Houston green building

by Liz Vernon

David Ronn's 4,000- square-foot Houston home is unique in more ways than one. It has a recording studio. It has an indoor slide. And its highest electric bill last summer was about $275. The studio and slide are "just some fun things in the house," Ronn says, but the lower costs are thanks to his home being LEED certified at the gold level, a rating it achieved in January. "It's about 60 percent more efficient [than a conventional home]," Ronn says.

He began construction in early 2006 on the land where his old house once stood. "When we bought the property in 1995, the intention was to live there for about 10 years, then tear it down," Ronn says. "We started thinking as time got closer. We realized energy prices were growing. We thought we could build our own house and build it green, do it the way we wanted to do it.

Construction took about 17 months, and last June, Ronn, his wife and their three daughters moved into the home, which features a sustainable Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood floor, tankless water heaters and Icynene insulation.

"It's smaller than most homes in my neighborhood, but the green concept is to make use of every space," Ronn says. "The footprint isn't much more than that of the 2,000-square-foot house we tore down."

For example, the recording studio is part of the multipurpose room, which also serves as the family's home theater - it's where they put their big-screen TV - and dining room.

The home also features Energy Star appliances, a sealed attic and low-e windows. It's the first in Houston to achieve LEED certification, according to Michael Strong, vice president of GreenHaus Builders, the company that built Ronn's home. "For a homeowner looking to have a custom home that's built green, [LEED] is a fantastic program. "We've been making homes greener for 20 years," Strong says. "We've been watching LEED, and the timing worked out perfectly for this to be a LEED pilot home."

David Murrah is the Gulf Coast region project manager for Contects, a consulting and architecture company headquartered in San Antonio that facilitates LEED and Energy Star certifications throughout Texas. He says Contects, which also provides Energy Star certification, currently has 18 LEED-registered single-family projects in the Houston area, as well as an 87-unit affordable housing project. The Ronns' home is currently the only one that's LEED-certified. The Greater Houston Builders Association also sponsors a green building program, the Green Building Initiative Houston, for residents interested in going green.

Murrah says the home has been welcomed in the architectural and custom-builder communities. "LEED commercial programs have been very successful, and the USGBC is using that to leverage the residential sector," he says. "It's a neat program. I think it's going to do well here."


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