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					                                                           Green Homes Catch On,
                                                           But Big Cost Savings Are Tough to Achieve
                                                          A Basement Insulated With Old Blue Jeans

                                                          By ANNELENA LOBB
A green home in Florida by WCI Communities, the
developer building the Claybaker/Klingsic residence.      November 19, 2005

When retired couple Judith Klingsic                    floors -- a biodegradable product           But does that premium actually pay
and Richard Claybaker decided they                     made from linseed oil; and a porous        itself back in the form of lower energy
wanted to escape the harsh Wisconsin                   driveway, which allows rain to seep        and water bills? Proponents say that
climate, they hoped to find a property                  into the ground, instead of running        green features pay for themselves
in Florida that contained some of                      into gutters and sewers, where it can      over the long term. They also cite the
the same environmentally friendly                      tax water-treatment systems.               benefits of having a healthier home
features as their current River Falls,                                                            and the satisfaction of protecting
Wis., home. Ms. Klingsic, a former                     The four-bedroom home will cost            natural resources. Skeptics contend
educational psychology professor, and                  about $800,000. The couple began           that upfront costs for green features are
Mr. Claybaker, a retired clergyman,                    with a base price of $491,900, but         out of reach for most people.
bought a home from a developer                         incorporating green features and other
building a community of homes in                       design elements drove up the price.        It can take decades for a homeowner to
Florida that emphasized sustainable                    The most-expensive element was the         recoup an investment in solar panels,
construction and other ecologically                    double-pane windows, Ms. Klingsic          which cost anywhere between $10,000
oriented features.                                     says, which cost around $50,000.           to $30,000 to install. Tax credits and
                                                                                                  rebates offered in several dozen states
Ms. Klingsic and Mr. Claybaker are part                About 61,000 U.S. homes were built in      can lower the cost by 20% to 50%.
of a growing population of homebuyers                  compliance with local green-building
and homeowners who are adopting green                  standards from 1990 to 2004, 14,000        Beginning in January, the federal
building and design methods. Once                      of those in 2004 alone, according to the   government will offer a tax credit
confined to a small number of people                    National Association of Home Builders.     with the purchase of solar panels of
willing to go to great lengths to install              Dozens of groups, from the city of         up to 30% of the system’s cost, to a
costly features such as solar-power                    Portland, Ore., to utility companies       maximum of $2,000.
systems, the green-home movement has                   in Austin, Texas, and Tucson, Ariz.,
grown substantially in recent years. And               publish guidelines, and the U.S. Green     Most states already offer incentives
unlike the designs of a decade or two                  Building Council, an advocacy group, is    for renewable energy devices. Utah,
ago, the exteriors of contemporary green               working with builders in some areas of     for example, will give a tax credit of
homes often are indistinguishable from                 the U.S. to test new national standards.   25% of the cost for solar, hydroelectric
their traditional counterparts.                        The guidelines typically emphasize         or wind-power systems which provide
                                                       water conservation, reduced energy         electricity, up to a maximum of $2,000.
“If you did a drive-by of our Florida                  reliance and the use of local, durable     Aspen, Colo., offers a one-time rebate
home, you wouldn’t be able to tell that it             building materials.                        of $2 per watt for solar panels, up to
was built green,” says Ms. Klingsic. “It                                                          $6,000, and up to $2,000 for installing
won’t have any obvious green features.”                Eva Otto, a real-estate agent              a solar hot-water heater. A state-by-
                                                       and developer at GreenWorks                state list of green-energy incentives
The couple hopes to move in next                       Realty in Seattle, a firm that spe-         is available on a Web site provided
spring. Their new home in the                          cializes in green homes, estimates         by the Interstate Renewable Energy
southwest Florida community of Venice                  that building a home with top-of-the-      Council       (http://www.dsireusa.org).
includes highly insulated concrete                     line features such as solar-powered        Homeowners who qualify for federal
walls and double-panel windows to                      electricity or advanced moisture-          and state tax credits on solar panels
minimize the effect of the region’s                    control systems can cost 15% or more       can receive both, but some states will
searing sun and humidity; floors made                   than a comparable traditional property.    reduce their benefits for taxpayers
of bamboo, a wood championed by                        Typically, builders will spend an          receiving the federal credit.
environmentalists because bamboo                       additional 5% to 10% to include an
plants regrow quickly; “marmoleum”                     assortment of green features.              Jack Czajkowski and his wife, Claire
