In August 2007, Cherokee Investment Partners senior director Jonathan Philips and his family moved into their new home in Raleigh, N.C. On its face, it was an event that happens for thousands of families every day. What made it historic was that the 4,000-square-foot Mainstream GreenHome is the nation's first house to be built under the National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) model green home building guidelines. (For detailed information on the project, visit www.mainstreamgreenhome.com.
Given the tendency of most buyers to want a traditional home that's consistent with others in their neighborhood, the Mainstream GreenHome was built from existing plans, in a typical neighborhood on a standard-sized lot by a traditional home builder. It was supposed to look like every other house on the block.
That made some green building advocates upset, Philips says. They couldn't understand how a green house could have a concrete driveway, a brick elevation, and a roof without solar panels.
"The critics are missing the economics," Philips told BUILDER during a conversation at the International Builders' Show the day after the house won the 2008 EnergyValue Housing Award's Gold Award, given to builders who voluntarily incorporate energy efficiency into the design, construction, and marketing of new homes. "This is about selling something people want to buy. ... A home is the biggest investment a person will ever make. Why would a builder or a buyer take a risk on making the house different and limiting the pool of buyers?"
But if you could take a house that looks like the other ones on the street and fill it with green features that save the home buyer money on their utility bills, that could be a true differentiator.
Oh, and by the way, the concrete driveway is a pervious, recycled material that allows water to pass through into collection tanks for watering the lawn. The bricks also feature recycled material and are locally produced, and the photovoltaic cells that produce power for the house are integrated into the shingles.
Almost 75 percent more energy efficient than the average new house built in the U.S., the house has produced dramatic results. The Philips family saw its power bill drop by half, and that was going from a 1,300-square-foot house to a 4,000-square-foot one. With some system tweaks, Philips expects that number to go even lower. "We're selling energy back to the power grid," he says. "We think we'll be a net-zero energy house."
Built as a demonstration house, the Mainstream GreenHome was intended to function as a laboratory, testing the systems and products for performance against traditional products. Philips and his team designed some of the toughest conditions imaginable- four children under the age of eight.
With instant hot water available at the touch of a button, bath times are going faster, he says. The house is flooded with natural light. As a result, there are fewer lights left on. The kitchen floor is a floating cork floor that's both sustainable and provides extra cushioning. "Our kids drop plenty of things on the floor," he says. "Things are not breaking as much as usual."
While living in a demonstration house has taken some adjusting, ("We're learning to control the intrusion," Philips says), he's thrilled with the results.
"I like that we didn't have to sacrifice comfort, convenience, or resale value," he says. "I like that the neighbors, who initially were anxious about the project, say that it's a beautiful house."
And he loves that he's having an impact on the next generation of home buyers-his own children.
"Hearing your 6- and 7-year-old tell their play dates about photovoltaics is pretty cool," he says.