Play Video: EcoEstate: A Nine-Unit Green Subdivision

A Maryland developer hopes her current project in suburban Washington, D.C., will spur builders and contractors to explore better ways of building homes and improve energy efficiency in their developments in many ways.

“The objective of this project is to build within the natural habitat, minimally impact the environment through use of sustainable design [and] green construction techniques, and to raise awareness of ‘getting off the grid,’” says architect and developer Nea Maloo, principal of Silver Spring, Md.-based SHOWCASE Architects & Developers. Located in Maryland’s Montgomery County, Eco-Estate @ Briggs Chaney—purportedly one of the few eco-subdivisions in the Washington area—is a development of eight small homes designed with energy-efficient principles and the latest green products. Maloo, a LEED-certified professional, is using a mixture of tried-and-true building techniques and unconventional fringe technologies that she hopes soon will become standard practice.

Phase I of Eco-Estate is a model home that is being used as a testing ground for some of the systems and products under consideration for use in the next eight houses. At 10,000 square feet, the size of the home runs counter to the direction green advocates say the country should be headed, but the architect wanted to use the home as a demonstration project to show the possibilities of energy-efficient building. The next eight homes will be much smaller. Besides, Maloo says she’s using strategies that show “you can go green and not feel guilty.”

As part of her effort to assuage any potential "green" guilt, Maloo preserved every tree on the property. She also saved and relocated an existing 1940s Cape Cod to the rear of the 1.1-acre site, where the structure will be used as a guest house. Though it would have been cheaper to raze the home and send it to a landfill, Maloo wanted to set an example. “The house was in great shape, and it would have been a shame to demolish it,” she says. “So we decided to keep it and make minor modifications.” The five-bedroom, five-bath main house is an architectural hybrid of traditional and modern design. It has a pitched roof, but the large glass openings, indoor/outdoor connections, and clean lines are clear modernist tropes. Interiors are highlighted by high ceilings—25 feet in some areas and 9 feet in the basement—and multi-purpose rooms. Some rooms feature energy-saving occupancy sensors.

Maloo sited the structure for passive solar orientation and to capitalize on cross ventilation. “The house is designed to bring in lots of light, which saves energy, and to be flexible so each room can be used for something else,” she explains. In addition, it has two kitchens, so an owner may set up a home-based business or an in-law suite. Two kitchens also facilitate one-level living in case a homeowner needs to avoid stairs temporarily or permanently. With America’s growing elderly population, people who want to retire in their own homes will become an important debate, says Maloo, who believes in aging in place. But staying put requires planning, which is why Maloo designed the house using universal design principles and with two ADA-compliant bathrooms.

“Almost all of the doors have low thresholds and measure 36 inches wide for wheelchairs, and the bathrooms have grab bars and comfort-height toilets,” Maloo says. The house also is set up for an elevator in case future homeowners want or need to install one.

On first glance, the house is typical, including products that many builders are already using, such as Energy Star appliances, high-efficiency windows, and multi-zone heating and cooling system. But behind the walls, one finds a number of nonstandard technologies that Maloo hopes will gain traction, such as a green roof. Here's an overview of the strategies and systems SHOWCASE is relying upon to save energy, resources, and the environment in this home:

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.