The Briar Chapel community in North Carolina
The Briar Chapel community in North Carolina

Green building" has long been a buzzword in the residential real estate market but what difference does “going green” actually make? To find out, one national developer has quantified the effects of its sustainable building practices.

For the past 10 years, Newland Communities has studied two of its projects in North Carolina--Briar Chapel and Wendell Falls--to gauge the results of five sustainability principles that regulate components such as air and water quality, energy efficiency and open, walkable spaces.

The clubhouse at Wendell Falls
The clubhouse at Wendell Falls

Using metrics from the National Green Building Standard (NGBS) and Southern Energy Management's EcoSelect building program, Newland executives found that the two communities have saved residents more than $1 million is energy bills. The company's rigorous green standards have offset more than 13.3 million pounds of carbon dioxide with homes that are approximately 25 percent more efficient. In addition, residents enjoy healthier, more active lives encouraged by walking and biking trails, strategically located parks, outdoor fitness equipment and community activities.

Here, BUILDER talks with Shannon McSwiney, Newland’s marketing director, about the results of the study.

What have you learned from your 10-year study of the two communities?
We’ve been amazed and excited to watch how sustainable design in home construction can yield cumulative and tangible differences. For example, on average the residents in Briar Chapel and Wendell Falls save approximately $500 annually on energy bills as compared to the standard-built North Carolina home. In addition, our community at large experiences significant benefits, such as clean energy produced from our solar panels, a higher quality of life with improved indoor air and water quality, and opportunities to pursue an active lifestyle.

Has sustainability been a selling point with buyers?

Briar Chapel
Briar Chapel

Absolutely! We’ve found that buyers have an interest in being a part of a long-term goal and working in tandem to create a stronger future. In addition, many are excited once they discover the tangible savings that our energy efficient homes afford on a monthly basis. For example, since 2010 Briar Chapel has saved its residents approximately $911,000 in energy bills, which roughly equates to 48,000 extra tanks of gas that these residents could have purchased.

What are the top three ways that the two communities save energy?
Newland has worked closely with Southern Energy Management, a building science and solar firm, to design energy efficient homes and systems. Our approach includes:

1) Reducing waste from the outset. Newland concentrates on energy efficient construction that addresses the functionality of the home as a whole. Homes are built to use less energy by their very existences. Everything from insulation and framing to air flow and materials are designed to work together to reduce energy consumption for that specific floor plan; green-certified NGBS and ecoSelect homes require less energy to heat and cool the space. In addition, construction provides a well-ventilated home to increase air quality, ensuring that residents can lead healthy lives in their energy efficient homes.

2) Improving the energy source. We strive to provide cleaner, renewable energy sources that will be more efficient and support a healthier lifestyle. Both Newland communities in the Triangle implemented HOA provisions that allow solar panels. Wendell Falls builders, for example, even allows homeowners to roll solar panels into their initial mortgages, providing immediate savings that affect their monthly bills as well as long-term savings.

3) Supporting long-term behavior changes. Both communities are designed to increase residents’ interaction with one another. The land design supports walkable amenities and open spaces, not only encouraging a healthy lifestyle but also improving the overall environment by decreasing vehicle fuel emission. In addition, both Wendell Falls and Briar Chapel have resources available, such as their partnership with Southern Energy Management, to help educate residents on how to be an energy efficient occupant.

What other sustainable features are included?
· Infrastructure and Land Development Practices: When designing these communities, Newland created a layout intended to preserve the natural topography and resources. For example, land design includes highly regulated ratios of impervious surfaces to wooded areas to decrease erosion, preserve open space and create interconnected areas.

· The clubhouses in both communities have been planned and built utilizing sustainable design and construction practices. The Briar Chapel Clubhouse, for example, is LEED-Silver certified.

· A healthy lifestyle: The concept of sustainability encompasses the people that live in our communities as well. We’ve designed Briar Chapel and Wendell Falls to offer areas such as trails and parks within a five-minute walk of any front door to encourage exercise and community interaction.