Sitting in the middle of Mandaue City, an industrial area in the central-eastern region of Cebu City, is a house whose inhabitants have the extraordinary privilege of breathing fresh air all the time—every single second of every day.
In a pandemic, this sounds like a place out of a utopian film. Fortunately, it is real—and it might as well be a paragon that could influence the future of housing.
In July 2020, this modern, minimalist home became the first Certified LEED House in the whole of Southeast Asia. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the most widely used green building certification program in the world. It is also the first in Asia to be given the Outstanding Single-Family Projects award.
The owner of the house is William Yap, a spirited and passionate businessman in his late 40s, who belongs to the Yap Yok (YY) clan of Cebu City. Bill, as most people call him, dabbles in real estate and finance, but he is an engineer by profession. The latter explains his enthusiasm and dedication to travel thousands of miles to build a dream.
“We’re kind of laid back here in Cebu so we have a little more time to do these new things,” he tells ANCX in an interview over Google Meet.
The cleanest house
The YY House, as it is now dubbed, is situated inside a compound where Bill has stayed for the past 40 years. Across The YY House is Bill’s father’s house, where Bill, his wife, and their three kids, had stayed before moving to their new home on December 25, 2019. (Blame Feng shui for the move-in date, Bill says, although he clarifies he’s really not a firm believer in Chinese geomancy.)
What made him decide to build the YY?
In 2016, his father convinced Bill to build a new home for his growing family. At the time, his children were only four, eight, and ten years old. Meanwhile, his mother, who lives in a quiet home tucked in an exclusive neighborhood, told him, “If you’re building a house, just don’t build an ugly house.”
Laughing at the memory, Bill remembers telling his mother, “I don’t have the same budget as you have. But I will make something worthwhile.”
It was a tall order. Bill knew his aesthetic preference was “very simple,” but he was more certain about another thing: he wanted the house to be sustainable. Coincidentally, around the time, he had been working with two clients in real estate who build LEED-certified buildings in Metro Manila. He was so impressed with the standards that he thought of building his home in the same level of excellence. Little did he know, he was in for a challenge.
“It’s like OCBO [Office of the City Building Official] here in the Philippines, but on steroids,” Bill says. OCBO is a local government office that regulates and certifies construction work, repairs, etc.
To expand his knowledge on getting a LEED standard home, Bill flew to the United States to study the system. While in the U.S., he followed a number of engineers who did home inspections so he could have a grasp of the whole concept—which, he found out, was much more difficult to achieve than creating a LEED standard commercial building.
After a lot of research, he realized he could only execute his ideas by hiring several experts, which overall consisted of 26 engineers, architects, and designers. The team was led by his project manager Gifford John Perral, FMK3 Architects, contractor RNVios Contruction and Development Corp., and HL Designs for his interiors.
The skillful masterwork is a 300-square-meter, two-storey home with five bedrooms, five baths (one is a powder room), and one kitchen. The minimalist design, Bill says, was unintentional. “I’m really minimal,” he says coolly. “I don’t need so many stuff. I don’t like so many stuff. That’s just my and my wife’s personality.”
What is a LEED home?
As an engineer, Bill can geek out on the components of a LEED-certified home for hours. But the long and short of it is that it is “built like a thermos”: Everything inside, such as temperature and humidity, is constant. This is cost-efficient specially for areas with extreme weather conditions (remember that heating and cooling systems can be costly).
One of the main components of a LEED certified home is fresh air. This is due to the Energy Recovery Ventilation system (ERV) which regulates the air outdoor so that the temperature and quality of the air coming in is perfect.
In a LEED home, the heat, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC) should comply with the highest standards. For the YY house, the HVAC was fitted with the powerful MERV-13 filters. According to a CNN report published in August 2020, MERV 13 to MERV 19 filters are highly recommended by experts to be used in hospitals, nursing homes, and research labs, as an “added layer of protection” for workers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This might be hard to believe but Bill says there are no dust particles in The YY House. This is because of the “positive pressure” exerted from the house, which means that when a door is opened, the air from inside blows out, preventing dust particles from coming in.
To illustrate its benefits, one of Bill’s children has severe asthma. When they were living at their old place, the child had to use a nebulizer almost every night. But since they moved into the YY, the kid has not had an asthma attack.
Here’s another: Bill’s teenage nephew from Canada, who suffers from eczema, once stayed with them. Bill claims the controlled humidity may have prevented his nephew’s eczema from acting up. (On average, the Philippines has a humidity of around 70% to 80%, Bill explains. A LEED-certified home should have a humidity level below 60%—the YY House has around 49% to 55%.)
After years of intense work, Bill’s dream house is finally complete. But how does one have his home LEED-certified? “The word LEED-certified is being thrown around a lot, but truth is, you have to have it audited and tested,” he explains. To do this, Bill had to fly in a representative from EnergyLogic to be his LEED Home Provider and Green Rater. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Caring for the environment
Sans the awards, Bill says his determination to build the YY has paid off and all the hard work has been worthwhile, at the very least for the environment.
“I can teach my kids, my friends, and anybody who needs a template to build a home that doesn’t leave a lot of carbon footprint,” he says proudly.
The YY house has solar panels on the roof, which produces 4500 to 5200 kW. Even with homeschooling and the hours of working from home due to quarantine measures, the whole structure uses only around 2200 kW per month—less than half of what the panels produce.
The Yaps also use filtered rainwater (which goes through UV light to kill bacteria) for everything. “We’ve been here one and a half years, and we never needed to get water anywhere else,” he says. Also, they use LEED standard faucets and flush systems. A normal flush in the Philippines uses around 1.6 to 2.4 gallons of water. The YY House uses only .8 gallons of water per flush.
To persuade those who can afford it to follow suit, Bill says that today, one can build a LEED certified home for Php30,000 to Php40,000 per sqm. The cost includes the building envelope (walls, windows, doors, roof, etc.) and basic finishes, like floor tiles, non-VOC paint, ERV and aircondition. It excludes appliances and furniture. He adds that in time, this kind of home will be doable for more people.
“I’m a big believer in climate change,” he says firmly. “This is really what’s destroying us. The flooding in Germany; the summer is too hot in the States; we have too much rain. It’s really time that we need to take climate change seriously. When you build a home with that template, it can really help.”
To say the least, his parents are very proud of what Bill’s been able to achieve. A few months ago, he begged his father, also an asthmatic, to move in with them. The elder Yap hasn’t had asthma since then. As for his mother, he likes to tease her nowadays. “’Mom, I got my award. Where’s your award?’ Haha! Then she told me, ‘If I’m gonna build another house, you’d be my project manager.’”