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Creative Green Construction Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive

Seven years ago, my now ex-wife and I were living in a two-story, 2,000+ square-foot home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Built in the 1950s, the home was spacious enough. But heating and cooling costs were outrageous, and the floor plan far from efficient. So we took a leap and purchased a slice of land on the western slope of the Sandia Mountains overlooking Albuquerque and built a 2,600 square feet, four bedroom, two-and-a-half bath solar powered home. My ex, 26-years-old at the time, acted as contractor, while I typed away at the local newspaper. She designed the home, did the grunt work of finding energy efficient and non toxic building materials, and hired companies for each part of the construction process. After four months of construction, on-time and on-budget, the results were impressive. Six solar panels on the roof provided electricity for all of our modern amenities. Radiant floors heated the home. And the passive solar design, with open floor plan and windows that allowed for plenty of cross ventilation, provided natural heat and cooling. No-frills, common sense design. And using conventional stick-frame construction, with the exception of installing formaldehyde-free insulation, helped further cut costs. We spent $200,000 to build a turnkey, solar powered, off-grid home, which included $37,000 for the land. This was far less than what most people in the area paid for a conventional home. And the only utility bill was filling up the propane tank once a year. Environmentally sustainable building design and construction is a hot topic right now. And for good reason. In the United States, buildings account for: 72 percent of electricity consumption; 39 percent of energy use; 38 percent of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions; 40 percent of raw materials use; 30 percent of waste output (136 million tons annually); and 14 percent of potable water consumption, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. But many people are scared or confused about how to make the leap and build a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified structure, or retrofit an existing building to boost energy efficiency. Some assume it’s going to cost a bundle. Others brush the concept off as tree-hugging rhetoric. Here’s some food for thought from my personal experience and talking with industry professionals. Yes, building a more environmentally friendly structure takes more planning, and if not done in a calculated way, can cost more. But there are long term payoffs in reduced energy bills, user satisfaction, and tenant retention. Real estate pros say municipalities are increasingly moving towards requiring buildings be built to higher environmental standards. Obtaining LEED certification certainly doesn’t hurt when requesting permits and variances. Right now, federal, state and many city agencies and utilities are offering substantial credits and incentives to offset some of these costs -a practice that really would have come in handy seven years ago. And energy efficient technologies are far less esoteric and cumbersome than they used to be. Sure, doing something new can be challenging. But if my ex-wife is any example, a little bit of savvy or a lot in her case- can pay off. Architecture Awards Environmentally sustainable design seemed to be a recurring theme at the 39th annual Los Angeles Architecture Awards, hosted by the L.A. Business Council. The following Valley projects took honors. The Grass?Road House residence in Chatsworth received a Design Concept Award in the residential category. Located on a 3.5 acre parcel of farming land, and owned and operated by the Guthrie family for several generations, the house is made of natural materials and situated on the perimeter of an expansive tree grove. Architect is Office em. Warner Bros. Studios Stage 23 in Burbank received a Sustainability Award in the industrial category. It is constructed using the LEED rating system. The project’s architect is HLW International LLP, contractor is Tectonics Construction, Inc. The TreePeople Center for Community Forestry received a Sustainability Award in the open space category. The building is certified LEED platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council. The architects are Mia Lehrer + Associates, AECOM, Marmol Radziner and Associates, and the contractor is Minardos Group, Native Design. And Los Angeles Mission College Culinary Arts Center & Campus Bookstore received an Under Construction Award in the education category. The architect is Quatro Design, and contractor is Sinanian Development Corporation. Construction Resumes Construction resumed last week on a new four-story, 136-bed patient care wing at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills. The $181 million project had been halted due to a lawsuit. But the hospital said favorable rulings in March by the city council and the court allowed the project to resume. San Francisco-based Swinerton Builders will complete the 120,000 square feet building. The structure will house a new Women’s Pavilion, a neonatal intensive care unit, observation rooms for emergency patients, a gastro-intestinal lab, more surgical and critical care beds and 100 seat chapel. Staff Reporter Eric Billingsley can be reached at (818) 316-3124 or at ebillingsley@sfvbj.com .

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