- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

If all goes well, Joanne Capritti can move into her dream home this Christmas. The three-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot house will have all the trappings of a conventional home, including a modern kitchen and office and a walkout basement, but the finished product is an environmental success story, as well, incorporating the latest in “green” building techniques that are revolutionizing the construction industry.

Ms. Capritti’s home includes a state-of-the-art heating and cooling system operating at a fraction of the cost of traditional homes and construction materials ranging from bamboo floors to recycled cement boards. Plans also call for wiring on the roof to accommodate solar panels.

“We just fell in love with the area and with the concept,” says Ms. Capritti, who is relocating to Virginia from New Jersey. “The land is beautiful; the people are wonderful. It really resonated with us.”

The Capritti home is one of three breaking ground this year at EcoVillage of Loudoun County in Taylorstown, a 180-acre reserve designed as a green community. When the first phase of the project is completed, 25 homes — all built to strict environmental standards supervised by a community board — will go up in the community.

Eighty-five percent of the land is reserved for open space, crisscrossed by hiking and bicycling trails. Clusters are built around a community center reserved for recreational activities, a post office and guest rooms.

Growing numbers of buyers are demanding environmentally correct homes using specialized materials and incorporating more efficient heating and electrical systems in construction projects. To meet demand, builders and developers are changing the way they build homes, office buildings and commercial developments.

Along with using more reliance on environmentally friendly or recycled products, industry leaders also are pursuing new zoning strategies and revamping traditional building methods to curb pollution and urban sprawl.

As evidence that the industry is changing, industry leaders point to enrollment at conferences targeting the building industry. The industry’s nonprofit association, the U.S. Green Building Council, scheduled an expo this year in Austin, Texas, expecting to enroll 1,800 participants. They had to turn people away after signing up 3,500.

Next year, officials are expecting 5,000 to attend, says Michael Pawlukiewicz, director of environment and policy management for the Urban Land Institute, co-sponsor of the annual event.

“Part of it is altruism. People think it is the right thing to do,” Mr. Pawlukiewicz says. “It’s kind of environmental awareness and cultural awareness.”

Green building construction grew about 1 percent in 2002, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The nonprofit group, a coalition of construction and building-industry organizations that promotes better building, estimates 2 percent of commercial building projects involved green building last year.

Growth of 3 percent is forecast for this year, says Taryn Holowka, a spokeswoman for USGBC. The council plays hosts to an annual conference to educate builders and developers on how to build green. Membership in the national organization has swelled from 1,000 in 2001 to 3,000 this year, Ms. Holowka says.

“With new technology, it’s becoming a lot easier and a lot less expensive,” Ms. Holowka says.

Building green, however, takes more green — money, that is. The council estimates environmentally senstive building costs run between 2 percent to 7 percent more up front than a conventional commercial building. Green products, such as specialized roofing tiles and other materials, can cost as much as 25 percent more, according to industry experts.

Building green once meant awkward, bulky looking houses and office buildings lined with unsightly solar panels. Today’s construction is more conventional, incorporating green materials, beefed-up insulation products and superefficient electrical systems.

Building products made from shredded wood and sawdust and “plastic lumber” made from recycled plastics are dropping in price and replacing traditional woods for decks and fences. Recycled tire rubber products used for roofing tiles also are becoming increasingly commonplace, as are flooring options such as bamboo, once reserved exclusively for commercial development, according to industry experts.

“Nowadays, there are a lot more products that are green and a lot more products are available than a couple of years ago,” says Anne Frej, director of office and industrial development for the Urban Land Institute. Ms. Frej is also spearheading a book project scheduled for release this year for the Urban Land Institute that promotes commercial green building.

“People are beginning to look at the life cycle of a green building and understand the long-term benefits of a green building,” Ms. Frej says. “The payoff is sometimes years away.”

To promote cleaner, greener construction, many governments and nonprofit groups are recognizing builders that promote conservation and build greener.

