Ask a convert to sustainable living what motivates them, and theanswer can range from the pragmatic—lower utility bills, for example—tothe environmental, ethical and even spiritual aspects of eco-friendlypractices. Or it can be something simple and personal.
Paintings by Allison Stewart act as a decorative barrier, while apainting of buffaloes by Campbell Hutchinson is on a far wall. Thefloor made of cork from Ifloors.
“My wife became pregnant after Hurricane Katrina, and I wanted herto come home to a healthy house,” says architect Daniel Weiner. Thatmeant making some choices up front about how to renovate the couple’sflooded Lakeview home:
interior paint that contained novolatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which emit dangerous fumes;fireproof, formaldehyde-free cellulose insulation made from recycledmaterials; and a radiant barrier for the attic to deflect the heat ofthe sun.
“I kind of look at everything as balancing healthydecisions,” says Weiner, a senior associate at the Wisznia Architectureand Design Firm. “Sometimes it’s an economically healthy decision.Sometimes it’s a physically healthy decision. And sometimes it’s amorally healthy decision.”
A Green Opportunity
With its perennial appearances on poor air quality lists,
South Louisiana has never been considered a leading light the environmental and ecological movements. But Hurricane
Katrina’sdestruction of New Orleans, and the vast rebuilding ahead, hasadvocates of green building practices encouraged that the city canbecome a model of sustainable living.
Studio owner Erin Romney, who is wearing Stewart + Brown clothing made of organic cotton.
“Ithink that there is a groundswell of interest in this city, throughorganizations like Global Green and the Green Project,” says architectSteven Bingler, founder of Concordia Architecture and Planning, who isbuilding a “carbon-neutral” house of his own in Carrollton. Bingler’shome, which will comprise a geothermal heating and cooling system,photovoltaic panels and a rainwater collection and filtering system,will serve, he says, as a laboratory of green design.
“I wantedto demonstrate that [sustainable design] makes sense in this climate,and even at this difficult time in New Orleans’ history,” he says. “Itis possible for us to build back in ways that are based on innovationand best practices. We have a tremendous opportunity right now torebuild the city in a different way.”
The entry hallway is
topped with a partially recycled
plastic-like carpet in “Bark” from
Plynyl that looks like fabric. The floor underneath is scored concrete finished with a soy-based stain (as opposed to
an acid-based stain) by Eco Procote.
Theeffort is playing out in gestures both small and large-scale. A groupof architects and designers convinced the New Orleans City Council topass a non-binding resolution that encourages green building practicesas the city replaces destroyed housing, and the Louisiana RecoveryAuthority has mandated that schools rebuilt with LRA funds comply withcertain “green” standards. The Alliance for Affordable Energy haslaunched a drive to plant “rain gardens” on city-owned property to helpalleviate flooding, and is encouraging homeowners to do the same. Andplans are in the works for a large “eco-design park” on Jefferson DavisParkway, a “green” industrial development for companies thatmanufacture and sell environmentally friendly building products.
Harderto gauge, but equally important, are the hundreds of individual effortsgoing on in the city. ArtEgg Studios, which was heavily damaged in thestorm, used the subsequent remodeling as an opportunity to installflooring made of bamboo and cork, two rapidly renewable and durablebuilding products, as well reflective roofing materials and a moreenergy-efficient cooling and heating system. “Our commitment was tobuild it back in an environmentally sustainable way,” says ArtEggfounder Esther Dyer of the former dairy products warehouse. “I asked,‘How can we cut down on our use of energy while making it a space thatworks well for artists and not-for-profits?’ We had a real opportunityto do it right.”
Likewise, pilates instructor Erin Romney
incorporatedseveral green elements in the remodeling of her Magazine Street studioby installing cork and bamboo flooring and rugs woven from recycledfibers, and by using non-toxic paints and stains for finishes. Most ofthe materials were no more expensive than traditional ones, Romneysays. “I wanted to show people that it doesn’t have to look awful to beeco- friendly,” she says. “It can look very chic, and at the same time,it’s safer for people and the environment.
