- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

Environmentalism, including green building, may be the most influential trend of this decade because it impacts commercial and residential construction, along with nearly every aspect of daily life.

The Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Web site conducted a “Living Green” consumer survey in 2008 that showed half of the consumers surveyed paid more money for an energy-efficient product in the past 12 months.

The survey also revealed that one in three homeowners said they would be willing to spend $5,000 or more on green improvements to increase a home’s appeal to potential buyers.

Consumers reported engaging in a variety of environmentally conscious activities, including recycling (73 percent), replacing standard lights with compact fluorescent light bulbs (69 percent), conserving water (57 percent), adjusting the thermostat (51 percent) and purchasing energy-efficient appliances (30 percent).

Homebuilders are already incorporating green features into new homes in response to consumer preferences for the cost-saving benefits of environmentally friendly homes.

K. Hovnanian Homes has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building America program and Integrated Building and Construction Solutions, a science and research firm in Pittsburgh, to build five prototypes of a high-performance home in Maryland and Virginia.

At Eagles Pointe in Woodbridge, K. Hovnanian has a demonstration home that displays some of the materials, processes and designs used in the development of high-performance homes. The goal for these prototype homes is to achieve 40 percent energy savings and to identify the systems and processes that will produce energy-efficient, environmentally sensitive and affordable housing on a large scale.

All products and construction techniques used at Eagles Pointe will create a more energy-efficient home with improved indoor air quality. Features include advanced framing techniques, high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, Energy Star-rated appliances and closed-cell spray-foam insulation in every wall. The home has a tankless water heater and a new water distribution system so that every faucet is separately attached to the water heater by its own line.

Brookfield Homes Corp. launched Brookfield Blue, an energy-efficient program that introduces high-end energy-creating systems into their homes. Systems (such as those using solar energy, geothermal heating and air conditioning and wind power) are usually available exclusively on custom homes, but Brookfield is offering these features and others as affordable options in many of their communities.

At the model home at Snowden Bridge in Winchester, Brookfield has an “energy lab” that compares traditional home systems with their Brookfield Blue systems. The geothermal heating and cooling system extracts air from below the Earth’s surface, where it maintains a steady temperature, reducing the need for energy to heat and cool the air.

Wind power can be generated from a lightweight wind turbine on the roof, which generates electricity for energy-efficient batteries. Buyers can use solar photovoltaic power modules, which convert energy from the sun into electricity. Or buyers may have solar hot water from solar collection tubes, which sit nearly invisibly on the roof and absorb thermal energy for a continuous supply of hot water. Currently, Brookfield is providing a $10,000 energy credit for buyers who want to take advantage of any of these optional systems.

In addition, Brookfield has a Green Plus program that improves indoor air quality, water efficiency and resource management. This program includes using energy-efficient features, compact fluorescent light bulbs, dual-flush toilets, water-saving faucets, Silestone counters, closed-cellulose insulation, low-volatile organic compound (VOC) paint and sustainable materials.

Beazer Homes Corp. has a Smart Design program that includes up to 10 environmentally friendly features in every home. Earlier this year, the company offered an “eco-promotion” for prospective homebuyers who were entered into a sweepstakes to win one of 350 eco-friendly prizes. More than 30,000 people participated in the sweepstakes, including a Maryland woman who won a new Toyota Prius Hybrid.

Among the environmentally friendly features in Beazer homes are compact fluorescent light bulbs and low-maintenance building materials that have a lower impact on the environment and add to overall energy savings.

Other features of the Smart Design program include a programmable thermostat, which is estimated to save up to $150 annually in heating and cooling costs; Energy Star-rated dishwashers, which are at least 41 percent more energy efficient than the minimum federal standards; and water-reduction shower heads and faucets, which reduce water use by 33 percent. Indoor air quality is improved by the use of better quality air filters and low-VOC paint and carpets.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a certification program established by the U.S. Green Building Council to encourage the development of high performance buildings. Bethesda-based developer EYA hopes the expansion of LEED certification to their new residential development will function as a model for other builders. Traditionally, LEED certification has been pursued for commercial buildings and custom-designed homes.

In Southeast Washington, EYA recently began construction on Capitol Quarter. The community is on the Southeast waterfront adjacent to the new Yards development and between the Navy Yard and Eastern Market Metro stations. It will include 210 town homes constructed of environmentally friendly building materials. Residents can walk to public transportation, parks, employment centers, shops and restaurants. The homes will have Energy Star-rated appliances, windows and doors; energy-efficient gas heat; an energy seal and house wrap package; low- consumption toilets; double-pane windows; programmable thermostats and low-VOC paints and finishes.

Inspiring builders to develop energy-efficient homes was part of the purpose of the New American Home 2009, a showcase home and construction technology laboratory in Las Vegas, sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) as part of the International Builders’ Show held in January. The home was a collaboration between Las Vegas builder Blue Heron and Irvine, Calif.-based architect Danielian Associates Inc.

This highly energy-efficient home includes a natural gas-powered heating and cooling system, photovoltaic cells and solar water heating. The home was sited to optimize solar resources and uses landscape design to limit both water and energy demand.

Stormwater pollution prevention plans were implemented to reduce soil erosion and disturbance of the environment. The materials used in the home were either recycled or new materials made from renewable resources or require fewer resources than traditional building materials. The goal of the energy-efficient features in this home, which include low-E windows, advanced insulation and vertical and horizontal solar overhangs in addition to the solar panel system, is to reach a net-zero level of electrical consumption.

While new homebuilders are pumping up their level of environmentally friendly features, Montgomery County introduced a new disclosure law that requires sellers to provide information on the energy efficiency of their homes to buyers. Before signing a contract for a single-family home or town home, the seller must provide the buyer with general information on energy-efficient improvements and the availability of energy audits approved by the Maryland Department of Environmental Protection. The owners must provide copies of the electric, gas and heating/oil bills or a cost and usage history for the house for the 12 months prior to the date the home was listed for sale. (The law does not apply to condominiums.)

Concern for the environment - and the bottom line - is convincing builders, local governments and consumers that green building is here to stay.

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