                                           have sprouted up on residential buildings.    Interface Carpets makes a nontoxic
                                           In addition to soaking up excess rainwater,   residential carpet from recycled plastic
                                           green roofs reduce building temperatures      bottles that comes in adhesive squares
                                           and the need for artificial cooling. A         of different colors that can easily be
                                           green roof costs, on average, between $9      laid down in a solid color or patterns.
                                           and $20 per square foot, depending on the     Reclaimed wood from demolition
                                           project’s complexity.                         and salvage projects has been made
                                                                                         into everything from countertops to
                                           Another strategy is to design buildings       furniture, available from vendors such
                                           that leak very little hot or cool air --      as the Wooden Duck in Berkeley, Calif.
                                           creating what New York City architect         Teragren LLC, Bainbridge Island,
                                           Chris Benedict calls “a tight envelope.”      Wash., supplies bamboo floors, stair
Carlson, of Hadley, Mass., installed a     Ms. Benedict and engineer Henry               parts and cabinet paneling.
2.6-kilowatt solar-energy system for       Gifford are designing a rental building
$26,000 in 2003 in their 3,200 sq. ft.     with 22 units in Manhattan’s East Village     Some green-home advocates say that
home. Assuming constant electricity        that they hope will be close to air-tight,    while replacing rugs and appliances
costs, it would take about 40 years to     which they estimate will lower annual         might make a homeowner feel good, the
recoup the cost of the system, which       heating costs by about 60%.                   impact on the environment is small. “It’s
generates 75% of the home’s electricity.                                                 stickier if it’s a repair or an adjustment
                                           To help seal the building, Ms. Benedict       -- does a green bathroom or kitchen
“I think electricity costs will spiral     used a spray-on insulation made from
upward, however, and we’re factoring                                                     make a substantive contribution?”
                                           soil. Green insulation products come          asks Jay Hall, a consultant to the U.S.
in for that,” Mr. Czajkowski said.         many varieties, however: Mr. Czajowski’s      Green Building Council.
                                           basement has insulation made from
Small-Scale Change                         recycled blue jeans. “I don’t know whose      But others contend that every green
While some homebuyers are electing         blue jeans they are,” he says. “But we        choice counts. “Green remodeling is
to build a green-design house from         didn’t want fiberglass strands falling all     good -- it’s the low-hanging fruit,” says
the ground up, far more make small-        over the place.”                              Ms. Otto, the Seattle realtor. “If you’re
to moderate improvements to their                                                        going to stain the floors, use a stain that
existing properties, from replacing        Rainwater-harvesting systems, which           has no volatile organic compounds.
windows with a more-insulating             collect water for use in irrigation or        Put weather strips on your door, or
variety, to trading synthetic materials    even to be purified and used as potable        insulate the pipes. We’re definitely into
for plant-based ones in carpets, floors     water, are another way to improve a           whole-systems thinking, but if people
and other surfaces to adopting efficient    home’s water efficiency. In the Seattle        can only do one thing, at least they’re
plumbing technology.                       area, builder Martha Rose has installed       doing that. The aggregate is great.”
                                           a 3,000-gallon rain cistern made of
Some consumers are installing more         western red cedar, a local wood, in each
efficient oil- and gas-fired boilers.        of her new single-family homes. Mr.
(Efficiency is measured in units of         Williams, the Houston-area architect,
usable energy extracted from fuel.)        designs homes that store rainwater in
Minimum-efficiency gas boilers              metal or fiberglass tanks.
run at 80%, while newer models
operate at about 93%, according to         Want to go green without ripping
environmental-consulting firm Steven        out the pipes? Consumers can find
Winter Associates. A household with a      myriad home items, including off-
yearly gas bill of $1,000 and an 80%-      the-shelf energy-efficient appliances,
efficient boiler that replaced it with a    carpets made of natural and recycled
90%-efficient model would see its bill      materials and an assortment of compact
fall by $130 a year. An efficient boiler    fluorescent lights. Many people who
might cost between $2,000 and $4,000;      tear out a major appliance will replace
at these rates, it would take about 15     it with an EnergyStar version, says
years to save $2,000.                      Mr. Winter, the building consultant.
                                           Sherwin Williams and other major
In Houston, architect LaVerne Williams     manufacturers now make indoor paints
advocates using green rooftops on          low in volatile organic compounds. And
buildings -- mainly flat surfaces planted   any number of quick, inexpensive, such
with diverse flora -- to absorb excessive   as replacing an older shower head with
runoff from rain. So far, green roofs      a low-flow model, make contributions.
are found mostly in urban areas and        (See a list of energy-efficient home
on commercial buildings, though some       upgrades here.)

				
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