Homeowners Discover 'Going Green Is Smart'
Since moving into their new Pinehurst home in June, Richard Pabst and Pamela Bradley have kept their thermostat set at 77 degrees.
Despite having an open floor plan, the house is oriented and designed in such a way that keeps it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Cranking the thermostat any lower makes it too cold.
"When you live in this house, you don't want to live anywhere else," Pabst says. "When you're in it, it's extremely comfortable. It's quiet. It's very efficient."
Pabst and Bradley are among the first in the area to live in a certified "green" home -- which also earned bronze recognition from the NC HealthyBuilt Homes Program. Their home was designed by Stagaard and Chao architects and built by Bowness Custom Homes, both local firms.
Going "green" is rapidly gaining momentum across the country, especially in light of the economic recession and energy crisis. Many folks are looking to build smaller and more efficient while reducing their carbon footprint.
Pabst and Bradley noticed their homes in Europe incorporated a lot of sustainable elements, and decided they wanted to follow suit when they moved back to the United States.
"We've always been sort of energy-conscious, and that's what sort of got us into the energy thing," he says. "We spent a lot of time on the insulation package, and the whole house is the envelope. It's the crawl space and the attic, which are conditioned, in addition to [the rest], and that's why when you walk through the house, you really don't get a sense of a lot of air movement or anything like that. It's just very cool and quiet."
The sweet sound of silence greets anyone entering the Pabst-Bradley home. Bradley jokes that the loudest thing anyone hears in the house is her husband's electric alarm clock at night. Well-positioned ceiling fans quietly circulate air through the house.
It has many of the features that one might expect in a "green" home -- open cell spray-on insulation foam, tankless hot water heaters, more efficient faucets and showerheads, and a sealed crawlspace under the house. Doors and windows are completely sealed, so no one can feel the slightest draft.
Natural products were incorporated throughout the house, reducing allergens and fumes.
"I have asthma, and I haven't used my inhaler since I've been here," Bradley says. "I experience real difficulties with fumes, and that just hasn't been an issue here."
So far, the extra costs in going green are paying off. The couple's first energy bill was just slightly more than half what they paid at their Virginia townhouse, which had only half the square-footage.
Pabst says they probably wouldn't have gone as green as they did if they planned to stay in the house for only a few years, but they are committed to staying there.
"The extra money that went into the house we think will easily get paid back over time," he says.
'Build Smarter, Smaller'
Local architects and builders are starting to see the writing on the wall, and are diving into the new world of green residences.
"In terms of living, people have got to build smarter and smaller," builder Alex Bowness says. "Utility bills are going to drive us all, because right now oil prices are down, but when they go back up it's going ... it's like all of us are going to be buying hybrid cars."
There are many different shades of green certification, depending on how far the homeowner wants to take it. The N.C. Building Code has energy efficiency components and requirements. Energy Star has its own standards, which must be inspected by a third party. The NC HealthyBuilt Homes Program meets Energy Star standards but is even more detailed.
The most rigorous program is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes, or LEED-H, which is administered through the U.S. Green Building Council.
Certification levels are awarded on a points basis, depending on the number of elements included in the design of the home.
Gaining certification can be tedious and expensive, so homeowners always have the option to incorporate elements of the standards into the design without getting the plaque or certificate.
The Pabst-Bradley home is the first NC HealthyBuilt Home that Bowness has constructed. He has built several Energy Star homes.
"The thing that I appreciate about [the standards] is," he says, "you have a third party organization validating that we did adhere to the standards, and we did exceed what was going to happen, and I think the owner got a better home because there's someone else looking over your shoulder."
Regardless of which standards a home builder wants to follow, a holistic and involved planning and design process is the benchmark of any project's success.
Robert and Lynn Anderson, of Southern Pines, are both LEED Accredited Professional architects and have designed a mix of residential and commercial projects. They say it is critical to take a step back and analyze the development patterns that have become commonplace.
