Houston's Green Leaders

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In a culture where ‘going green’ is a growing concern, Houston is following the movement to its foundation—green building. For those who don’t know, green building entails not just energy and environmental efficiency but economic responsibility as well.

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It revolves around a few key concepts, the first being conservation of energy and natural resources. Green homes use less energy and water by way of innovative design meant to use less and save more. That is to say, these homes are built with the mantra, ‘form follows function,’ and are meant to interact with their environment in a practical way.

Allow me to demonstrate. In a climate like our own—gruelingly hot and humid with the occasional hurricane thrown in, it makes little sense to build an East coaststyle brownstone or spacious Southern ranch house. Bricks hold in warmth while modern metal-sided homes reflect solar heat. Following this same line of thinking, it would be imprudent not to install solar panels and a rainwater collection system. Suffice to say green building takes advantage of a structure’s natural surroundings while treating them gently. Another principle has to do with the selection of materials that go into the building process. Selecting those readily at hand in your locale reduces energy, cost and damage to the environment. As Blake Horton of Dovetail Builders puts it, "in green construction, the elements of design and the materials selected create a synergy that ultimately yields a home that is not only of better quality, but also better for the environment."

Aside from the environment, building green saves money. Green homes garner lower insurance rates, friendly financing and government incentives for those that are LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). They also cost you a lot less on utilities, as most of these are self-sustaining by the home. There are a handful of green builders in the city. Durable Residential Builders formed in 2008 (but represents over 30 years of building industry experience), part of a partnership with Texas A&M to find out how to build a home the ‘right way’ – and green. What they came up with is a building system that emphasizes strength, durability, comfort, safety and efficiency-- all while staying cost-conscious. Their main focus is strength, something we can all appreciate in this hurricane prone city. Durable Residential’s system uses ICF (insulated concrete forms) walls that put six and a half inches of reinforced concrete between you and the environment. They use Pella Hurricane Windows and the DECRA metal panel roof is a 150mph, 50-year roof that sports a backup generator and offers comfort and safety to

the homeowner. Not only are these roofs built to last, but they are excellent insulators as well, saving that much more on electricity costs. Durable’s green connection extends to every detail of the build. They utilize low-odor, no VOC (volatile organic compound) paint, sealer and finishes, Energy Star appliances (more money off your electric bill), and Masonite Safe’N Sound doors, whose interior is composed of pre-consumer recycled content. Rainwater is harvested from about 70% of the roof and collects in a sealed underground cistern. Durable Residential employs Moss Landscaping for the lawn, which is drought resistant and relies on local species of plants. They even go so far as to worry about green pest control. Their homes feature a pest control system with a sodium based product that acts as a drying agent, desiccating insect’s exoskeletons, and it is 100% non-toxic. If you’re looking for more evidence of the smart techniques employed by green buildings, stop here: you can enter the attic of a green home during the midst of summer with no ac on and find it room temperature.

Since 1998, Dovetail Builders, has been in the practice of recycling all materials they can. They began incorporating more and more green building techniques into their process, their to-date masterpiece culminating in September of 2009 with the Virginia Point home owned by Dan and 14th Court of Appeals Justice Adele Hedges. That home, which was the first certified LEED Platinum home in Houston, boasts 91% site energy generated (140 Solar Panels, 28KW system), 45% less energy consumed (high-efficiency HVAC and hot water) and zero utility water demand (rainwater collection and purification).

The next on the list is Home Corporation International, or HCI. They have been building in the Houston area for five years, including town houses in the Inner Loop area and Memorial Park. To stay green, HCI uses low-flow plumbing fixtures, tankless water heaters, systems to maximize energy efficiency and steel strapping that allows the structure to withstand winds over 180 mph. To learn more you can visit their current project at www. reserveathamman.com.

The green building scene in Houston doesn’t end there. Emerging Green Builders, a group composed of students and young professionals aimed at educatining the public about the green building movement is quickly gaining popularity. Habitat for Humanity is another green resource. They provide an outlet to both donate and purchase building materials. That extra door or removed stove can now be recycled, and thus kept out of our landfills. The next generation of green builders continues with the University of Houston. Goeff Brune of GBA Architecture and Design spearheaded the construction of the Burdette Keeland Design Exploration Center at the college, the first and only structure with a green roof in the city. The emphasis of the project centered on energy conservation, including recycling of the materials present in the old structure, originally built in 1947. Now the all-green remodeled building houses students from the Gerald Hines College of Architecture, learning new ways to build and design without harming the environment.

Buildings consume 30% of energy in the U.S., and construction of those account for 40% of the nation’s waste. It is time we look to the future and change the way we build, remodel and think about the homes we live in.