The inside track on going green

To show how New Orleans homes can be safer, smarter and more energy efficient, a Mid-City-based nonprofit starts with a house that looks torn apart.

It is the model house, left partially un-built, within the Art Egg studios off South Broad Street that the new BuildSmart Learning Center calls home. From open walls to an easy view into a portion of the attic, to the kitchen countertops, floors and baths, this peculiar model home is designed to show both the traditional and new systems that can save residents money, make their homes more durable and reduce their household impact on the environment.

“Our goal is to put a local face on everything that’s green,” says Austin Alward, director of the BuildSmart Learning Center. “The green movement is getting to everyone, but not everyone knows how to start or where to get information. This is a chance to touch and see many of these systems in a way that makes sense for the local conditions.”     The showcase house is the hands-on focal point for an array of resources at the new BuildSmart center aimed squarely at helping New Orleans people plug in to energy-efficient and environmentally sound practices. The center is a project of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that advocates for the interests of utility ratepayers, and it also features workshops, a reference library and access to a network of professionals and suppliers working in the area.

Rather than just showcase the latest products and trends, the BuildSmart center helps translate green building ideas for the local market. For instance, demonstrations illustrate how to get the greatest efficiency from traditional New Orleans building types and what kinds of enhancements make sense for local structures.

To be featured in the BuildSmart center, a product or system must be locally available and, when possible, reasonably affordable. In addition to showing how systems work, the center includes information on which retailers and service providers handle the featured materials and items locally. Homeowners, renters and building professionals all drop in during open hours to see behind-the-scenes examples of energy-savvy systems in action.

“We’re not a sales point, but we want to be a destination where people come back at each stage of their project,” says Alward.

The center is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information about the center and its programs and schedule updates, visit www.neworleansbuildsmart.org

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