Click here to view the entire Fall 2011 Issue of Design & Build Magazine – Featuring the Green Home Tour

Easy Being Green

Green building can be affordable and can be done in bigger or smaller steps.
By Karin Connelly

Merilee Marshall appreciated the natural surroundings of her 6-acre property in South Russell. So in 1997, she decided to sublet her 90-year-old farmhouse and build an eco-friendly home on a portion of the land.

“I’ve always been interested in alternative energy, but it didn’t seem affordable,” she says. “But then I met with an architect and found some of the things with green building are more affordable [than I thought].”

That was the catalyst she needed to take the building leap. Marshall worked with architect David Krebs of AODK Inc. in Lakewood and Dave Payne of Payne & Payne Builders in Munson Township, among a variety of other companies in the industry, to create her eco-friendly dream house. The resulting structure is a prime example of how going green can be affordable.

“We didn’t want it to be an exercise in how much money we could spend,” explains Marshall. “It was just the opposite. We wanted to do things that made sense. So we focused on energy efficiency, the envelope of the house — insulation, windows, roofing and the foundation.”

The home uses geo-thermal heating, which allows for heated floors, and solar power for the electrical system. The floors and other woodwork are made from reclaimed wood from the property. “It’s a very comfortable house to live in,” she says. “Since it’s airtight it’s not drafty at all.”

Construction of the new green home followed the tenets of the Home Builders Association of Greater Cleveland’s Green Building Initiative (GBI), an offshoot of the former Northeast Ohio Green Building Initiative, a certification organization. The goals of GBI are to encourage green-building practices and better building within the local industry; to promote the builders who are on the forefront of green building; to be an educational resource for members; and to be a resource for consumers who are looking for green builders.

“We promote green-building science and the builders who embrace and demonstrate those principles,” says Mike Payne, vice president of operations with Payne & Payne and GBI chair.

The GBI encourages green building within the local industry by offering its members resources and education as it aims to support the industry in the latest and best practices. Going green can mean a lot of different things in the construction industry. From using Energy Star appliances, better insulation, better mechanical equipment for heating and cooling and high-efficiency windows, to lighting and plumbing fixtures that use less energy and water. These features help lower utility bills and provide a more comfortable house while conserving natural resources.

“Green building is really about building better homes and being environmentally conscious about building,” says Payne. “To understand what a truly green home is [buyers should] work with a builder who is certified and has education and experience building green homes. They pass that knowledge on to their clients. The more builders learn about it, the more the consumer is going to learn about it and want it in their homes.”

While people often associate green-building principles with higher costs, Payne points out some of those practices do not actually cost more. “You can have a very green home or use certain green techniques without incurring too much additional cost,” he says. “However, there are upgrades that a lot of times make sense, such as insulation — more and better quality — and an energy efficient furnace.”

Even better news is that the cost savings can make up for the up-front expense buyers pay quite quickly. “Between tax credits and lower utility bills, you can get a return on your investment in the first month,” says Payne. There are a lot of other benefits to those upgrades that make sense, he adds. Some can make the home more comfortable because they are quieter and require less maintenance.

Marshall’s goal was to use eco-friendly building practices, but not break the bank. “We didn’t want to pay a premium for green,” she says. “I’m paying as much per season [for utilities] as I was paying in a month in my other house. And I received tax credits for installing energy-efficient products.”

Part of the trick to keeping costs down is working with a certified green builder. The HBA wants to ensure its builders have that necessary education. “We want to keep spreading the green-building techniques throughout the industry, and it will make us all better builders,” says Chris Tsonton, president of the HBA and Pepperwood Signature Homes and Remodeling.

“We want our members to ask, ‘How can I make the house more energy efficient for my client?’ We want to use paint and carpeting that don’t give off gasses and use materials that are more sustainable so they’re not ripping out the countertops in five years and throwing them in a Dumpster.”

Other practices Tsonton promotes include using natural stone from local quarries, sustainable flooring and countertops, recycled carpeting, hybrid heating and cooling, solar water tanks and rain barrels to irrigate gardens. He also recommends enlisting the help of the HBA to find the right people for a green-building job. “The HBA has the most qualified set of green builders in the area,” says Tsonton.

Marshall agrees. “Having a good team like I have gives you confidence,” she says. “You can do something a little outside of the box. It’s not risky, it’s sort of a pioneering spirit.”