Two years ago, the USGBC began sponsoring a certification program to register buildings that met green construction guidelines. Several pilot programs are under way throughout the country, and the program expands every year.

This year, the Prince George’s County government received an award for refitting its Office of Central Services.

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has maintained a program for several years that recognizes builders that preserve trees and promote reforestation.

Seawright Homes of Bethesda, winner of three DNR awards, relies on a landscape architect when drafting subdivision plans. Together, they come up with ways to preserve trees and natural growth on the site, as well as incorporating plantings around the finished houses to reduce runoff, company President Steve Seawright says.

“I’ve always tried to preserve what’s there because it’s in everybody’s interest,” Mr. Seawright says. “We incorporate it into our grading plans and try to preserve what we can.”

Promoting conservation is the goal of Builders for the Bay, a coalition formed by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the Center for Watershed Protection and building associations in Virginia and Maryland.

The coalition, formed two years ago, educates builders about how to curb runoff through plantings and landscaping features. They also are working with local governments and planning commissions to address sprawl through zoning changes.

“There’s a better way to build,” says Kathleen McHugh, executive vice president of the Maryland State Builders Association. “We are pushing for policy changes at the local level to allow for greater flexibility and promote environmental awareness.”

The result in many areas is a combination of mixed-use development designations that involves creating communities that reduce traffic by building homes, retail centers and office buildings close together.

Arundel Preserve, a mammoth development planned alongside Arundel Mills, the giant outlet center in Hanover, is one of the first developments submitted under Anne Arundel County’s new mixed-use zoning laws.

The plan calls for retail commercial and residential development,with about a third of the land designated as open space. Areas will be linked via plazas, and a linear park will cross the development, offering a pathway for bikers and pedestrians as an alternative to pollution-causing auto traffic.

The whole development is designed to curb extensive commuting and minimize the impact of development, which includes 1,000 homes on more than 300 acres, says Patricia Faux, president of the Faux Group Inc., an Annapolis design company working on the project.

“Once the footprint has been set, we are working to preserve as much open space as we can,” Ms. Faux says. “A lot of counties around the region are doing the same thing — housing offices, residences and commercial areas closer together [to reduce traffic].”

Targeting future growth through mixed-use designations is part of an attempt to control sprawl.

Other strategies include “in-fill” development and transforming such blighted areas as abandoned industrial sites to more productive use.

In Alexandria, city officials are promoting projects to convert industrial sites into mixed-use communities. Among the sites targeted is Potomac Yard, an abandoned rail yard, targeted for development by the Alexandria Economic and Development Partnership.

When the Nature Conservancy began looking for a new site for its offices in Arlington County, it converted a “brownfield,” an area designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as lightly polluted, to the site of its headquarters. The building is one of a handful of sites listed by the Department of Energy as meeting the national standards for energy and efficiency, one of more than 50 cited in a DOE case study promoting green building.

Urban residential growth also is undergoing rapid changes as European co-housing programs take hold locally.

In Takoma Park, 43 condominiums were built as part of the Takoma Village Co-Housing Project. The development completed two years ago ranges from studios to three-level town homes. The complex includes a community center that houses a common dining room, recreation area and office.

The facility was built with green materials; builders also installed highly efficient electrical systems that serve as an EPA model, says Sandra Leibowitz, a resident and environmental consultant who worked on the project.

“My electric bill for a two-bedroom unit, which is about 800 square feet, was about $20 [a month],” says Ms. Leibowitz, who worked for the architect planning the project. “It’s what I’ve dedicated my career to, so it feels good to be a part of that.”

She is now working with developers on Eastern Village Co-Housing, a similar 55-unit development that recently received preliminary approval in Silver Spring. That project will replace a four-story abandoned office complex that will be gutted and converted into one-, two- and three-bedroom condominiums.

“It’s one of the biggest co-housing projects,” Ms. Leibowitz says. “Most are around 25 to 30 units. It’s a great example of an adaptive reuse of an old building.”

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