“Maybe it will make people think about how they remodel their own houses.”
The metal chandeliers in the waiting room were designed by Erin Romney and made by R. Wyche Metal Crafters.
Educating the Public
It’sa hope that others in the green building movement share. “We are herefirst and foremost to educate people about sustainable building,” saysBeth Galante, executive director of the New Orleans office of GlobalGreen USA, which serves as a sort of clearing house for information oneco-friendly construction materials and technologies. “Our primaryfocus is energy efficiency, but we also address indoor air quality andhighly renewable materials.” Global Green is in the process ofconstructing a complex of affordable housing units in the Holy Crossneighborhood, a juried project that garnered international headlinesthanks to actor Brad Pitt’s involvement. Galante hopes the buildingswill serve as proof that it’s possible to combine good design,sustainable materials and affordability. “This rebuilding has to beaffordable,” she says. “New Orleans is not just old buildings. It’speople, and they have to have a place to live. And we hope that withthis project we have a model where people can see how sustainablematerials are used, and that demystifies the process.
“To callit ‘green’ building is in some ways a disservice,” she continues. “It’snot a hippie thing. It’s about high performance and high quality, andhelping people by lowering their utility bills and improving the airthey breathe. To me, it’s become a social justice issue.”
In the studio, the floor is bamboo from Ifloors. The “Varia”frosted wall panels made of ecoresin with bear grass inside is by3form. The organic yoga mats are by Hugger Mugger. The walls throughoutthe studio were painted in Benjamin Moore Eco Spec “Linen White,” whichhas low VOCs. The painting is by Suk Ja Kang Engles.
Recycling Building Materials = Saving the City’s Architectural Past
Theflip side of rebuilding is the massive number of demolitions still tocome, and that has environmentalists concerned not only about theamount of waste headed for landfills, but the threat indiscriminatedemolition poses to irreplaceable elements of the city’s past. It’ssomething the Green Project has been working on for years, but themission has become more urgent in Katrina’s wake. The organizationsalvages building materials—donated surplus from construction projects,old-growth lumber, the barge board widely used in 19th-century homeshere—and offers it for sale at low prices to people rebuilding andremodeling homes. But quick demolition and debris removal—the only kindthat the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay for—has consigneda huge amount of recyclable material to the garbage heap.Z
“Ourjob is to keep as many things as possible out of the waste stream,”says Green Project executive director David Reynolds. During theinitial stages of demolition and rebuilding, he says, “we’ve thrownaway a lot of stuff that just doesn’t exist anymore, and that we couldkeep. It’s discouraging that FEMA and most contractors have neverrecognized deconstruction and salvage”—as opposed to demolition anddebris removal— “as viable alternatives.”
While “the realadvances in green awareness have come from government and commercial”entities, Reynolds says, “more and more, it’s coming into residentialuse.”
The economics of green
So what can home owners,and even renters, do to incorporate green technologies and conceptsinto their daily lives? “There are a lot of really interesting thingsthat can be done, and so many of these technologies have evolved to thepoint where they are economically feasible,” says Prisca Weems, aprinciple at the sustainable design and consulting firm FutureProof.
Alarger initial investment in green products and techniques can yieldsavings in the long run. The benefits of using non-toxic paints andstains, which cost no more than regular ones, are incalculable. “Wespend most of our lives inside buildings,” Weems says. “Yet itsometimes seems criminal how little attention we pay to things like airquality.”
Homeowners who are rebuilding should consider movingaway from traditional wood construction to products such as structuralconcrete insulated panels, she says. Insulation, caulking and weatherstripping can plug holes in old houses and dramatically reduce energyconsumption. Roof-mounted solar water heaters are becoming more widelyused here, as are reflective roofs that keep attics cooler in summer.Some technologies, such as geothermal heating and cooling, may be tooexpensive for individual homeowners, but Weems and others are exploringways for several residents in a neighborhood to share a system, alongwith the costs of setting it up.
“Green building is really a buffet,” says Galante. “You have to go with your budget and find what’s going to work for you.”
