San Diego slow to adopt green building movement

San Diego slow to adopt green building movement

by Conor Lee

Unlike Los Angeles, San Francisco or Sacramento, residential green building is only starting to slowly gain ground in San Diego. In the wooded Albion Street area, architect and builder Kevin deFreitas has turned a drafty 1950s home into a 3,800-square-foot model of sustainability - featuring solar panels, radiant heating and sprayed-in insulation, to name just a few green amenities - that is expected to garner LEED gold certification.

And on Seventh Street in Del Mar, Laura Parker of Del Mar Restoration hopes to earn a LEED platinum rating with the rehab of a 2,700-square-foot home using materials like Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood and Kirei Board flooring.

"These homes are just healthier to live in," Parker says. And deFreitas, whose "Casa Futura" home was on display as part of the San Diego Historical Society's annual "Designer Showcase" last fall, told reporters his utility bills had been cut in half in just two months: "You can live in comfort and in a pleasing environment, use less energy and not considered an Earth Firster or Unabomber.

Nowhere do his words ring truer than in Black Mountain Ranch LLC's award-winning Del Sur development, 20 minutes north of the city. A planned community of 4,500 homes, Del Sur won a host of state and regional awards in 2007, ranging from the Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in the category of comprehensive land use planning to the Sustainable Community of the Year presented by the Building Industry Association of Southern California. Its many green features include pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods, open space preservation, wetlands restoration and construction waste recycling.

On top of that, the U.S. Green Building Council last summer recognized its information and sales center, the Ranch House, with a platinum LEED rating and called it the most environmentally progressive building in the county. "It's an important achievement, not just for us but for the whole city," said Fred Maas, Black Mountain's president and CEO.

With trellises and ceiling trusses made from an old pier in Portland, Ore., and floors made from a 19th-century barn, the Ranch House's lavish green features are second to none. But it's the building's energy savings that homeowners in the Del Sur community are swooning over, says marketing director Tamara Byrd Tatich. Many of them have chosen to incorporate its solar power and satellite irrigation systems into their homes and she says they're delighted with the $30 utility bills.

But LEED is still a tough sell - at Del Sur or in the rest of San Diego. It's not an option for New Green Housing Corp's Brian Duarte, who is building 10 affordable yet zero-net energy condos onon Brant Street. "It costs quite a bit more for LEED, so we're not looking for certification," he says.

To encourage homeowners, the San Diego chapter of the USGBC has announced it will waive LEED registration and certification feees for the area's 1,700 fire victims. "[This is] an opportunity for San Diego to move to a new level of energy efficiency and sustainability," says Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, applauding supporting the USGBC measure.

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