Washington, D.C. green building

Washington, D.C. green building

by Tristan Schmid

Realtor Amy Levin took her career into greener territory with a three-story 1880s row house in Washington, D.C.'s Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Her intention was to make the house eco-friendly and use it as a model home. "I wanted to show that you can build a green house that's not much more expensive than a standard one," says Levin, who fell in love with the home and moved into it last fall. The gut-rehabbed historic home is one of two D.C.-area LEED-registered houses, and it is expected to be the first single-family home in the area to claim the distinction of being LEED certified.

Ricardo Leon, owner of Leon Home Improvement Contractor, Inc., worked on much of the house and says getting into the habit of recycling was the most difficult aspect of the project. "On regular projects, all the trash goes in one container, but in this project everything had to go in different containers," he says.

Many of the home's green features, though, made work easy for the crew. "I had blue-jean insulation - which is good at damping sound - installed between some rooms and floors," Levin says. "The installers loved it because they didn't have to wear masks and gloves."

Other green features include forest-friendly wood: the existing pine hardwood floors were cleaned, the door trim and baseboards were naturally felled by a local company, and the doors are Forest Stewardship Council-certified. The home also conserves water with a solar water heater, low-flow fixtures, native landscaping and ECO Pavers, a driveway system that allows rainwater to permeate the soil rather than drain into the sewer system.

Levin chose LEED certification because of its prevalence and comprehensiveness. Though she didn't encounter many problems during the project, Asa Foss - who's certifying Levin's home on behalf of Southface Institute, a non-profit green building organization in Atlanta - says renovating a historic home to fit within LEED guidelines presents unique challenges. "When you're trying to do an energy-efficient home, the last thing you want to do is keep old single-pane windows," he says. "[But] there are often issues with that, either dealing with historic codes or trying to find new windows that look old." Levin installed new energy-efficient windows that closely resemble the originals yet count toward the home's LEED rating.

Although a historical green renovation might require specific applications, Foss says green building itself isn't necessarily expensive. "If you're building a tight home with non-harmful materials and finishes, you could do it with just a 3- to 5-percent premium," he says. "There are different shades of green, each with their own price tag."

Levin estimates she spent about 15 percent more than a similar home recently renovated nearby, but she believes the higher investment will pay off. "It's worth every penny," she says. "My old house was about the same size - 3,500 square feet - and the energy bills cost twice as much."


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