As Costs Decline And Efficiencies Increase, Environmentally Friendly…

2 03 2007

,,

This story was given to us by Nelly Rabinowitz who is a great friend and source of invaluable information to Urban Core International.
The house is just plain amazing!! We’d give you the address, but she might not be ok with that 🙂
At a minimum, Nelly should be an inspiration and model for other individuals and families looking to sustainability.
We’ll get some pics soon, we promise!

As Costs Decline And Efficiencies Increase, Environmentally Friendly
Housing Goes Mainstream
By STEVE GRANT
Courant Staff Writer

When Peter and Nellie Rabinowitz of Bethany decided several years ago that
they wanted an environmentally sensitive home, they had a hard time
finding somebody to build one.

Builders said, “We’ve heard of that, but nobody does it around here.
Everybody wants a big house with as many square feet as possible, and they
don’t care about sustainable or energy efficient or anything like that,”
said Peter Rabinowitz.

Things have changed. Green buildings – energy-sipping and Earth-friendly –
are increasingly appealing. And they don’t have to be goofy looking.

“When a house is green but looks like other houses in the neighborhood –
and can be replicated by large-scale building companies – then we know
green is mainstream. We’re seeing that happen right now,” said David
Pressly, a home builder in Statesville, N.C., and past president of the
National Association of Home Builders.

Higher energy prices are helping drive the new green construction, which
invariably emphasizes energy conservation and reduces fuel and utility
bills. At the same time, a flood of new green construction technologies
and materials has reached the market, everything from cupboards made of
recycled wheat chaff to sophisticated, compact, high-efficiency furnaces.
Even the number of architects and builders who will design or construct a
green home is growing.

Green residential buildings remain a sliver of the residential
construction pie, to be sure, but when low-income housing goes green, as
is happening in Hartford and Bridgeport, that is a signal. Because if
there was a criticism of green residential construction, it was the cost.

But the premium for green construction can be comparatively small, and
often offset by lower operating costs. Some elements of green
construction, in fact, are so competitive that in both Hartford and
Bridgeport, low-income green housing projects – where every dollar is
critical – are under way. Some green building features don’t even carry an
extra cost, such as positioning windows to take advantage of natural
light.

The Rabinowitz home, designed by architect Donald Watson of Trumbull and
custom-built by Building Performance Construction Co. of Trumbull, is a
more expensive home on a big country lot. It serves, nonetheless, as an
example of the kind of green residence that many middle-income Connecticut
families could afford.

It is a New England farmhouse contemporary and totals more than 4,000
square feet, if you include the attic, basement and an above-garage annex,
all finished into usable living space for the family. But competitive bids
to build the basic house, about 2,500 square feet, came in at $130 a
square foot. Even with the added cost of land, that figure for the core
house remains solidly within the range of many middle-income Connecticut
families.

The bid cost was several years ago, Watson said, and was “within the range
of 5 percent of conventional construction costs.” But the home’s operating
costs will be significantly lower than a conventional home, and many
features will require minimal maintenance, including such features as
factory-painted, cement-fiber siding.

“The argument is, you’re getting your money back through energy efficiency
and lower house maintenance costs,” Watson said. Just as with
energy-saving appliances, the initial cost may be higher, but lower
operating costs can make the overall cost less expensive over a period of
years.

Virtually every feature, every material used in the Rabinowitz home is
green, relying wherever possible on materials or systems that are
harvested or manufactured in an eco-friendly way, do not pollute and
conserve energy. Floors are bamboo. Fiber cement clapboard siding comes
with a finish that reduces the need for on-site painting and maintenance.
The house is highly insulated and requires only a small and highly
efficient boiler. An automatic ventilation system brings in fresh air. It
has solar panels to heat hot water and soon will have photovoltaic panels
to produce electricity.

Paints and trim give off no volatile organic compounds, which minimizes
airborne pollution. The house even has a root cellar off the basement; an
old-fashioned idea that still works, taking advantage of a place where
temperatures are cool and vary little over the year. There, many foods can
be safely stored without mechanical refrigeration.

The couple – he is an associate professor at Yale School of Medicine; she
is a physician’s assistant – estimate their electricity and fuel costs
already are about half what they were in their previous home in Westport,
which they described as a gas-guzzler.

Nellie Rabinowitz said their experience has been an indication of the
rapid advances in green construction. New products kept coming on the
market, often giving them unexpected choices in material or furnishings.

“Every month there were new options,” she said.

“More builders know something about it and are willing to try it and work
with it,” said Peter Rabinowitz, whose research includes the exposure of
humans to pollutants at home and work. “And there are more suppliers. It’s
all becoming a lot easier since we started.”