Andyou have to think about the long-term effects of your choices—on theenvironment, your pocketbook and your health. There are other benefits,too: eventually, Bingler’s pricey photovoltaic collectors andgeothermal heating and cooling system, working in tandem with otherenergy-saving elements of his new home, will generate more power thanthe house needs, in which case his electric meter will actually run inreverse. “There will be times in my house when Entergy is buying energyfrom me. And that,” he says dryly, “gives me a great sense ofwell-being.”
Easy Ways to “Green” Your Home
Lower utility bills and conserve energy.
• Replace burned-out light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, which now come in a variety of styles and hues.
• Look into replacing your conventional hot-water heater
with one or more tankless heaters, which heat water
only as it is needed.
• Seal your home’s “envelope” by caulking and weather
stripping leaks, and installing magnetic acrylic panels
over windows, a technique that works well with
• If you already have a new roof, consider installing a
reflective barrier and cellulose insulation in the attic,
which can dramatically reduce cooling costs.
• If replacing a central air system, choose one that has
a high energy efficiency rating, and make sure it’s
appropriate for the space—a too-large system cuts on
and off too frequently, allowing humidity to build up.
Choose green products that are good for the environment and the air around you.
• All major paint manufacturers now produce paints, stains and
varnishes that give off little or no fumes from volatile organic
compounds, or VOCs. (See “Home Renewal” on p.59 for some brands.)
• Avoid synthetic rugs and brand-new furniture, which also
• Check the Energy Star ratings of new appliances, and take
into consideration not only the selling price, but also the
amount of money you can save on energy over the life of
• Bamboo and cork make attractive, durable flooring from
easily renewable sources, and can be installed and finished
with low- or no-VOC materials.
Green your yard.
• Plant trees that provide shade and protection from wind
• Landscape with native plants to reduce the need for
watering, fertilizer and pest control. “Permaculture”
landscapes that incorporate native plants also attract
more birds and wildlife, and help mitigate flooding.
Talk to experts.
Tofind out what your options are and what your budget allows, call theexperts. Global Green (525-2121), the Green Project (945-0240) andother organizations have a wealth of information on hand. If you arerebuilding or renovating, consider hiring a consultant who specializesin green building practices for planning advice and project supervision.
Need more ideas?
Go to the U.S. Green Building Council Web site,www.usgbc.org. The council is a coalition of building industry leaders who are working to promote buildings
thatare environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to liveand work. Through its “LEED” (Leadership in Energy and EnvironmentalDesign) Green Building Rating System, it is providing a nationallyaccepted benchmark for design, construction and operation of greenbuildings. It offers on-line information, such as
“16 Ways to GreenYour Home,” on-line classes, LEED certification and publications, andother ways to help “green” your environment within their standards.
Also,there are a number of books that can help you go “green.” For basictips on making your everyday life and home green: “It’s Easy BeingGreen” (Gibbs Smith Publisher) by Crissy Trask, founder ofGreenmatters.com, a business that promotes environmental education andactivism. More technical is: “A Practical Guide to Green ProductSelection: Green Building Materials, Second Edition” (John Wiley &Sons) by Ross Speigel and Dru Meadows.
It pays to go “green”:
tax credits for home and appliances
The federal government offers limited tax credits to homeowners to help offset the cost of some energy-efficiency technologies.
Productsthat qualify for a 10 percent credit must comply with standards setforth in the 2000 Energy Conservation Code and be installed in theapplicant’s main home in the U.S. They include certain insulationsystems, exterior doors and windows (including skylights) and metalroofs that meet applicable Energy Star requirements. Manufacturers andretailers can let you know
which items are eligible.
New taxguidelines also allow up to $500 in deductions for a range ofenergy-efficient appliances, including fans, natural gas furnaces andhot-water heaters, and up to $2,000 in credits for installing solarpanels or a solar hot-water system, provided neither is used to heat aswimming pool or hot tub.
For more information, see the Internal Revenue Service’s
Source: U.S. Treasury