It All Depends on What you Consider Green

Pulled from the comments

It all comes down to what someone thinks green means. I guess I have a more stringent idea than the normal Belvedere resident. A house doesn’t get close in my opinion without a grey water system, PV system, and passive solar orientation, to name a few big characteristics.

Have any Belvedere houses been oriented for passive solar efficiencies with proper overhangs and the optimal ratio of glazing on each side of the house? That would be a big start in my very non-professional opinion. Also, are any houses using geothermal heating and cooling systems?

Building houses that consume MUCH less energy and water than the status quo is my definition of green.

My thinking is this –

At the moment, Belvedere offers (along with some of the other Earthcraft offerings in the area) the best combination of the following – more energy efficient homes, relatively feasible price points, integrated with an environmentally conscious, sustainable philosophy and concepts (pedestrian-friendly, eventually mixed-use, organic garden, soccer facilities). The neighborhood is a LEED-ND development. That counts for something, no?

Simply put, it does not yet seem to be economically viable – from a production-to-scale point of view – to build a house with all green aspects, and frankly, I don’t think that the builders are “there” yet (perhaps they should read Builder’s Greywater Guide: Installation of Greywater Systems in New Construction & Remodeling; A Supplement to the Book “Create an Oasis With Greywater”).
Is it greenwashing? I don’t think so. It’s an attempt to bring green building and lifestyle to more people.

If Virginia were to offer rebates for homeowners producing solar power combined with the projection that PV costs may decrease by 40% in a few years, we may be onto something that builders would gladly spend money to educate themselves and sell products to the consumers.

The passive solar orientation question was raised last year in a discussion on this blog, and Chris Schooley from Stonehaus responded:

Solar orientation is certainly one of the most important elements to any sustainable building. The problem is that in a New Urbanist layout, a preferable layout to achieve single-family home density in an infill condition…does not lend itself to solar orientation on a house by house basis because of narrow lot dimensions. We will require our builders on corner lots to address the south facing facades but not on interior lots where homes will only be 9ft apart.

On our public buildings, the office buildings have been redesigned by NYC/DC architect Mancini Duffy to be narrow and to achieve optimum solar orientation. We have also hired nationally renowned (and local) green architects Hays+Ewing to design our Town Hall.

I see what the production builders in Charlottesville are trying to do with “green” as a balancing act of capitalizing on the green trend by integrating simple changes (low-VOC paint, recycled carpet, rain barrels, tighter building envelopes, sealed crawl spaces, higher-efficiency HVAC systems) with making a profit, producing a quality product and doing something good in/for the community. It’s not perfect, but it is better than almost any other development in the region. Sure they could build with geothermal, reclaimed wood, green roofs, grey water, PV systems, etc. but it’s a deliberate step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see what the next steps look like.

For a green builder taking it to the level you describe, check out Artisan Construction who incorporate what you’re talking about.

Is the “preservation development” Bundoran Farm more in line with your idea of green?

Once finished, Bundoran Farm ” which is roughly a third the size of Charlottesville ” will appear much as it does today. An estimated 90 percent of the property will remain untouched by residential development. Trees or terrain will obscure many of Bundoran’s houses to preserve the property’s scenery.

The project was the brainchild of Robert Baldwin, founder and CEO of the New Hampshire-based Qroe Companies. In the 1970s, Baldwin came up with the idea of preservation development, which allows a limited amount of residential development while preserving the vast majority of a property’s scenic beauty.

Along with its ideals of preservation and conservation, the development also aims to be environmentally friendly – a key selling point in an era of global climate change and rising energy prices. All houses that are built as part of Bundoran Farm must attain a minimum of the Earthcraft certification, a measure of a homes energy efficiency.

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  1. Andy K August 14, 2008 at 21:10

    It seems like Belvedere is being sold as a lifestyle. Residents are still going to drive to work, drive to school, drive to the gym, drive to the supermarket, drive to the mall. As far as environmental stewardship, I think it is a stretch given the slim to modest energy efficiencies of the houses. If the density doesn’t even allow passive solar, I’m not sure environmental stewardship should be associated with this neighborhood.

    As you say, government backing of PV and other green technologies is essential for incorporation into the mainstream.

    I agree that this is a good, albeit modest, starting point and the community and builders need to start somewhere, but real green technology exists and it should not be ignored.

    I thank you for the forum to discuss these issues. I look forward to observing the future green building developments. I want to see the bar raised higher and I know the area building professionals are capable of doing something special.
    In response to your question, I like the preservation development of Bundoran Farm; however, I don’t have good understanding about how stringent they are on inclusion of green technology in the house designs. The lower density should at least allow passive solar orientation.

  2. Waldo Jaquith August 14, 2008 at 22:17

    Wow, no passive solar? That’s Green 101. It costs nothing, and the benefits are enormous.


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