- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2000

Waking to the sound of birds singing brings acertain joy to our fast-paced lives and reminds us of the simplerpleasures of life. One of the challenges facing developers today is howto build new homes without wreaking havoc with the environment.
With tomorrow marking the 30th anniversary of Earth Day, how areenvironmental pressures influencing the way houses are being built? Whatis a "green" building and what does it mean to you, the consumer?
A"green" house is a resource-efficient dwelling built with materials thatare recycled, renewable and reused, and that ensure the health of theoccupants. Green houses are strategically sited and built to preservethe Earth's precious resources. Green development applies thisphilosophy to land management, as well.
The term "green" was onceconsidered the domain of environmental zealots. Gus Bauman, a lawyerwith Beveridge and Diamond in Washington and the former chairman of theMaryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, calls theenvironmental movement "elitist."
Today, "green" is seen as a sensibleapproach to siting and construction.
Builders are marketing theirhouses as environmentally friendly by using design and constructionproducts that abandon convention. They are eager to send a message tothe home buyer that they, too, are concerned about the planet and wantto protect it.
Home buyers who want a house that is environmentallyfriendly will be hard-pressed to find consensus about how green isgreen, and whether a green house costs more or less than a house that isnot.
Ask builders, architects, lawyers, environmentalists andpolicy-makers anyone familiar with the green business and you'llfind differences among them.
The U.S. Green Building Council, forinstance, has a rating system for measuring sustainability, or green,but it is limited to commercial construction. A rating system forresidential construction has not been developed yet.
Without abenchmark, what has emerged are shades of green, all under the banner ofenvironmentally sensitive products and regulations.
Environmentalpurists say the resulting shades of green have muddied the concept.There is some agreement on key factors driving the green movementconsumer interest and government regulation from the controversy overlow-flow toilets to the controversy over sustainable construction, orsmart growth, in current lingo.
Bureaucratic problems
Michael Rosewas born in Chicago and grew up in Los Angeles.
"When I came here, Ithought we should protect what we have," says Mr. Rose, whose companies,Rosemark Design Build and Michael T. Rose Land Inc., have made him oneof the biggest developers in Maryland and Virginia.
An advocate ofsmart growth, Mr. Rose has been building green for years and hiscompanies have received numerous awards.
"From a business point ofview, would you pay more for a lot if it had a tree on it? Yes. Does itcost me to chop the tree down? Yes. It's just smart business to leavethe trees," he says.
So what's the problem? He would like to treat theenvironment even better, but says he cannot.
The problem rests withlocal, state and federal agencies that operate with different rules andagendas that are not designed to function cooperatively, hesays.
"There are competing interests in government. It's just the waythey set up their agencies without a total permit requirement," Mr. Rosesays. At the local level, for instance, departments such as recreation,storm-water management and park and planning, function independent ofeach other. They usually don't talk to each other, he says.
"As aresult, it takes longer to get an environmentally sensitive projectapproved," he says.
He blames bureaucracy for the escalating costs ofconstruction that are born out of conflicting regulations. CitingMaryland as a good example, Mr. Rose says about 90 percent of the vacantland is 2-acre to 25-acre density, which means low-density rather thanhigh-density building, a reality dictated by local governments.
"Homesare built to feed a demand, so when you have limited supply, the priceis going to go up," says Mr. Rose, who says that construction is themost highly regulated industry in the world.
"Land development hasalways been controlled by state and local governments, and part of thiscontrol includes conservation and environmental issues. Environmentalregulations come from the federal government, the major ones being theClean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Wetlands and Endangered Species Act,"Mr. Bauman says.
"There is precious little coordination between thefederal system and state and local systems," he says. The greater thenumber of restrictions, Mr. Bauman says, the greater the likelihood ofsprawl because builders and developers will want to build in lessrestrictive areas, which are traditionally farther from metropolitanareas.
"Nobody has taken a holistic look at the impact of all of this.It's not politically acceptable and it's too complicated," Mr. Baumansays.
Michael Bell of the Bell Co., a consultant to the buildingindustry and a board member of the National Association of Home Builders(NAHB), also blames the escalating cost of construction onpolitics.
"In this market, when a builder tries to build green, thereis an additional cost." As a result, Mr. Bell says, it's usually thesmall-volume builder, the one who builds 10 houses a year, who is morelikely to build green.
Spurred in part by customer demand, the greenmovement continues to gain interest. Mr. Rose may have been an earlyadvocate of sustainable construction, but he is hardly alone.
In thepast month, the NAHB and the American Institute of Architects held majorconferences focusing on sustainability.
Trade organizations workingwith local governments, manufacturers and a cross section of businessinterests are developing approaches to sustainability. Projectsnationwide are touted as environmentally sensitive.
"There is a focuson the relationship between business and the environment," says HarryGordon, a member of the U.S. Green Building Council's board and a D.C.architect.
Shades of green
"We started communities that live withnature and the products in the house have things that are green but wedon't say this is a green house," says Mr. Rose, a builder of 25 years.He says his homes are constructed of recycled wood instead of plywoodand they are designed to use less lumber but that's not all.
"We useFiberglas front doors as opposed to wood; high-efficiency heating andair conditioning, which is environmentally sensitive; recycled vinylsiding; GE energy-efficient appliances; Pella windows that say how greenthey are… . A lot of these we do for other reasons [than for theenvironment] and have done them for years," Mr. Rose says.
Mr. Rosesays he has discovered over the years that home buyers aren't interestedin the technicalities of sustainable construction. They just want toknow if it is environmentally sensitive.
Architect William Reed ofNatural Logic, which has offices in Chevy Chase and Berkeley Calif.,says he is "pretty aggressive" when it comes to designing a home.
Hesays there are shades of green, even among such special interest groupsas the U.S. Green Building Council and the NAHB. Some are more stringentthan others, he says.
Regardless, they are helpful to the consumerbecause they explain the concept of sustainability and how one can applyit to their home and property.
The greenbacks of green
But does itcost money to be green-conscious? That's a matter of opinion.
"Manytimes, [green elements] cost the same or less. Cellulose will cost more,[oriented strand board] costs less, engineered trusses cost more but itdoesn't cost that much more. Energy efficiency is a big sellingfeature," Mr. Rose says.
Home builders and architects say that at theroot of the green movement are consumers who don't want to damage theenvironment. Whether those consumers are willing to pay for it isanother story, however.
"If you have a good design and build a housethat optimizes lighting, window placement, energy sources andlandscaping, it does not have to cost more and it will be better for theplanet," says Mr. Reed in describing the old farmhouse in Frederick,Md., he redesigned and that is expected to more than halve its energycosts.
"It costs more to be green" in the short run, says WillZachmann, spokesman for the Sustainability Building Industry Council. Inthe long run, however, he says it actually costs less. "It depends onhow green you want to be."
Nevertheless, he says, people are showingmore interest in design and construction and their impact on theenvironment.
Today's home buyers, Mr. Rose says, just want to knowthey're buying a house that is sustainable.
For those still greenabout green, here's sound advice from Alex Wilson, editor atEnvironmental Building News.
"It's possible to make a lot of thingslook green. One needs to be careful to make sure when you are lookingfor an environmentally responsible building that you're not just gettinga bunch of claims."

