- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

In the mid-1950s, soon after our 34th president finished building his weekend retreat in the shadow of the Catoctin Mountains, people started asking for “Eisenhower Green,” the special gray-green paint that the president mixed himself to cover the old red barn near his new house.

“He wanted to make the [barn] color a little more subdued,” says John Joyce, a park ranger at the Eisenhower National Historic Site in Gettysburg, Pa. “He wanted to harmonize with the color of the house.”

Today, folks are clamoring for green again, and they want more than just a paint color. They’re looking for Energy Star appliances that can substantially lower energy costs. They want construction materials and techniques that require less wood, and sometimes less cost.

“Buyers are definitely asking about green features,” says Joseph Himali, president of the board of directors of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors and principal broker of Best Address Real Estate LLC. “Green features are becoming one of the top three priorities, after price and location.”

Just who are these green buyers in an economy where the market is tight and mortgages are hard to come by?

“Today’s market, where not many people can get financing, tends to have more picky buyers,” says Michele Russo, director of green content and research communications for McGraw-Hill Construction. “They also tend to be more demanding about what is put into the house.”

Many of them are picking green.

“What’s interesting about green building is that even though the market has gone down dramatically, green building is increasing,” says Ms. Russo.

For buyers, green homebuilding can represent lowered costs, a commitment to the environment, and lifestyle changes that can promote healthy living for the entire family. For builders, going green gives them a leg up on nongreen competitors in an increasingly tight market.

“A slow market often is the time when technological innovation is happening,” says Ms. Russo. “That’s one of the benefits of a slow market. Builders are looking for something that’s different.”

McGraw-Hill Construction, in partnership with the National Green Building Program, recently released a new report that demonstrates just how much the green building movement has grown since its 2006 study.

“The whole country is interested in green building,” says Kevin Morrow, program manager for green-building standards at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Mr. Morrow notes that NAHB green-certified homes may occupy 6 to 10 percent of the market this year, up from just 2 percent in the 2006 report. By 2010, NAHB projects as much as 20 percent of the market may go green.

So, what exactly is green building? According to Mr. Morrow, green building is a holistic approach to home construction that extends well beyond the date of sale.

“Green building is an effort to minimize the environmental impact of building,” he adds. “It’s about construction and long- term maintenance, energy efficiency and even plot design.”

The U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization, has come up with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. There are LEED standards for new construction and major renovations, existing building operations and maintenance, core and shell development, commercial interiors, homes, neighborhood developments, multiple building and on-campus projects and schools. (Visit www.usgbc.org for more information.)

Meanwhile, NAHB offers its own certification, in varying degrees, of a building’s compliance with green guidelines. (Visit nahbgreen.com for information about scoring a home, model green home guidelines and other resources.)

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) notes that the average green buyer will spend an average of $12,400 more on a home with green features.

What do you get when you go green? According to NAHB, your home will need to include most of the following:

Energy-efficient features. By now, most people are familiar with Energy Star appliances, the designation that testifies to a particular appliance’s efficiency. NAHB says that green homes should include energy-efficient lighting fixtures and bulbs and energy-renewable sources, such as photovoltaic (PV) electricity, that work to decrease overall energy consumption. Also, improved or increased insulation should go beyond current code requirements.

Water-efficient features. Just about everyone has encountered low-flow shower heads and low-water toilets. Energy Star dishwashers and washing machines also help to conserve water. Homeowners can even install an extensive water-collection system for “gray water” to be used for gardening and other activities. Just be sure to check your local codes first.

Resource-efficient features. To determine how green your home is, ask questions about the resources used during construction: What materials help to make up its interior? Are you using advanced framing techniques that can adjust the way you build corners to allow for more insulation? How far do your materials have to travel? Obviously, it’s best to use as many local and natural resources as possible.

Indoor air quality features. A green home should be a healthy home. The HVAC system should be construed to ensure fresh, circulated air at all times. Paint and wallpaper shouldn’t give off strong odors when first applied or make you sick. Products should have low volatile organic compounds (VOC), and carpets shouldn’t be placed in areas prone to getting wet or growing mold (such as basements). Using higher-efficiency filters throughout a house can improve air quality.

Preservation of the environment outside the home. Preserving trees and other native vegetation can help save the local environment. Also, they can help save you some green inside, since trees often provide shade that helps reduce cooling requirements.

These days, green is the new gold.

“There are environmentally friendly luxuries,” says Ms. Russo. “You can still get fancy countertops, tricked-out bathrooms and bamboo floors.”

The beauty of it all is that “green” doesn’t mean expensive.

“Spray foam insulation doesn’t have to cost more,” says Ms. Russo. “Low-VOC paints are comparable in price now to other kinds.”

Solar electric technology is now easier to install and less costly than ever before. Thin-film laminate photovoltaic (PV) material can be bonded directly onto metal roofing and is expected to become even less expensive as production expands with the marketplace. Advanced framing techniques can be cheaper than traditional building.

NAHB and other organizations are also involved with operational maintenance education, ensuring that homeowners know how to operate the energy-efficient systems in their homes.

“There are a lot of behavioral variables in determining how a home will perform, even the most energy-efficient one,” says Mr. Morrow. “There are a lot of things out of the builder’s control that a homeowner can do.”

Meanwhile, local communities are hoping - and helping - to make it all happen. New certifications and incentives make going green easier than ever, both for builders and homeowners. Financial incentives can take the form of voluntary tax benefits, while nonfinancial stimuli, popular in today’s tight economy, can include density bonuses and permit fast tracking.

Even area Realtors are going green. New software allows agents to enter specific green-related information, such as an Energy Star appliance or a green roof, into the Multiple Listings Service (MLS) database. NAR is also providing agents with green training, so they can spot “green washing,” a practice used by some sellers and builders who claim a home is green when it actually isn’t.

It’s noteworthy that the District is the first major U.S. city to require LEED compliance for public and private projects of 50,000 square feet or more and that Montgomery County requires LEED compliance for some private projects.

After all is said and done, it turns out that President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, were pretty forward thinking.

“They recycled a lot of stuff from the old house that had been on the site,” says Mr. Joyce. They used old beams in the den and salvaged some of the wooden floors.”

And they didn’t stop with the house.

“They grew marigolds and garlic in the garden to keep the pests away,” says Mr. Joyce. “They didn’t use any chemicals, and they composted. They even preserved some of the wood lots on the site to retain wildlife.”

The couple produced a home that was quite homey, despite some then cutting-edge conveniences like a dishwasher in the kitchen and a built-in crockpot.

While no one is yet calling for “Obama Green,” it probably should be noticed that the daughters of our soon-to-be 44th president will be attending Sidwell Friends School, whose recently completed middle school was awarded a LEED Platinum rating. It is the first K-12 school in the United States to have a LEED Platinum rating and the first LEED Platinum building in the District.

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