On Earth Day, a local push for green building

On Earth Day, a local push for green building

Posted: Wednesday, April 22, 2009
By Lee Shearer

Architectural designer Lori Bork describes the Hotel Indigo under construction north of downtown as a “gold star” for Athens because of the principles of sustainability, efficiency and other “green” features incorporated in the building.

J.M. Wilkerson Construction and Rialto Property Partners hope to win a designation called “LEED gold” for the hotel – a hard-to get accolade awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council based on a scoring system that gives points for features like energy conservation, buying locally and using healthy materials.

The council developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system to rate buildings that use sustainable building methods.

More and more buildings that meet LEED standards are sprouting up in Athens as citizens observe Earth Day today.

The University of Georgia has been going green for several years; new buildings have cisterns to gather rainwater or condensed water for reuse, and high-efficiency cooling and heating systems. UGA planners also are buying more locally, to cut down the distances materials have to be hauled, said Campus Architect Danny Sniff.

Not far from Hotel Indigo, Athens’ Armentrout Roebuck Matheny Consulting Group is working for the Athens-Clarke government to remodel the Athens First Bank & Trust building into a customer service building for the county public utilities department.

The service center will meet LEED standards and be about 8 percent more energy efficient than a standard office building, said architect James Blythe of Armentrout Roebuck Matheny.

Such energy efficiencies and other aspects of building green will become routine in Athens, where the county government will apply LEED standards to all new buildings in the future – and more big builders will follow suit, Blythe said.

“What we call LEED now is going to be in 10 years standard practice,” he said.

Groups that set standards for buildings, like the American Institute of Engineers, are beginning to incorporate green features like energy efficiency into their standards, he said.

Bork believes big institutional construction is leading the way, but home building in Athens is lagging. Still, a growing number of builders and real estate groups are pushing green techniques, such as J.W. York Homes, Full Circle Real Estate Group and Red Clay Natural Builders.

“I think we probably have a long way to go. It’s a process of changing the way you do things,” agreed Tony Purcell, owner of Complete Resources Building and Repair.

But building green will get easier and less expensive, Purcell said.

Although building green often is more expensive, it saves money in the long run – houses last longer and use less energy, he said.

And as more people demand green products, the price will come down, Purcell said.

Sniff has seen prices fall for green products and systems – building materials with recycled contents, paints that don’t give off harmful fumes, and high-efficiency heating and cooling systems.

A few years ago, green products might cost 15 percent more than normal products; today, the difference is closer to 1 percent or 2 percent, he said.

“We’re seeing the very, very beginning of green building. It’s probably lagging behind other parts of the country, but it’s starting,” Bork said.

Education will drive the changes as much as lowered costs for green products and systems, she said.

“Typically, with green building, there are some up-front costs, but some things you can do for almost no cost, like positioning the house for maximum natural lighting,” Bork said.

Such simple steps once were a routine feature of construction, but in modern times of cheap energy, those easy efficiencies have been forgotten, she said.

“Houses have gotten dumber instead of smarter over time,” Bork said.

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