustainable Builders has focused on building homes that were efficient with a strong emphasis on responsible sourcing of materials and use of non-toxic materials.

“What I’ve seen over the course of our careers is a shift towards hyper-efficient, low energy homes as the emphasis of sustainability that’s being driven by the goal of reducing carbon footprint in the built environment which is responsible for 40% of carbon emissions,” Hannaford says. “There are tax incentives and the code is rapidly moving in that direction.”

As more sustainable material choices are available today, Sierra Sustainable Builders educates its clientele on those selections and chooses long-lasting, high-quality products. The company’s principal focus is sustainability and energy efficiency, creating an exceptional thermal envelope with high-end insulation, top-of-the-line windows and high-efficiency heating and cooling systems. Hannaford is certified by the Passive House Institute U.S., a well-recognized proven construction standard and quality assurance system that results in building ultra-low energy homes and commercial buildings requiring little to no energy for heating and cooling.

“One of our goals is to be able to take efficiency to the next level, to integrate the home with an electric vehicle and supply enough power to meet the needs of the home and the vehicle,” Hannaford says. “There are some builders who are proving this model right now. We call it energy positive construction.”

Local Expertise

Building in Lake Tahoe is not without its challenges, especially building through the winter months and strategizing around extreme seasonality. “This is such a precious place that there are many environmental controls imposed on the building community,” Hannaford says. “Although some builders take an adversarial approach, we successfully navigate these working in partnership with the regulatory agencies, with whom we maintain good relationships.”

Sierra Sustainable Builders’ local knowledge is invaluable and earned the company respect among local architects and trade partners. “We understand what architects are trying to do and carry out their designs with the utmost care to achieve their vision,” Hannaford says. “Our phones ring a lot with clients coming to us first, so we have delved into design quite a bit and are moving towards a design/build company model.”

With a staff seasonally fluctuating from 15 to 20 people, Sierra Sustainable Builders has a company culture its employees and clients relate to easily. “We are primarily composed of people who are in Lake Tahoe for what it offers and for their love of the outdoors,” Hannaford says. “A majority of our team is made up of guys a little younger than Danny and I, who are very active, healthy and vibrant, and I think our clients find that to be an infectious culture to be around.”

Industry Visionaries

Sierra Sustainable Builders is selective in the projects it chooses today. “We want to focus on projects that have something we find interesting and compelling to be a part of,” Hannaford says. “If it’s got exceptional design quality and efficiency, something that draws our interest, we want to be engaged and challenged. That’s what keeps us going. Money isn’t the only driver for us, but to do beautiful and exciting work that we are proud of and our clients love.”

One such project is a home for a local architect who Hannaford describes as a visionary. “He is onsite most days working with us to realize something that is a true art piece,” he adds. “It’s an organically shaped house designed to fit on the lot, zigzagging through the trees. There’s literally not a square inch in this home that hasn’t been given serious consideration. There’s no such thing as a small detail, rings true on this house.”

The 2,000-square-foot, two-bedroom home merges Japanese and Scandinavian design into a middle-class neighborhood in South Lake Tahoe. “The architect’s vision is to bring an exceptional experience into a regular neighborhood,” Hannaford says. “He wants to be integrated into the community rather than tucked away.” After a little more than two years, including a four-month hiatus due to the record winter snows of 2016-17, Sierra Sustainable Builders completed the project this December.

The home is exceptionally efficient with an insulated, heated concrete slab on grade floor, full-depth spray foam walls and passive home-certified Zola Windows. Indoor air quality was emphasized throughout the home with a zoned ERV system. The interior walls and ceilings are predominantly clad in a finish grade maple plywood contrasted with areas of smooth wall and the stone like appearance of American Clay. “This house deserves a lot of praise,” Hannaford notes. “It’s a work of art and true craftsmanship.”

In the commercial space, Sierra Sustainable Builders also recently completed The Coachman, a boutique hotel in South Lake Tahoe. “It was a rundown 1960s hotel that we transformed into a refined modern hotel,” Hannaford says. “It has become a gathering place for locals to come down and have a glass of wine and socialize. We transformed this building that was ready to be condemned into an iconic spot.”

Sierra Sustainable Builders worked in collaboration with New York-based architects to bring the Scandinavian modern design boutique hotel to life. The bar area on the inside opens up to the inner courtyard that features firepits, a spa and pool. “Remodeling something this old can present serious challenges, but we worked with visionary designers from New York and organically solved infrastructure issues and achieved their sophisticated design on budget,” Hannaford says.

Moving forward, Sierra Sustainable Builders plans to continue to remain selective and innovative when it comes to new projects. “Regionally, we are seeing a major transformation in a place that was stagnant for a long time,” Hannaford notes. “Reno is rapidly transforming into a much more upscale, contemporary city and we are seeing that energy move right into Lake Tahoe.”

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