Austin green building in the lead with green housing market

Austin green building in the lead with green housing market

by Conor Lee

Glenn Moore emerged from his shower on the day after Thanksgiving in 2003 only to discover his house was on fire. While the blaze didn't destroy Moore's Treadwell Street home, which he'd owned since 1984, the resulting smoke damage forced him to tear down the structure and start anew. "It was devastating," he says.

But the devastation also created a unique opportunity. "One day, my architect asked if I was interested in a green home," Moore says. "I told him I was willing to build as green a house as the green in my pocket would allow."

And with that statement, Moore started on the path towards the energy efficient home he owns today. In 2007, he became the proud owner of a Five-Star home — the highest possible rating under Austin Energy's Green Building program, which has been around since 1991 and is the oldest residential rating tool in the United States.

Unlike LEED for Homes, which locally has just six projects registered and none certified, Austin Energy has rated more than 7,500 single family homes and 8,000 multifamily units. LEED for Homes and Austin Energy's Green Building program are the only third-party green building verification programs currently available in Austin. "Certainly the format that LEED follows is quite a bit different from what we use," Morgan says. "We prefer ours because it was developed locally and can really focus on the city's energy policy and our climatic needs."

Homes in Austin Energy's program receive points for features such as solar panels, efficient plumbing and proximity to public transportation. "The number of points possible for any one project can vary," Morgan says. "There are 361 points contained in the rating system. That doesn't mean there are 361 possible points [for every home rated]."

Some of the features that earned Moore's home a 189-point Five-Star rating, equivalent to a LEED platinum rating, include walls made of insulated concrete forms, less exposed windows on the west side of the building, and a large porch overhang on the south side of the building both designed to negate the heat created by the sun. "Since your objective is to keep the house cool, you try to use as many passive solar design principles as possible," says Joseph Bennett of Joseph M. Bennett Architects, who designed Moore's home.

Moore lucked out and paid nothing for certification through the Austin Energy program. That will soon change. "Sometime this year we'll start charging $50 per home regardless of the rating," Morgan says.

Still, the long-term financial savings of going green can't be overlooked, whether you decide to have the home rated in Austin Energy's program, certified LEED or both. Moore's home appraised at about $100,000 before the fire, but now it's valued at $254,500. While his mortgage payments have also risen, that's because he added square footage and his home is new — and much higher quality. "I'm also saving $20 to $25 a month [on my utility bill] from my previous home," Moore says. But the greatest thing about his green home? "It's just comfortable."

- With additional reporting by Paul F.P. Pogue

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It's refreshing to hear that a city in Texas (so well know for doing things big) is so focused on green building. Well done!

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