Pittsburgh green building slow to start due to housing slump

Pittsburgh green building slow to start due to housing slump

by Mike Walker

It sounds like the setup for a science fiction movie: two scientists living together inside a dome-shaped house on 18 acres that serve as an experimental laboratory.

But it's real life for husband-and-wife biologists Kathleen Patnode and Louis Reynolds who, in 2005, bought a geodesic home and put their scientific know-how to work. They've spent about $30,000 to transform their 2,000-square-foot living space and property into an extension of something they both feel very strongly about – energy efficiency. "Our professional lives revolve around environmental issues, so it was a matter of putting our money where our mouth is," Patnode says.

Patnode, who works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Reynolds, employed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, believe they should live with the environment, not just in it. They began by tearing out the carpet, which they replaced with ceramic tile and bamboo flooring. Then they installed a geothermal heating system with radiant floor heat. And instead of air conditioning, they installed a fan at the top of their home that sucks out summer heat. Outside, the couple planted a fruit orchard and a vegetable garden. They also raise free-range chickens.

In five years, Patnode and Reynolds hope to grow enough fruits and vegetables and raise enough chickens to provide two-thirds of their own food. They also hope to be completely energy efficient - and estimate they've already halved their monthly utility bills. Despite their accomplishments, though, Patnode and Reynolds haven't sought LEED certification for their home.

They're not alone in that regard. According to the Green Building Alliance, a local non-profit green education group, Pittsburgh is home to 23 LEED certified commercial and public buildings - placing the city fifth in the nation - and the surrounding region harbors another 40 buildings. But not a single Pittsburgh home has the LEED for Homes certification. "We're one of the leaders in the country using LEED as our measure, but that's been mainly with commercial [buildings]," says Rebecca Flora, GBA executive director.

There are many reasons for the shortfall. Robert Wisniewski, a LEED provider for eastern Pennsylvania, says the U.S. Green Building Council just hasn't got the word out in Pittsburgh. "There are 12 specific markets that LEED [for Homes] wanted to address in their pilot program, and Pittsburgh wasn't one of them," he says. Plus, Wisniewski says, Pittsburgh has been hard hit by the nationwide housing slump. It's not that people don't want to build LEED-certified homes, they don't want to build at all. Flora believes REGREEN - the USGBC and American Society of Interior Designer's Foundation remodeling guidelines - might find more popularity in Pittsburgh, as a viable way for homeowners to raise property values during the housing market downturn.

Patnode and Reynolds are looking into the LEED remodeling guidelines. Meanwhile, the couple plans to continue the work they started. "The next project is a passive solar garage and workshop," Reynolds says. "We have four projects in various states of progress. A work in progress is better than no work at all."


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