The clientele at Mary Ann Schicketanz’s boutique Carmel, California, architecture studio has changed over time. Whereas in the past she had a lot of out-of-town or international clients, many of her clients today come from nearby Silicon Valley. And many of them share similar goals for their new homes.

“They want to have a place they can retreat to, that they can invite friends to,” Schicketanz says. “And just get out of the hectic life of the valley. Getting out here in nature with their families, I think, is the best way for them to relax.”

These clients also bring with them a higher level of knowledge about sustainability principles. “Our younger clients are extremely educated when it comes to energy efficiency, smart homes, LEED certification,” she says. “Most of our clients want to achieve a net zero home. So they would like to generate the energy on site that is needed to run their home.”

In our latest video, Schicketanz explains why attaining these net zero goals doesn’t mean building all-electric homes. In fact, achieving the optimal balance of sustainability, resilience, and performance on her remote dwellings frequently makes propane an important part of the energy mix.

Hillside homes

The Lobos View project exemplifies Schicketanz’s environmentally sensitive design approach. She strives to integrate whatever she builds into its environment, allowing the landscape to drive her design. Many of her projects are built into a hillside and have green roofs, allowing them to blend into the viewshed from above.

Lobos View takes many of those principles to the extreme. The home’s small, steep lot offers limited but stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and Point Lobos Natural Reserve to the north. Schicketanz’s design created four stories and 8,000 square feet of living space using a 40-foot retaining wall in the back to carve the home into the hillside. A garage level and guest gym level sit below the main living level, which is set high enough to capture the magnificent views. The top level features extensive patio space on the sunny side of the house, with a pool and sauna for outdoor family fun.

“I think the rewards of figuring out a really complex site is that you were able to build something that nobody else could envision,” Schicketanz says. “That parcel was passed up by many people. Because it wasn’t that attractive when you drove up before we made the most out of it.”

Resilience and performance

One of the trade-offs that comes with such a remote home location is less-reliable power, a challenge that Schicketanz solved at Lobos View with a whole-home propane standby generator. “The power grid in this area is not stable at all,” she says. “We are out of power every winter. And if you’re lucky, it’s just a day or two. But we’ve had weeks without power in Big Sur. We live in a remote area. It’s very important that you have backup.”

Like many luxury clients, the Lobos View owners preferred a propane stovetop for their high-end kitchen.

It’s also important for a high-tech home to protect not just the refrigerator and freezer but also smart home features such as shade controls, which play a central role in a home like Lobos View with extensive glazing.

Schicketanz also was able to spec other desirable amenities to run on the propane fuel source. Like many of her clients, the Lobos View owners preferred cooking on the open flame of a propane stovetop. A propane fire pit overlooks the home’s northern ocean views, and a gas log in the fireplace starts a fire at the turn of a knob. “We are a very indoor-outdoor culture around here,” Schicketanz says. “But it gets very cold at night. And people do like to sit outside. But then the extra heat of the fire and just the ambiance of the fire is very popular here.” With propane, owners don’t need to bother with buying or collecting firewood, or cleaning up the mess afterward.

With very low night temperatures, building a pool and spa in this location also wouldn’t be feasible without propane heating. “Spas were always popular here on the Central Coast,” Schicketanz says. “And for that, we have always needed propane heaters. And lately, a lot of projects of ours have pools, as well. And you can get a pool to about 75 degrees with solar. But if you want the water to be warmer, you need that boost from the propane heater.”

The outdoor living lifestyle amenities illustrate Schicketanz’s approach to providing her clients with an escape from the daily grind while achieving sustainability and energy-efficiency goals in line with their principles.