Richmond green building a slow-growing trend
by Jackie Browning
If you live in the Richmond area, it's likely the talk in the neighborhood isn't about the new "green" house you're building. While LEED-built homes and sustainable construction spread like wildfire across many parts of the country, most area residents remain indifferent to the trend.
"You don't see many LEED residences yet in Virginia because the program is still trying to adjust itself to the residential design," says K.C. McGurren, operations director for EarthCraft Virginia, an organization that has been providing special designation for healthy, environment friendly homes since 1999. "We're stressing to [builders] 'try one thing, one step at a time, and each house will become more energy efficient and sustainable.'"
EarthCraft Virginia works in conjunction with Atlanta-based Southface Energy Institute, acting as a third-party certifier for LEED projects across the state. While the LEED for Homes program currently has two homes certified and 11 projects in the works, EarthCraft can claim 40 certified residences statewide and 300 projected for 2008. "[EarthCraft is] just a bit more field-tested and very builder-friendly," McGurren says. "But I think both programs are great avenues for green building."
While at least one commercial property in the Richmond area — the CarMax corporate headquarters — has already met LEED certification, the nearest residental project is in Crozet, a town outside of Charlottesville, 85 miles away. Doug Lowe, president of Artisan Construction, Inc., owns and built the 5,500-square-foot New England-style house. "When I applied for the building permit, the USGBC had just announced the LEED for Homes pilot program," he says. "I wanted to do things as an example for my customers and to show them how [building green] could be done."
Completed as LEED certified in the spring of 2006 and valued around $800,000, the home serves as the primary residence for Lowe, his wife, Megan, and five children. Even with such a large brood, the home's green amenities are able to handle the family with ease. Lowe installed a rainwater harvesting system which collects, stores, and filters 100 percent of the home's potable water. The system collects nearly 67,000 gallons of water from the roof each year and runs it through several filters before delivering it as tap water that's of better quality than the backup well water. "I've got a busy household with laundry running all the time," Lowe says.
Other green attributes include a metal roof, reclaimed heart pine floors, Energy Star appliances and insulated concrete form walls. A self-proclaimed "green building fanatic," Lowe says he's fortunate to be able to combine his passion for the environment with the business of building. "Every choice we make [at Artisan Construction] is filtered through a pair of environmental glasses," he says.
Lowe offers this advice for anyone considering building green: "Start with being thoughtful, then develop a strategy. For very little cost, you can make the house 30 to 50 percent more energy efficient by upgrading the insulation and HVAC system. Tell your builder [green materials are] what you want. It's out there."