Milwaukee slow to join green building trend

Milwaukee slow to join green building trend

by Robin L. Flanigan

Building green is not a new concept in Wisconsin, where programs such as Green Built Homes and Energy Star are popular. But while the Madison and Green Bay areas are seeing significant interest in the LEED for Homes program – with six certified homes built in the Madison suburb of McFarland – Milwaukee has been a bit slower to join the latest trend in green home design.

"Milwaukee is just a tough market," says Greg Nahn, program manager and quality control designee at Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation, which has applied to be a LEED For Homes provider. "Just because of the sheer number of contracts and competitiveness, there is a race to the bottom in terms of the lowest price. It's market dynamics."

Juli Kaufmann's 1800-square-foot house in Milwaukee's historic Walker's Point is certified as a Green Built Home, the midwest's residential green building program based in Madison. "I really believe in having a small footprint and living in an urban environment," says Kaufmann, co-owner of Pragmatic Construction, which designs and builds green projects.

On top of that, the house, where she lives with her husband and young son, is filled with features that make it a potential candidate for a platinum-level LEED certification. They include geothermal heating and cooling, soy-based sprayfoam insulation, and both LED lighting - four times more efficient than compact flourescent bulbs and reclaimed material throughout the house. Kaufmann also decided to harvest rainwater, a particularly important aspect as the city has a combined stormwater and sewer system that, when overloaded, sends runoff into Lake Michigan.

The Italianate-style home- traditional brick on the front and modern metal and glass on the back and inside - sits on the corner of a strip of residences surrounded by commercial and manufacturing sites. Neighboring property used to house a scrapyard and automobile mechanic business, which caused consequential contamination. "With LEED for Homes, location is a significant aspect," explains Kaufmann. "This is an urban infill site on top of a brownfield we cleaned up."

On the downtown's west side, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization is the first locally to seek LEED for Homes certification. A 24-unit rental housing development being built on an urban infill site and targeting residents between 40 percent and 60 percent of the median income, the development is both a "case study in affordable housing" and "ultimately about good design," says Kristine Berg, project manager at Heartland Housing.

Among the notable details are a baseboard hot-water heating system, drought-tolerant plants for landscaping, and bathroom faucets and showerheads with water flow rates of less than two gallons per minute.

Nahn hears regularly from builders waiting for an opportunity to participate in the LEED for Homes program. He echoes concerns by some in the industry who believe Green Built Homes is an easy certification to achieve by running through a simple checklist and paying a modest fee. "People are starting to jump on the bandwagon to build green, [but] they're looking at product selection over building performance," he says. "We have to be careful we don't adopt just a lot of bamboo floors or eye candy."

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