Blazing a green building trail in Rhode Island

Blazing a green building trail in Rhode Island

By Staci Giordullo

Rhode Island may not win any awards for being the most environmentally conscious state, but that hasn't stopped South County Post & Beam designer Tom Weber. As the project manager for one of the state's first LEED certified homes, he's quietly starting a green revolution.

"[LEED] is a whole new way of thinking," Weber says. "And we're at the forefront of green building. We're embracing it wholeheartedly. It's part of the philosophy of the company: we stress healthy homes and healthy lives, and we're the only company in the state to offer this option so far."

Weber says the lack of tax incentives and high initial construction costs cause homeowners to balk at building green. "As a state, we have a very high tax system and when you look at the ways the communities work, there tends to be larger up-front costs for construction," he says. "Also, when building LEED certified homes, there's a huge learning curve and builders are hesitant to commit their time and money."

Slowdown in the housing market has also contributed to the slow growth of green building in the state. "When you have a larger marketplace or customer base - like Boston - they're more willing to pay for higher quality or premium things," says Mark Price, the state's LEED for Homes certifier.

He says LEED is the first - and only - green building system in the state. "LEED for Homes is the first official credible system in New England," Price says.

Throughout Rhode Island there are three homes in the process of being certified, including Weber's project. And yet Weber, a transplant from Massachusetts who's been working on sustainable design for the past six years, feels it's his duty to make a difference. "In architecture, you have a moral obligation to look at the environment and understand that you have a responsibility to not only those who are using it but consider all those who will ever come into contact with it," he says.

The 3,200-square-foot, four-bedroom house is under construction in Narragansett and on track to meet either gold or platinum certification. Construction costs are averaging between $300 and $350 per square foot, but Weber is quick to point out it's the personal preferences of the homeowners and high-end features they've selected, not necessarily the "green" amenities, that caused the inflated price.

The house sits on a lot formerly occupied by a small cottage, but Weber and his team were able to recycle nearly 80 percent of it after demolition. The new house will include Energy Star appliances, flooring made of recycled materials, a rainwater collection system and a metal roof. And, thanks to solar panels and a geothermal heating and cooling system, the house is expected to have zero energy consumption.

"The homeowners are very concerned about the environment," Weber says. "Their college-aged son was the catalyst for getting them to build a home in accordance with the LEED program. They're creating a contemporary representation of the Rhode Island cottage vernacular."

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