Still, residential green construction amounts to a last frontier because
green construction already has a stronger presence in commercial and
institutional projects. But now, even residential green construction is
catching on.

“It is definitely starting to get traction out there in the marketplace,”
said Adam Ney, president of AuctorVerno, a company with offices in Bethany
and Bloomfield that promotes green construction. In Connecticut, green
construction is most common among expensive homes and lower-income
projects, though Ney said there are signs mid-priced homes are
incorporating some green features, such as energy-efficient appliances, as
a way to attract buyers in a cool housing market.

“More and more developers are starting to embrace sustainable as a way to
market to a growing buy-green marketplace,” Ney said.

Habitat for Humanity

In the North End of Hartford, in a neighborhood with more than its share
of bumps and bruises, is a modest but very green building that
demonstrates that a green residence does not have to be expensive.

Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity has just completed a duplex residence
that is both affordable and green. The units have about 1,250 square feet
each, have been appraised at $117,600 and are being sold for $88,000 to
families with incomes below 50 percent of the area’s average median
income.

“That house is probably one of the greenest houses in Hartford County, if
not the state,” Ney said.

The houses are on Risley Street, on a former factory parking lot in a
neighborhood where Habitat for Humanity is building 33 homes. With the
exception of solar panels on the roof and front-loading, water-conserving
clothes washers in the basements, funded by United Technologies Corp., the
organization says the green features of the duplex can now be replicated
on the additional homes it will be building.

“It’s been great for us to do something like this because it shows you can
build green affordably,” said Julie M. Donahue, Hartford Area Habitat for
Humanity executive director.

To reduce air pollutants, there is no wall-to-wall carpeting; the owners
can use area rugs where needed. Using 2-by-6 studs spaced every 24 inches,
instead of 2-by-4s every 16 inches, wood use was cut 30 percent. That was
possible because Habitat used engineered lumber, which incorporates
recycled wood and is stronger than conventional lumber. The 2-by-6s then
allowed the use of thicker wall insulation, which will keep monthly energy
costs down.

Toilets incorporate the latest low-flow technology. Rainwater will be
gathered and available to wash cars and water plants. Appliances are
highly energy efficient. Even copper piping is eliminated, Donahue said,
because copper is often mined in developing countries with little regard
for the environment – and because in some earlier Habitat for Humanity
homes, valuable copper pipes were stolen before construction was
completed.

The project included technical training so the organization can replicate
the green features in other houses in the complex. “You don’t want to
build a house like this and then walk away and go back to building the way
you always built,” Donahue said. “You want to be able to learn enough
through the process that you can continue building this way.”

There is enormous potential for energy savings from buildings, according
to the American Institute of Architects, which estimates that buildings
consume about 76 percent of all electricity generated by U.S. power plants
and account for nearly 48 percent of the greenhouse gases thought to
contribute to global warming. The institute is calling for strict new
energy standards for new buildings and major building renovations.

Bridgeport Neighborhood Trust

In Bridgeport, a Bridgeport Neighborhood Trust project similar to the
Habitat for Humanity project will create two duplex buildings with homes
of 1,000 to 1,200 square feet, with, among other green features, highly
insulated foundations and walls that will significantly reduce heating and
cooling costs. Work is scheduled to begin this spring, and the idea is to
use them as models for new duplex homes on other lots in the city.

A key goal is to keep operating costs of these homes far lower than in
conventional housing, as one way to make them more affordable over the
years for their low-income owners. The idea is to create “an affordable,
versatile home that can be replicated across the city,” said Michael
Taylor, project manager for the design of the new buildings and president
of Vita Nuova of Newtown, a company that promotes sustainable development.

“It is a sustainability issue for these neighborhoods; they can use the
funds they would have used on utilities to keep the house up,” he said.
Fannie Mae, the private company that helps low-, moderate- and
middle-income families purchase homes, provided a $21,000 grant to develop
the green housing prototypes.

“We hope that when we are done, anybody can build them,” Taylor said. The
plans eventually will be available to the public at no cost.

Contact Steve Grant at sgrant@courant.com
Copyright 2007, Hartford Courant

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2 responses

6 05 2007
Tom Dunnock

Found this article in looking for information about root cellars. Is the root cellar mentioned in this article accessible from the inside?

I’m in the process of having a modular home built and would like to incorporate a root cellar that was accessible from the inside. My builder is advising against because of the possibility of allowing rodents and insects entry into the house.

Is there anyway you could put me in touch with the builder or designer of the house mentioned in this article so that I can determine whether or not what I want to do is feasible?

Thank you very much,

Tom Dunnock
Seven Valleys, Pa.

8 05 2007
Urban Core

Tom,
I will talk to Nelly and pass along your information.
Good luck with your project.. If you ever need anything, just let us know!

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