Detroit area now has sustainable options for home building

Detroit area now has sustainable options for home building

Detroit-area homeowners who want to build with the environment in mind need only look 40 miles west to Washtenaw County to see examples of successful green home-building options. A trio of recently finished projects illustrate the viability of sustainable, energy-efficient architecture produced by utilizing the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Homes program.

Fireside Home Construction's newest model home and headquarters in Dexter offer the example of luxurious eco-efficient living. Currently unavailable for sale, the three-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot home was the first residential project in Michigan, and the 12th in the nation, to earn the USGBC's highest possible platinum-level certification. Overall, nearly 20 homes statewide have earned LEED certification and more than 30 more are registered to complete the process. While no homes have been certified or registered in Detroit, three Bloomfield Hills projects recently registered for the program.

The Dexter home features an insulated concrete form foundation and structurally insulated panel construction to maximize the exterior envelope efficiency and reduce air infiltration.

Characteristics like a gravel driveway, low-flow plumbing and native vegetation also racked up points towards LEED certification. By utilizing energy-saving features like geothermal heating and cooling systems, in-floor heating and solar panels, Fireside Home Construction owner Bob Burnside says he estimates the home's utility bills will only cost $500 per year, partly because the solar panels supply surplus electricity to the local grid, earning credits from DTE Energy.

In Ann Arbor, Meadowlark Builders attained LEED certification points for their two-unit Spring Street condominium project by building on an infill lot within walking distance of public transportation. The first 3,600-square-foot unit achieved a gold-level certification by using features like geothermal heating and cooling, insulated concrete form construction, and native low-water use landscaping. "Financially, it was a wise choice," says John Swerdlow, who purchased the first unit. He says he expects to save $200 a month on energy costs. "I think we got a lot of bang for our buck with this house."

By adding features like low-flow plumbing fixtures, rainwater reclamation and more comprehensive air infiltration mitigation, Meadowlark Builders owner Doug Selby says he expects the second unit to garner a platinum-level certification when evaluations are complete this spring. Currently offered at $630,000, Selby says the high-end energy features don't inflate the new home's price. "At $175 a square foot, it's one of the lowest residential per-square-foot prices in Ann Arbor," Selby says.

Rather than owning an eco-friendly home, Dr. Jack Edelstein provides the option to rent. His newest rental duplex generated points towards its LEED-certified designation by being built on an infill lot near Ann Arbor's urban corridors. Each approximately 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom unit also earned points by using SIP construction, low-flow fixtures, VOC-free paint and naturally renewable cork and bamboo flooring. Though Edelstein estimates the duplex's construction cost about 20 percent more than traditional building - a cost he expects to recoup by consuming 20 percent less energy per month - he says the bottom line isn't the big idea. "It's more than financial, it's an ethical commitment," he says.

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