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VOL. 36 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 09, 2012

Awareness fuels demand for ‘green’ homes

By Hollie Deese

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Scott Wilson and Mark Fenelon were fighting the same battle in 2007 when they first met at an LEED certification conference.

Both were being penalized per square-footage for achieving LEED status on homes they built, and with Fenelon’s latest project coming in at more than 7,000 square feet, he had much to say.

“They were disqualifying people like us who wanted to get involved, but were having a hard time convincing our clients to do this,” says Fenelon, owner of Mossy Ridge Construction.

“Scott and I were arguing with the guy, and everyone else was looking at us, and I was like ‘I have to meet this guy,’” Fenelon says, recalling his first contact with Wilson, a Franklin-based architect. “I went and talked to him, and since then we have done three projects together.”

One Wilson-Fenelon project in particular is a home that started out a spec project and recently earned the pair two 2012 Master Design Awards presented by Qualified Remodeler. They increased the size of the 77-year old Craftsman style home on Oakland Avenue from 1,700 square feet to 3,000 square feet.

They wanted to obtain Green Certification for the home, which insures the new owners that the house uses less energy, requires less maintenance and has less impact on the environment than a conventionally constructed home might have.

Wilson and Fenelon renovated the home so that it features an open plan that includes access and views of the rear yard from the main living areas, as well as the master suite. The new staircase is located in a two-story glassed-in corner that lets natural light filter into the kitchen, upstairs bonus room and interior hall via interior windows.

Natural light is available to every space on the main level, including the master bedroom closet. The design features complement the construction materials and techniques, such as spray foam insulation, high efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, water-saving plumbing fixtures and low-VOC paint to achieve the certification for the home.

“When you do a speculative home you want to be creative but not give anyone any reason not to buy the home,” Wilson says. “The trick is to be creative to get people excited and inspired by it, get them enthusiastic about buying the home and living in it without doing something that is so far out there that people don’t understand it.”

The house sold before renovations were even complete.

More materials, more innovation

In 2007 when Fenelon – who constructed the first LEED certified home in Middle Tennessee – and Wilson were first getting to know each other, they were simply part of a burgeoning move to incorporate sustainable design in their work as part of best practices, if not for the environmental aspects and health reasons.

“I would say without a doubt more people ask for it because there is an awareness there,” says Marion Fowlkes of eco-minded Centric Architecture. “When developers in this town put up a new building, they know it needs to have lots of sustainable attributes in the building and design, otherwise they won’t lease it.”

It is helpful that sustainable materials like lumber and tile are much more available today than they were just a few years back, and at competitive prices. That makes it easy for builders to suggest to their clients, who might not care either way as long as it is the best.

“There is no reason to suggest a product that we know outgases and would not add to the health of the environment,” Fowlkes says. “And a lot of manufacturers at this point understand that. There is not a problem in finding good product out there now.”

Reuse and Recycle Site Debris

Reid Hinesley, director of business development for Solomon Builders, has made it his company’s goal to reuse and recycle as much of their site debris as possible, something that he has noticed getting easier over the years with more local recycling centers and dumpsters that separate the debris.

“Of course each site has their own nuances to it, and every project is a little different, but our goal is to revert 85 percent to the recycling facility, and we have some good folks in town that will shred and crush and reuse and recycle to keep as much material from the landfill as possible,” he says. “Even if the project isn’t designed to be LEED certified, then we are still doing a small part of something we know is helping the environment, to divert as much from landfills as possible.”

Hinesley recycles everything from the metal studs to the gypsum in drywall, using the latter as ground fertilizers on site. He can even pallet up old ceiling tiles for his distributor to pick up and recycle when new material is dropped off. The fact he may be buying those tiles back six months later for another project couldn’t make him happier.

“It is a big circle, and we are definitely moving in the right direction,” he says. “Step back 10 years or even five or six years ago, and it was so common that everything went to the dumpsters and the landfill. There wasn’t much thought put into diverting things from landfills, and the opportunities to recycle in the past were a lot more work than people thought it was worth. It was a good idea but not followed through on much. Today we just make sure we follow through on it.”

Renovating Historic

Of course, recycling materials is common practice on sustainable historic renovations. In fact, it is almost impossible not to try and preserve as much of the home as possible when dealing with a historic overlays. Wilson and Fenelon have won awards for historic renovation and energy retrofits, but it’s still not easy.

“Making an older building green can be as simple or complex as you want it to be,” Wilson says.

“This was fairly complex in that we had a lot of tearing out to do, and because of that, it gave us a much better opportunity to make it green. It is all about getting educated about what your options are and making some decisions.”

Centric Architecture recently renovated trolley barns for their offices and others in Rolling Mill Hill, and has been racking up certifications for the six historic buildings along the way, achieving LEED status on the four that are complete. Two are still in progress.

“This is a good example of historic preservation, creative reuse and sustainable design, all while incorporating it into our city center,” says Gina Emmanuel, also with Centric. “It has been a really fun project for us.”

Preservation is key, and within an historic overlay there are many rules to follow to preserve the integrity of the area. There were limits in what they could do. Instead, they embraced the elements that existed that can’t be found in new construction today, like thick brick exterior walls.

“You would not find a building built like this today,” Fowlkes says.

Good Design, Green Architecture

Wilson has been using sustainable building practices since he got out of college in the ’80s during an energy crisis, and never really considered himself on trend. Rather, he has always pulled from history to get to the most earth-friendly options.

“At the time we called it indigenous architecture,” he says. “I have never really hung my shingle out as a green architect. I have just always tried to design a smart building that responds to its environment. And we now have a term for it - green building.

“The point is that good design responds to the environment, and what we are now calling green architecture really starts with good design. We can add the technology we have now to make things even better, but there are certainly a lot of lessons from history to build the foundation of what we call green building,” he adds.

Think about steep roofs and stilted homes in Louisiana or the rise of the straw-bale insulated home. Wilson preserves surrounding trees as part of the process of making the structure a Certified Green building.

“The outdoor space centers on the new deck built around existing trees to preserve them, and the shade they provide to both outdoor spaces and inside spaces,” he says.

“Pretty much every region has its own architectural style with the same rationale: how does the building respond to its environment so its inhabitants can be comfortable in it? If we look back to a lot of those regional buildings, we will find the clues of how to build green. I have always had a lot of respect for classic principles.”

As much growth as there has been over the past few years, many are excited about what is coming down the pike, at least in terms of the acceptance of sustainability as a best practice.

“If we were to have this conversation five years from now, it would be great if this was standard practice for every building going up in the city that this is what we do,” Fowlkes says. “Forget LEED, forget sustainability. This is the standard that we will accept in our building code.

“It is all evolving and communities and governments finally understand that this is the right way to do it, especially when our buildings use 40 percent of all energy,” he says. “There is a program right now called the 2030 initiative, and if we were all to follow these guidelines we would be energy neutral and by 2030 all the buildings are consuming energy and producing it.”

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