"You really have to back up and think more about patterns that have been established over a long time and are in place," Lynn says. "We've got to change some of those patterns."
Siting and orienting the house appropriately on its lot is a fundamental element of creating an energy-efficient house. Proper orientation for daylight can reduce the lighting and cooling loads on the house without spending a lot of money.
Robert Anderson observes that many people focus on machinery to improve energy efficiency when talking about green buildings, when in fact that is only one category of LEED certification. There are many other affordable ways to make a house green aside from plopping a wind turbine or geothermal heat pump in the backyard.
Other categories deal with site utilization, reducing storm water runoff, reducing natural environmental impact and selection of materials for the house and how they are transported. Quality of life inside the house -- air quality, lighting quality, views outside of the home and other aesthetics -- are also important.
"Whether you get the certification or not, if you went through and followed the LEED and used it as a guideline, you could feel good about your sustainability," Lynn says.
Simply put, homeowners can go green without spending an inordinate amount of money through smart planning.
Alan Stagaard, of Stagaard and Chao Architects, in Pinehurst agrees, saying that a person can design and build a green home for a "very small" uptick in money, especially with the advent of federal tax incentives. Two of his designs -- including the Pabst-Bradley home -- have been certified bronze by the HealthyBuilt Homes Program and others are coming.
Like the Andersons, he considers planning to be key.
"You have to incorporate a bunch of different strategies," he says. "No one strategy is going to be like the magic bullet. It has to be done through a coordinated effort through the design process. Homeowners, architects and builders have to be on the same page."
'Sky Is Limit'
While it's possible to go green without spending a lot of green, advances in technology are making some of the gadgets and gizmos more affordable.
Ken Bonville, president of Bonville Construction and Sandhills Energy in Pinehurst, is pioneering residential solar panels in the area. Bonville is an Energy Star builder, and is looking into the NC HealthyBuilt Homes Program and LEED. He says his company has been dedicated to building energy efficient homes for years, and in a time where home construction is off, it helps to have something that distinguishes his firm from the rest.
His first installation of a residential solar power system will take place at a Pinehurst house in the coming weeks. He says the energy created by the panels quickly adds up.
Contrary to some misperceptions, customers using the panel remain on the power grid -- meaning the lights stay on at night and on cloudy days -- and the system pumps excess energy back into it.
The system is monitored by computer 24 hours a day, and customers can even access a Web site that displays the amount of power being produced, the total amount produced since the system was installed and individual performance breakdowns of each individual panel.
When there's a problem, Bonville gets an e-mail alert telling him about it.
The technology still isn't cheap. Bonville says a single panel costs about $1,000. But with all of the incentives out there, it's possible that the system can pay for itself within five years if it gets good production. The 52-panel system on the roof of his office is already paying dividends.
"The sky is the limit, basically because you're getting such a big return on your investment so quickly," he says.
'Makes So Much Sense'
How to encourage more home owners to think green is still the $64,000 question. But many agree that a change in thinking is paramount to deal with the coming energy and sustainability challenges.
"I think people's attitudes are kind of gradually changing," Lynn Anderson says. "When we get a client and sit down with them at the table, we try to present options to them and try to make them aware of [different] aspects."
Lynn says that misperceptions of green can cause avoidance. Some may think that ultra-modern designs are the only way to accommodate those elements, but she says they can be adapted to fit many styles.
Bowness says he made a point to pursue more sustainable homes, and with that has realized that his customers are getting a better finished product.
"It's almost like discovering the right way to do things," Bowness says. "When you're trying to offer value to your customers, this is clearly the best value we can offer them."
For Pabst and Bradley, though, their home is concrete proof that building green is absolutely the way to go.
"Green is smart," Pabst says. "It makes sense. It's a little bit more money in the beginning, but once everyone starts doing it, that way the cost will come down.
"It absolutely has to be the wave of the future, because it just makes so much sense."
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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