Atlanta's green certification encourages efficiency

Atlanta's green certification encourages efficiency

by Nick McLain

In the midst of an unstable housing market, Angie's List members Michael and Sara Baxter of Decatur [Ga.] considered whether to move or renovate their 1925 bungalow in the Clairemont-Great Lakes neighborhood. "We looked seriously at moving," Michael Baxter says. "But it was not a good market, so we opted to renovate."

At the urging of their contractor, Neil Struby of highly rated Struby Construction in Decatur, the Baxters took it a step further and decided to renovate their home to meet EarthCraft certification, a process by which a trained energy auditor evaluates inefficiencies in the home, such as poor indoor air quality or water conservation, and works to eliminate them. The certification also involves adding green elements.

"We didn't approach it as a green renovation, but we consider ourselves environmentally conscious," Michael Baxter says. "[EarthCraft] has some proactive ideas about how to save money."

The major elements of the Baxters' $215,000 renovation included soy-based spray-foam insulation, a high-efficiency HVAC system, energy-efficient windows and new air ducts. Despite nearly doubling the home's square footage, Baxter says his energy bills remain unchanged. "The air quality is definitely better," he says. "My kids have a lot of allergies, and we saw some real benefits there."

EarthCraft began in 1999 as a collaboration between Southface, an Atlanta nonprofit dedicated to building energy-efficient buildings, and the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association. The program, open to only GAHBA members, has certified more than 13,000 structures since it began, and eight other states in the Southeast run similar programs.

In a recent Angie's List poll, 60 percent of respondents say they plan to renovate their homes this year. Also, a Harvard University study predicts a 3.5 percent increase in spending for renovation projects through 2015.

In February, the EarthCraft Renovation program, which debuted in 2001, expanded to include the Atlanta chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Project manager Steve Lindsley expects the new partnership to increase the number of projects seeking certification. "We're really starting to see an upswing," he says. "People aren't moving, and if they're going to put money into the house, they're going to make it more efficient."

With more than 300 NARI members in Atlanta, board member Judy Mozen says consumers will benefit. "If EarthCraft's motivation was to create more projects, it needed to hit the remodeling industry," she says. "It couldn't be kept exclusive to one group."

In Atlanta, the EarthCraft technical adviser who conducts the energy audit focuses on keeping humidity and mold out of the home by tightening the building's envelope and improving air quality, Lindsley says. This might include installing better insulation, stopping leaks through windows, doors and air ducts, and sealing crawl spaces.

Blake Brewster, owner of highly rated Brewster Builders in Avondale Estates [Ga.], worked on two EarthCraft-certified remodeling projects and says it led to a quicker sale and higher price for one of his clients. "EarthCraft has been in place long enough that it's a recognized brand and has value," he says.

Struby, who completed the Baxters' EarthCraft project and two others, thinks so highly of the program that he paid the $1,050 program fee for the Baxters himself. "It's the right thing to do," he says. "It's better for people and better for the environment."

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