More information:

Whether building or buying a home, here is achecklist on environmentally responsible design and construction.

On siting and land use:

Locate the home near public transportation,bicycle paths and walking access to basic services.
Let design beguided by solar access, soil, vegetation and water resources.
Treeson the east and west of a building can dramatically reduce coolingloads. Hedges and shrubbery can block cold winter winds or channel coolsummer breezes into a home.

On design:

Build a smaller home oftimeless architecture.
Use high levels of insulation, highperformance windows and tight construction.
Simplify buildinggeometry.
Make provisions for storing and processingrecyclables.
Recycle "gray water," which is water from sinks,showers and clothes washers.
Use practices that minimize the healthhazards of radon, mold and pesticides.

On materials:

Avoidozone-depleting chemicals in mechanical equipment and insulation.
Because durable products last longer, they save energy and contributeless to solid waste problems.
Choose building materials that requireless maintenance.
Buy locally produced building materials.Transportation adds to energy use and pollution.
Use products madefrom recycled materials. Cellulose insulation, Homasote, Thermo-ply,floor tile made from ground glass and recycled plastic lumber areexamples of recycled products.
Use salvaged building materials such as lumber, millwork, certain plumbing fixtures and hardware butnot old windows or toilets.
Use lumber from independently certified,well-managed forests and don't buy tropical hardwoods unless the sellercan document that the wood comes from this source.
Avoidsolvent-based finishes, adhesives, carpeting, particleboard and otherproducts that release formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds intothe air.
Minimize use of pressure-treated lumber. Instead, userecycled plastic lumber.
Minimize package waste by telling thesupplier to avoid unnecessary packaging.

On equipment:

Installhigh-efficiency furnaces, boilers and air conditioners.
Installhigh-efficiency lights and appliances.
Install water-conservingtoilets, shower heads and faucet aerators.
Mechanical ventilation isusually required to ensure safe, healthy indoor air. Heat recoveryventilators should be considered because of energy savings but simpler,less costly exhaust-only ventilation systems are adequate, too.(Excerpted from ebuild.com, the Web site of Environmental BuildingNews.)

Web sites and groups:

nrg-builder.com is the Web site ofBuilding Environmental Science and Technology (BEST) 410/867-8000.You'll find a green building primer at this site.
usgbc.org is the siteof the U.S. Green Building Council.
gbapgh.org has basic information.
sbicouncil.org, or call202/628-7400.
taunton.com/books is where you will find the GreenBuilding Resource Guide by John Hermannsson.
These organizations arevaluable resources on the siting and building of green homes. Suchorganizations as the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) havecouncils focusing solely on green issues: NAHB 202/822-0200.
U.S. Green American Institute of Architects 202/626-7300.

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