If you want to build green but think it only applies to modern housing styles, take a stroll by Capitol Quarter in Southeast Washington, D.C. An urban redevelopment project by local builder-developer EYA, the classic detailing, varying roof forms, and staggered façades of these new row houses not only establish a connection to the historic Capitol Hill district nearby, but also mask a high standard of building performance and resource efficiency.
From their traditional forms and details to their contemporary floor plans, there’s nothing overtly or obviously “green” about the homes at Capitol Quarter. For owners, however (especially those that qualified as workforce families) the result of achieving LEED for Homes certification for all 237 for-sale units in phase 1 translates into homes that will last longer, perform better, and cost less to heat and cool and maintain over time.
The same can be said for the homes in Patrick Square in Clemson, S.C.; the custom and semi-production projects of Specialized Homes in neighborhoods around Seattle; and a wealth of other communities across the country. New homes can be designed to respect classic local or regional styles while built to leave lighter environmental footprints than the status quo.
“By definition, traditional architecture is green,” says Lew Oliver of Lew Oliver Inc., Whole Town Solutions in Atlanta and the town architect for Patrick Square. “Modern design has been greenwashed to be the face of green building, but it often doesn’t meet a definition of true green.”
Such a definition is open to interpretation, but consider the classically designed, centuries-old Southern home and its characteristic response to its local climate as an example of Oliver’s critique: long, deep porches, often screened, that shield the house from direct summer sunlight and heat; windows fitted with operable exterior louvers and shutters to inhibit solar heat gain and promote cross-breezes; and building orientation, floor plans, and exterior features that enable passive heating, cooling, and ventilation to maintain comfort without mechanical help.
“These aren’t decorative elements and were never meant to be,” says Oliver. “People respond to them [aesthetically], but their value goes well beyond that.”
When EYA decided to have its green building commitment at Capitol Quarter independently verified by the USGBC’s LEED for Homes rating system, the firm wasn’t starting from scratch. “A lot of what we were doing, especially on the site development side, was already in line with the program’s [land-use] standards,” says A.J. Jackson, senior vice president and partner at EYA, per the firm’s successful legacy of urban infill projects. When it came to construction products and practices, however, EYA and its trade partners made several modern-day upgrades. In addition to higher insulation levels, every possible appliance and window is Energy Star–qualified. The team also put the furnace in conditioned space, tightened the ducts, and added whole-house ventilation to mitigate heat loss and lower the energy load. Meanwhile, advanced and panelized framing helped reduce construction waste and boost structural and thermal performance. Best of all, none of these upgrades had a noticeable impact on EYA’s classic row house designs for Capitol Quarter.
“The bulk of the changes, like California [two-stud] corners and ducts for the ventilation system, are behind the walls,” says Jackson, adding that the firm will apply its higher environmental standards, including option packages devoid of wasteful upgrades (e.g., multiple showerheads) to future projects. “Buyers are interested in saving energy and water, but they aren’t willing to compromise livability.”
For phase 2 at Capitol Quarter, slated to begin this summer, EYA will up the ante with a more energy-efficient lighting package. And, in response to phase 1 buyer demand, homes will be roughed-in for rooftop solar panels. That accommodation will not only allow EYA to control the aesthetic impact of the panels (and hide them from street view), but also preserve roof assembly performance warranties and grease the local political wheels for owners who want to install a photovoltaic (PV) array to offset their grid-supplied electricity.
Project: Capitol Quarter
Location: Washington, D.C.
Builder/Developer: EYA, Bethesda, Md.
Architect: Lessard Group, Washington
Specs: Seven, three-level models of attached row houses with street-level garage and optional loft level
Price: Market-rate units from $649,000 to $740,000; workforce and rental units to be determined