Tucson builder goes a step further in green building

Tucson builder goes a step further in green building

by Amy Mastin

As a home builder, Tim Polito always includes elements of sustainable construction in his projects, but he wanted a house in the Picture Rocks area of Tucson - the third one he has custom built - to be greener.

Polito succeeded. The president of Gipson Cowin Homes now has the first LEED-certified home in southern Arizona. The 2,850-square-foot home on an acre lot near Saguaro National Park earned a silver rating in February, making it unique among the 8,400 homes for sale in the Tucson area.

The asking price is $440,000, which is reasonable for a green home, says Susan Cornelius of Dream Weaver Realty in Marana, who's listing the house. "Green homes are the up-and-coming thing," she says. "People are concerned about the rising cost of energy."

The four-bedroom, three-bath home earned LEED points with progressive building techniques requiring less lumber and producing less waste. Construction crews were eager to recycle once they saw how easily it was done on site with separate dumpsters for wood, cardboard and metal. "It's not difficult getting people to change their mind-set," Polito says. "After recycling most of our construction waste, there's no way we can go back to throwing so much in the landfill."

The home has many energy-saving features, including front and rear porches to prevent direct sunlight during morning and evening summer sun; Icynene spray foam insulation; a high-efficiency heat pump with fresh air intake and a whole-house exhaust system; tinted, dual-pane windows; and a solar heated hot water system which circulates only on demand. Low-flow water fixtures conserve water, and a graywater system takes water from showers and drains and channels it to vegetation at the edge of the property. Roof drainage gutters are also used to water the landscape.

Polito accumulated LEED points by using recycled and natural materials, too. The carpet is made of recycled bottles and corn, and he purchased countertops made of natural, polished river rock from Santa Regina in Texas. For better indoor air quality, a cupola circulates natural, fresh air and the three-car garage is completely sealed off from the house with a carbon monoxide detector in the kitchen.

Polito estimates the price tag associated with LEED certification at about $3,500 and the cost of "greening" at $40,000. He went out of his way to save money, though. When his electrical contractor said compact fluorescent light bulbs would cost $14 each, he went to Home Depot himself and bought them for $3 each.

"It all makes so much sense," Polito says of green building and LEED in particular. "There are so many benefits. One is the utility bills. They're so low it's amazing - about $140 a month."

"[Polito] totally embraced the LEED process," says provider Richard Zimmerman of Sonoran LEED for Homes LLC, which certified the home. "People recognize the strength of U.S. Green Building Council's LEED brand. And now, Tucson recognizes this."

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